We all have the experience with being afflicted by the ravages of consuming emotions: Guilt. Envy. Bitterness. Worry. Despair. These are the emotions that feed on the goodness of our hearts, bit by bit taking from the heart’s abundant energy. These emotions eat away at us, but they are never satisfied. Never nourished. Whatever energy they take from us, they always want more. And they give nothing in return.
We can look at these emotions as parasitic pests. We can try and push these emotions away. We can try to deny them. We can try to lock them away in the recesses of our hearts where they will never see the light of day. But in our desperate hours, they will come knocking. And if we do not know how to take care of them, they will eat away at us until we feel we have no goodness left inside.
So how do we take care of these emotions? By showing them the patience and understanding that we would a misguided friend. The friend who, no matter how hard they try to help us, always ends up making matters worse. We can have compassion for them. We can show them understanding.
You see, all of these emotions want the best for us. They want us to be happy. They want us to be free. And if we understand their intentions, we can thank them for their trouble and send them on their way.
To our misguided friend, Guilt, we might say: “Hello Guilt. Thank you for showing up. I know you want me to be a better person. You believe that if I were a more perfect human being, I would be spared any unhappiness. But Guilt, there is no such thing as a perfect human being. I can be happy and imperfect. So thank you for your concern, but I am happy just as I am: an imperfect being who tries their best.”
To our hungry friend, Envy, we could say: “Hello Envy. Yes. I see that other people who have more than me appear to be happy. But I do not think that happiness dwells in material possessions. How can that be? Happiness is something I can create within myself. And by the way, I am not so sure that the people you believe to be happier than me are really deeply happy. I am sure they have similar problems to me. Maybe even larger. Anyway, there is no such thing as perfect happiness. So no material thing can grant me perfect happiness.
To our tired friend, Bitterness, we might say, “Hello Bitterness. I know you are trying to protect me from disappointment by telling me that life is hard. Of course it makes sense. If I expect everyone and everything to let me down, how can I possibly be disappointed when they do? If I am bitter, I’ll no longer feel the sting of disappointment. But I will also stop feeling the delight of being surprised. I’ll stop feeling the joy of amazement. I am certain that I will be disappointed. That’s okay. I would rather feel occasional disappointment than feeling nothing at all.
To our overly vigilant friend, Worry, we could offer, “Hello Worry. I see that you are concerned that I might experience pain. So you are trying to warn me that pain is coming to get me. But don’t you see, Worry, that pain is a part of life? You can’t prevent it. Your incessant warnings are not keeping me safe. You are actually creating pain by constantly needling me with your stories about the terrible things that might happen. Worry, you want me to be free from suffering, but your torment is the thing that is causing me suffering. I do not need your help right now, thank you for trying though. I know you want me to be safe and happy.”
And finally, to our friend, Despair — the most powerful of these emotions, the one most convincing in their loud insistence that life is meaningless and there is no point in trying, we might gently tell it, “Despair, I see that you want me to stop investing my vital energy into my life. You must truly know how inherently precious that energy is. You have spoken at length with Worry and Bitterness, and you have concluded that no matter what I do, it will amount to nothing. You don’t want me to spend my time and energy on Life if Life gives me nothing in return. But don’t you see Despair, Life is always offering me kindnesses. Life is always offering me beauty. You say these don’t matter. You say these are too small to compensate me for my trouble. You say that the gift of a smile or a drifting cloud or a kind word will never be enough to sustain me. But you are wrong, Despair. These are gifts of infinite importance. I wish you could see that.”
We can smile to these emotions. We can offer them the solace of understanding. After all, they are stronger than they are. We are wiser. We can see the error of their thinking. And we can say, “No thank you” to their overzealous and misguided attempts to protect us from Life itself. We have the ability to accept Life, in its unpredictability and in its imperfection. We can do this with strength and with confidence. We can open our hearts to the unpredictability and the imperfection. We can welcome it. Yes, we will be certain to experience pain. But we will also certainly experience great joy.