Last night the family went to see my youngest daughter shine in a magnificent (obviously) musical performance. This morning she came into the kitchen with a sad face on and said “When you’re in a show and it ends, it’s really sad.”
Before I even had the chance to comment, her face brightened as she said “Are we still going to the pumpkin patch today?” and began making the case for our getting the largest pumpkin in Neill family history. About an hour later, when my wife joined us for coffee and hot cocoa, the journey from happy to sad to happy was repeated in roughly the same sequence.
I call this phenomenon the “sine curve of emotion”, as the rise and fall or our moods and emotions tend to go up and down with the consistency and predictability of a mathematical equation.
Of course, whereas a traditional sine curve looks something like this:
There are a couple of different ways we attempt to do this. The first is to try and master the art of positive thinking. Because at some level we recognize that our emotions follow our thoughts, we try to control our thoughts to master our emotions. The problem with this strategy is that thought doesn’t seem to lend itself to control over time, and nearly everybody experiences a backlash from this “fake it ’til you make it” ind of approach.
The resultant artificially altered curve tends to wind up looking something like this:
The second way we try to avoid the ups and downs of the emotional sine curve is to completely deaden ourselves to our emotions, attempting to stay at a comfortable “5” on a scale from 1 to 10. For a time, this detached apathy can be a relief from the crazy up and down ride of the sine curve, and we can easily confuse it with peace of mind. The difference is, peace of mind actually feels good – the apathy of detachment doesn’t feel like much of anything.
While we sometimes give these feelings emotional labels, like gratitude, humility, awe, peace, joy, and bliss, what sets them apart is their unconditionality – their consistent presence through time, regardless of how things are going in our lives. They are the constant backdrop against which our emotional life unfolds – the space out of which our thoughts and emotions arise and back into which they dissolve.
For me, it seems this world of deeper feeling is a part of our birthright – the simple feeling of being and aliveness we were born with, uncontaminated by the wild imaginings of our personal thinking. And the moment my thoughts settle, regardless of where I happen to be on the emotional sine curve, these deeper feelings rise up closer and closer to the surface until they break through into my consciousness.
I often think of these deeper feelings in terms of water – a river that flows with peace and well-being; a well of being which we can always dip into and never runs dry; an ocean of consciousness that surrounds me at all times.
As I live with a deeper awareness of this world of deeper feeling, the ups and downs of the emotional sine curve matter less and less to me. I don’t have to worry about whether I am happy or sad in any given moment, knowing that whatever my thoughts and emotions happen to be doing at the time, I can inevitably find a deeper feeling that allows me to fully experience my emotional highs and lows without any need to change or control them.
Because I’m no longer messing with my emotions, they become surprisingly less messy. Normal service is resumed, and I experience my natural ups and downs without the accompanying story and drama. I’m less hypnotized by my highs or frightened by my lows. In short, I’m able to live my life free from the craving to control my experience by attempting to control the universe of circumstance or the constellation of thought and emotion.
Does this mean I wouldn’t feel sad when my “show” ends?
Not at all. It just means that for the most part, I’m able to experience that sadness without the fear that it will turn into depression or has any significance beyond the temporary reality of the moment.
And when my daughter experiences that sadness, I don’t need to rescue her or make it better. I get to just love her and enjoy her company. And in that moment, we both fall into the embrace of the world of deeper feeling which surround us…