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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