Nothing more than feelings

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes Updated August 02, 2009 12:00 AM

I’ve been having intense bouts of loneliness lately. Perhaps it’s because I miss my family, or maybe because there are long periods when I am not doing anything and so I do not feel productive or even alive. There is something to being busy that makes one feel useful and this absence of productivity is a void that needs to be filled.

Which is why I have been pondering the question of loneliness for some weeks now. Actually, it’s not just loneliness I have been dealing with but a whole range of emotions from A to Z. No, I’m not going through all of them — I’m just trying to understand them, to figure out what they do to people and why they work the way they do.

If I sound dispassionate when I discuss this despite the fact that the subject is emotional, it is because I want to understand emotions in a useful way that will hopefully be of help to myself and to others.

We express ourselves and say things like, “I am lonely,” or “I am happy,” and the like. When you really look into it, the very way we express our emotions is symptomatic of our misunderstanding of the nature of emotions and our own nature as human beings experiencing them.

When we say we are lonely, we declare an identification with that emotion. We are bonded with it. We are IT! In a real way, we believe we are the emotion we feel. Yet, the fact is, loneliness — or whatever emotion we feel — is not our identity. It may seem very real but we are in fact, not it.

The emotions we feel may be strong or weak, intense or light, pleasant or unpleasant, but we are not our emotions. Why? Simply because emotions come and go — and we remain. So at best, they are mere states we go through. This is a very important point.

Try to imagine that you are a screen in a movie house. Every few weeks, there is a different movie that is playing. One week it’s a Western, then it’s a psycho-thriller, then a drama, then a comedy. And yet, whatever is projected on it, the screen remains unaffected in any permanent way. When the story ends, the screen remains just as it was before the movies were projected on it. It’s inherent, clear and blank nature is intact.

Perhaps a better way to express loneliness is to say “I feel lonely” instead of “I am lonely.” This puts feelings in the right perspective and makes them manageable. We dis-identify from them without denying them, and because we do this, they become easier to deal with.

This goes for all feelings that we go through. Feelings really just come and go; often they are a lot of ado about nothing. I am not suggesting that feelings are to be treated lightly. I know that sometimes, it is hard not to feel anything, and sometimes they can really be powerful, overwhelming even. They are not to be denied, but we should not allow them to reign over us permanently or absorb them completely into our identity as persons.

Emotions are difficult to deal with because often, both we and the people who press our buttons, identify completely and falsely with our emotional states. We believe that there is such an intimate personal ownership of what and how we feel that our reactions to them come from a literally toxic arsenal that either makes us attack someone or defend ourselves. We are movie screens behaving badly, believing we are the movie that is playing.

And this identification/ownership of emotions extends way beyond the frontier of emotions into our opinions, preferences, biases, possessions and even our convictions. We forget that many times in our lives, we have changed our minds about how we feel or think about people, places, and issues big and small.

Shouldn’t this give us, at the very least, some pause each time we get caught up in an argument? Is the sound and fury we expend in order to win worth losing or destroying friendships and relationships? When we lose an argument, we only just lose an argument. Nothing more. We are not our opinions and our passions. Nothing has been taken away from who we are.

I once witnessed a Russian poet, whose name escapes me, reading his own poems. He talked about how we identify with things and relate to them like they are our own clothing. He said that we “wear” our houses, our status, our wealth, our positions, our power like they are really important and lasting. He then asked the crucial question: Who really is the wearer if we remove all of the “clothes” we wear. It was a piercing analogy of what man has been trying to ask himself since time immemorial.

But no clear answer will be forthcoming unless we can refine our definition of who we are. And this we can do by seeing who we are not.

At this time when we are entering the election season, passions will flare, opinions will be expressed strongly, and everyone will try to convince everyone else about what this country needs to progress, and other such issues. We will glorify some people and crucify others. That’s how it has always been and that’s how this coming election season will play out.

Regardless, I am personally going to make the effort to remind myself that, at best, all intense passions expressed during this period are only opinions and are not intrinsically part of the people who express them. And more importantly, they are temporary. In other words, I must dis-identify from harboring permanent negative feelings that may overcome me towards any person who openly supports a candidate I may dislike or an issue I may not agree with.

In 2001, at the height of the frenzy when Erap was being condemned at EDSA right before he gave up the presidency, I remember standing in the midst of the angry crowd and just quietly listening to a Zen koan playing in my head, which asked the perplexing question, “Does a dog have Buddha nature?” I was amazed that even when I was being strongly anti-Erap, I could still view my feelings with some distance. While I held on in my political views, I was not invested in them enough not to see that there was a bigger human being behind every sin he was being accused of.

And even as I hold on to my belief in justice, responsibility, accountability and all that, I recognize in everyone that indelible purity that never leaves us, just like the blank screen in a movie house. Could it be that we are also, in the end, neither our opinions nor our sins?

That’s one of the most searing questions I have asked myself. It makes forgiveness and self-forgiveness much easier.

* * *

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18 thoughts on “Nothing more than feelings”

  1. I am surprised theres no blog abt the late former Pres Cory Aquino in your column. I remember you were an active part of the Edsa revolution in 1986. I have been checking your column/blog but was really surprised you did not even mention it….

  2. Sometimes we feel that we are in the
    centre of the universe.
    And things around us are not really permanent.

    I really don’t know why I’m saying this.

  3. i’m quite surprised too. as i’m watching you on tv right this moment (with ted failon) i thought “great! i can’t wait for your blog re pres cory.

  4. Jim doesn’t need to blog about Cory anymore ‘coz he said more than a mouthful on TV with Ted Failon as Cory’s body was transported to the Manila Cathedral. So much inappropriate comments about politics, elections, charter change, etc from somebody who isn’t a political analyst, but nevertheless took advantage of his guesting on TV to speak about politics in the guise of “what Cory would’ve wanted for the country”.

  5. No time to write about what I want to really say about Cory. Need to synthesize.. Too many things to think about

    John–I don’t mind you expressing beliefs contrary to my views but I will not print obscenities on my blog. That’s why your second comment is not here . Say that somewhere else. Maybe facing a mirror..

    Of course I was political. Cory is a political figure who expressed a lot of political opinions about con-ass. One might say, her political life was a big part of her life’s work. So why should that be off-topic during her funeral?

    Larry, whether we are the center of the universe or not, things ARE impermanent.

  6. If I may answer you Ms. Josephine,

    the absence of a name in a column does not entirely meant that it has been forgotten. Perhaps, Kuya Jim has a say on the untimely demise of our beloved Tita Cory, but not now.


    On topic comment:

    This is a very interesting view about emotions, Kuya Jim.

    I always have problem managing my emotions. For example, As a person, I preached to my peers about “never get angry with your enemies; it’ll cloud your judgment.” it may sound mafiosi to anyone but it helps others in some extent. But when it comes to me, I rarely follow what I had preached. It’s never easy to control anger with someone or something. It’s like restraining yourself to urinate.

    Calm and collective as others would suggest me.

    Aside from acknowledging that we are not what we feel and that we are like movie screens, how can I practice to manage my feelings? Any suggestions?

    Salamat po!

  7. I can only speak for my case.. Meditations really help me a lot. Where you can find your still point is where you retreat in moments of great emotional turmoil. The practice of meditation makes that place accessible. In my case, it is not always easily accessible. Alas, I need more practice!

  8. i had to read your article twice as i am currently going through a rough patch and you raised some points that may be of help to me. is everything really impermanent? what about those chronically depressed? or those stuck in a rut and are unable to free themselves from what binds them (e.g. homeless)?

    thank you.

  9. It’s true that Cory was a political figure, but she was more than that to the Filipino people. My biggest problem with your political commentary as the funeral procession of Cory’s remains were shown on TV was that they were very inappropriate for these times when the Filipinos are united in their mourning of a well-respected, decent, and peace-loving person. There’s a time and place for everything, but you exploited the situation and did what most, if not all, politicians do when a TV camera is on their face: grandstand! I wonder what Cory thinks about being used like that. You and Ted were even joking about being an “artist”, not a “political analyst”, while throwing your political opinions left and right. If you had any respect for the Aquino family, who’ve been trying to leave politics out of this situation, you should have checked your politics at the studio door.

    1. i don’t see any inappropiate views of what jim and ted has said on their commentary. it reflects the true state of what we are as a nation.

      yes, jim is political but talking about cory who is a political figure you just can’t separate commenting about it.

      i believe that what has been expressed is not to grandstsnd
      but just to be reminded of what we already know.

      you knew it, i know it and everybody knows it but we filipinos has a very short memory and need to be constantly reminded of what we already knew.

  10. is loneliness a negative feeling?
    i strongly agree when you said to ” dis-identify from harboring negative feelings that may overcome ” lest it consumed us and take place of our identity.
    what good does loneliness brings?

  11. Shumai– The chronically depressed may need help from others. But regardlss of whether one is chronically depressed or not, it is still true in a deep sense that we are not our emotions. Read Power of Now by Eckart Tolle who was a chronically depressed person. His insights and how he got out of it are profoundly enlightening.

    Constant gardner–Loneliness is a feeling neither good nor bad. If one inhales, one has to exhale. Loneliness is there to make us appreciate happiness more, perhaps?

    John Silva– I appreciate your comments and they are noted. Thank you.

  12. Hi Tito Jim. Tita Cory’s passing unexpectedly brought an indifferent (I know, I know) guy / Pinoy like me to tears, and made me feel a different kind of loneliness.
    Anyway, I hope you are synthesizing well about her at the moment. Looking forward to your performance tomorrow and to your tweets.

  13. In spite of John Silva’s reaction to your commentary (while Cory’s remains were being transported to the Cathedral), I think many of us would still appreciate a word or two from you on Cory’s death. It might even help ease up your feeling of loneliness and longing for your family. As to the commentary itself, I heard it and from where I was, it sounded like it came from your heart…no grandstanding, no over-acting…just deep, honest and humble words from a man who knew and loved the widow in yellow.

    We grieve as one…

    Mary Joy

  14. I just finished writing my article on Cory.

    I waited till she was buried before concluding it. I’m sorry but I can’t put it here just yet since it is for my Philippine Star column on Sunday.I will post it on the first hour on Sunday..

  15. Sir Jim!

    I remember 2001 EDSA all too well, I was beside you, listening to the speakers.
    If I am not mistaken you were handing out snacks to the people who committed themselves for days to the cause.

    When I tell my colleagues that I was there in EDSA 2001; I was a part of history laging kasunod nito ang ‘Nabatukan ako ni Jim Paredes! Wow!’

    Kasi po nasanggi niyo ang ulo ko, when you were handing out the sandwiches.

    I was thinking then, here is this popular man, hindi siya
    nangingimi na samahan ang masa.

    Salamat po Sir Jim!

  16. Talking about true feelings…

    I remember how elated I was when I heard you say that you refused the U.S. green card at the height of the People Power Revolution.

    I also remember how sad I was when I heard you were migrating to Australia.

    But I respect your feelings on both occasions.

    More power JIM

    The EQualizer

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