Values and Their Expression
I Feel and I Am
Love and Consideration
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I suggest also that for the purposes of this discussion, human life may usefully be interpreted as a continual search for the satisfaction of desire. Desire is a feeling of yearning or longing to possess or acquire something, or to bring about some change in personal circumstances. We all long to be happy, and it may be helpful to think of happiness as the satisfaction of our deepest desire. A common problem for many of us is that we cannot easily identify what our deepest desire is. As desire is itself a feeling, it seems reasonable to begin our quest for happiness by paying careful and constant attention to our feelings.
A clear distinction must be made between feeling and emotion. A feeling (in the sense in which it is used in this essay) is a kind of conscious awareness of something not specifically physical. Emotion (or energy in motion) is what moves us to take some sort of action. A feeling may be translated into an emotion, and so overtly expressed in speech or action: but it need not be. I suspect that confusing feeling with thought on the one hand and with emotion on the other may be the chief cause of the distrust and suppression of feeling that seems to pervade Western materialist society. Emotion translated into impulsive, possibly violent, action presents a threat to people and property, and we would rather not think about it. We therefore try to suppress the expression of strong emotion: and in doing so, we muffle the feelings through which our Spiritual essence endeavours to communicate with our reasoning faculties. The unhappy result is that too many of us live in a permanent state of imbalance and frustration, weighed down by material concerns and unaware of the existence of the ethereal Spirit which alone can make light of our burdens and teach us to live in the glorious liberty appropriate to the fully human beings we could be if we dared.
Feelings are personal. Each of us is therefore personally responsible for deciding how much attention we pay to them and how we engage our emotions to galvanise the body into action to do whatever we think necessary to make us feel better. Ideally, our emotions should be directed and controlled by reason. We experience satisfaction when feeling, reason and emotion, working harmoniously together, have brought about a pleasing transformation in our world.
Are you satisfied with your life? If so, that is a pleasant feeling, and you probably have no great desire to change anything. Are you dissatisfied? That is a feeling too, but it is not so pleasant. You probably have a desire to change something in your personal circumstances. This feeling of desire for change is a trigger for emotion; it is a signal that you should expend some energy in action and do something you might find satisfying. You may have no very clear idea about what you should do: but that should not prevent you from doing something — anything — rather than just let things go on as they are. Reason will suggest some possible courses of action, but it is only by acting out a process of trial and error and paying attention to your feelings about the results that you can discover what really satisfies you. The experimental scientific method works in the world of the Spirit just as well as it does in the world of the flesh: but it must be applied by each of us individually.
The Temple model suggests that Satisfaction results from accepting full Personal Responsibility for our Actions and striking a proper Balance in Life between the prompting force of Love and the inhibiting force of Fear.
Think of a child's swing tied with ropes to a tall tree branch. As a child, you probably had a chance to play on such a swing and found that just sitting in the swing chair is not all that exciting. It is against our nature to find pleasure in inertness; instead we strive to "Be". Following this instinct we begin to swing somewhat back and forth and find this more pleasurable than the lack of motion. In addition, there seems to be a natural rhythm to the swing — it is difficult to make the 'to and fro' motion go faster or slower than its "normal" pace or periodicity. There is a natural rhythm in the system comprising branch, swing, and child. When the swing is only slightly moving back and forth, we have only a restricted sense of the natural process that we are partaking of or sharing in. With practice, we find that if we lean back and swing our legs at a certain time in the swing's motion, we can amplify the motion and experience its rhythm to a stronger degree. We also find that the greater the amplitude of the swing, the more pleasurable the feeling that the swinging provides. The impulses of energy we set into motion are "in harmony" with the natural motion of the swing and the effect is positive and pleasurable. We are then experiencing more of the potential of the swing that is inherent in its nature.
Similarly, when we think about or do things that are in harmony with our feelings, we experience a greater sense of pleasure in the conditions of our life and become more sensitive to the full nature of the Spirit which is the source of our feelings. We are able to express ourselves more fully and increase the range of our sources of satisfaction.
The more the swinging of our legs causes a motion that "fits" with the natural motion of the swing, the more positive and pleasurable will be the effect of the "ride". However, if we lean back and swing our legs at a time or in such a way that we cause the motion of the swing to lose its momentum or develop a jerky motion, then the effect will be that of greater disharmony and displeasure. We will have acted contrary to the natural motion of the swing. Similarly, when we act or think contrary to our feelings, we experience discord and perhaps pain. The phenomenon of cause and effect is impersonal, like gravity, but it is also related to conscious sensations of awareness of pleasure or pain.
Discord can also occur from a source outside of our own volition, on the swing or in life. Someone could come along and push the swing sideways (I hate it when they do that) or a strong wind that we didn't foresee could blow our motion contrary to the rhythm that we had established. If the disturbance is due to a human agency, we can protest against it or otherwise endeavour to deter the unwelcome interference. On the other hand, someone could "give us a push" that amplifies the swing's motion in a pleasurable way, and we should be grateful for that — especially if we have requested the help. If the disturbance is caused by a force of nature beyond our control, we should probably be wiser to desist from swinging, grateful for the experience while it lasted, and find some other pleasurable activity we could pursue — at least until the wind dies down.
If several swings are attached to the tall tree limb, we have a little analogy of resonance. Since the limb is somewhat elastic or flexible, the motion of any of the swings gets transmitted through the ropes and the limb to the other swings. If all the children on the swings are "in sync" they can benefit from each other's motion, and the most accomplished 'swinger' sets the standard for the rest and helps to maintain the natural rhythm of the system. If other swingers are "out of sync" then their individual swinging motions can disrupt the swinging rhythm of the remainder of the group. A similar effect can be imagined among families, friends, or working relationships.
In all aspects of life, it is feeling that tells us whether or not we are "in sync" with the natural rhythm of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. If we are in harmony, we feel satisfied, happy, and joyful; other people seek our company and want to imitate us. If not, we experience a feeling of desire for change; unless and until we do something about it, we are unlikely to be 'good company' for anybody else.
There is one final consideration that must be mentioned before we leave the swinging analogy. If any swinger 'goes too far', or the number of swingers is more than the branch can bear, the forces inherent in part of the system may become unbalanced or the strain on the branch may exceed its elastic limit. The system will suffer a catastrophic failure and an 'accident' will occur. But if one or more of the swingers are alert to their feelings, they may become aware of stirrings of fear before the catastrophe happens and keep their exertions 'within reasonable bounds', thus enabling their mutual enjoyment to continue.
Feelings, the whisperings of the Spirit, always prompt us to do whatever is appropriate to the situation. But they are effective only to the extent that we pay attention to them and bring the kindly Light of reason to bear in moderating our actions accordingly.
But by the same token, if laws for regulating human behaviour are to command universal respect, they should ideally be statements of principle rather than exhortations to act in prescribed ways. They should be few in number and clearly expressed so that all, or nearly all, individuals can understand them and empathise with them because they reflect common inner values. Proliferation of societal mores and regulations which do not command popular respect merely limit individual freedom, set people in conflict with one another, and cause disharmony because they disturb the natural rhythm of the social swing.
The intended effect of all attempts at regulation is to inhibit individuals from doing things that make other people feel uncomfortable: all too often, the actual effect is to artificially limit human response to the promptings of natural feelings and sometimes even to criminalise behaviour which is really only adventurous. I cannot find it in myself to accept that any system which is dedicated to mere survival of the weakest and most timid is conducive to material prosperity, let alone Spiritual satisfaction.
Inner (or 'moral') values arise from the experience that satisfying actions are beautiful to the feelings. But different communities have widely different experiences depending on their natural environments. So while beautiful feelings may be common to everybody, their modes of experiencing and expressing these feelings may not. Hence legal or institutional expressions of morality may differ widely from one community to another, and any attempt by one community to impose its code of ethics on another is merely asking for trouble. For example, it would be racial suicide for the Inuit to adopt a vegetarian code. So it behoves us to be tolerant and refrain from arrogantly attempting to impose our codes upon others.
Statement 1 wraps me up in my anger and places all my faculties at the disposal of the emotion. I allow myself to be 'carried away'. In my anger, I become different from everybody else, and particularly from whatever agency I perceive, rightly or wrongly, to be the cause of my unpleasant feeling (for anger is unpleasant). There is no point in directing anger against a non-human agency. But if the agent is another person just like myself, it is certain that he or she would share my original feeling of discomfort or dissatisfaction if our roles were reversed.
Statement 2 leaves me free to engage my reasoning faculties. I am able to assess whether or not I should be justified in giving expression to anger against any particular person or group and, if so, how I might direct it appropriately to remove the cause of the feeling. Bearing in mind that any human object of my anger and I share the same Spirit, I can adopt a holistic, and therefore healing, attitude to the circumstances giving rise to the problem. I might even find that all I need do to relieve my feeling of discomfort is change my own attitude towards it.
The trouble is that emotion arises much faster than the intellect can appreciate the situation: it has to, otherwise I might get run over by the truck while my poor brain is struggling to decide which way to jump. But the need for such life and death decisions seldom arises: in almost all cases, there is time for deliberate action or reaction, and it is appropriate to take the time to deliberate. Hence the advice to 'count to ten' (or even a hundred) before letting my emotions run away with me. Constant practice in engaging the reasoning mind before letting the emotions rip gradually becomes a habit and can save one from making many embarrassing blunders.
However, it is possible to be 'too careful' — particularly if I am more concerned about possible damage to my own reputation than about any harm my actions may do to other people. Provided my intentions are honourable, I should never let the fear of making a mistake inhibit me from doing what I feel and believe to be right in the circumstances. Mistakes are learning opportunities and if I never make any, I never learn anything new. For such an ignorant person, that would be a pity!
So Love and Fear act in opposition to one another; both have their place, but Satisfaction is more likely to result from making Love the 'senior partner'. No vehicle can travel far or fast if the driver's foot prefers the brake to the accelerator pedal.
In this essay, 'consideration' means something completely different. The consideration I have in mind is a thoughtful loving concern for other people, recognising that all persons are essentially the same. Love is the recognition and expression of our Oneness. Contrary to most popular opinion, love is not a feeling or an emotion or a sentiment. It is a force of Nature which makes it advisable to adopt a personal strategy or policy of maintaining the intention to be thoughtfully friendly and considerate in all circumstances.
By and large, we in the UK are very awkward in matters of feeling, and this awkwardness is reflected in the clumsiness with which we use words with feeling connotations. So please bear with me while I try to introduce some degree of precision by limiting the range of interpretation of some of the words commonly used in the context of consideration for others.
Empathy is the ability to enter into harmony with the feeling of another person or with the emotions expressed in a work of art. It indicates recognition of Spiritual qualities that human beings have in common.
Sympathy is a sharing in the emotions of others, especially grief or pain.
Pity is a feeling of sympathy for the sufferings or privations of others. But why do we tend to restrict this sympathetic sharing to grief or pain, suffering or privation? Why not share joy? We are conventionally supposed to feel sorry for the failures and misfortunes of others; why not equally rejoice in other people's success and "good luck"? Could it be envy that gets in the way? But why be envious? Is there cause for suspicion that even our pity may not be entirely altruistic, but may be contaminated with a subtle tincture of thankfulness, or even superiority, for being in a position to help or stand apart as we think fit? Should we not do well to reflect that it is only because we have different bodies that we are able to stand apart, and that it is the Spirit inhabiting the bodies that is thereby able to look at, and feel for, Itself as manifested in another person?
Compassion is pity aroused by the distress of others, but with the desire to help them. Unlike pity, compassion is not usually just a matter of weeping or composing a sentimental speech or doing things that the object of pity could do for himself. If we are empathetic, our own store of experience may give us the insight to tailor our aid to the intended recipient in ways that will sustain the Spirit and help the other person find his or her own ways of alleviating the material conditions. As another Internet friend puts it: "to an outsider it may seem that not becoming emotionally distraught at the pain of another indicates a lack of Love. The bottom line is whether we wish to be helpful or self-indulgent. Are we thinking of them or ourselves?"
Perhaps we might also make a helpful distinction between pain and suffering. Pain arises spontaneously to inform us of some disease or discomfort, whether of the body or the Spirit. Suffering is our response to the pain. As yet another Internet friend puts it, "We can respond in love and trust or fear and distrust. Love and trust allow us to accept what is happening and to open our awareness for solutions to the issue at hand; we trust the Spirit to guide and assist us. Fear and distrust perpetuate suffering, and prevent our opening up to Spiritual guidance".
Do you not often find that when you acknowledge you are feeling pain of some sort, and accept responsibility for seeking out and removing the cause, the pain becomes less acute and sinks into the background? It is as if the pain has done its job of alerting you to an imbalance in your life and does not want to get in your way as you seek to restore an appropriate balance. Once balance is restored, the pain subsides altogether.
Adopting a system for regular daily reflection upon your recent experience will help you accelerate your progress towards greater satisfaction. The Perpetual Calendar is intended to help in this respect. While the message for each day is linked in some way with one of our seven 'topics', it is always advisable to spend a few minutes at the end of each day reviewing the day's events and considering how satisfied you feel with your participation in them. On Saturday, you may look back over the working week with the same objective.
If the sages of old are to be relied upon, you will probably find that lasting satisfaction springs from showing consideration for 'others' in all your thoughts, words, and deeds.