It happens to everyone. Flooded with powerful feelings of anger, or outrage, or panic, or sorrow, we do or say things that are well beyond the pale. We can’t believe it. Anyone can be blindsided by emotions, without any understanding of what is happening
Is there a person among us who cannot find the humility to admit that during our lives we have done and said things that later shocked us, things that we would give anything to reverse or take back?
Sometimes it is fleeting. It comes as a blitzkrieg of excitation, flashing into our routine so vividly we react without hesitation. When that occurs, terrible things happen, but they do not persist. In any way we can, we try to make amends when the compulsion passes, or we stoically face the consequences for irremediable actions we felt helpless to prevent in that moment.
When it is chronic, however, we appear to be in serious trouble. When it is chronic and pervasive, we are alienated, and we stumble together into one of the circles of hell with no idea of how to climb out of it.
That is the condition of many parts of the world today: Human beings chronically blindsided by overwhelming feelings that lead them into saying and doing negative, destructive, even horrifying, things. Human beings falling into a chronic state of agitation and upset, not knowing where it is coming from, and not knowing how to get out of it. When we don’t have an answer, we look outside ourselves, desperately, for anyone, anything, who says they do.
A simple, universal answer is available to, actually is innate to, everyone on earth. Peace of mind is intrinsic, generated internally, and within our reach. Precipitous emotions are not calls to immediate action; rather they are our internal warning systems that we need to slow down, stop, await wisdom. Violent emotions are like the sirens that go off when tornadoes are coming; they tell us to stay calm, take shelter, wait quietly until the storm passes. Psychologically, what that looks like is recognizing the urgency for what it is (a flood of insecure thoughts), allowing the thought storm to pass — doing as little as possible when we feel a rush of destructive emotions pushing us to act precipitously.
With understanding of how we function psychologically, with knowledge of our true nature as the thinkers of our own thoughts, creators of our own experience, we have no need to lash out — or to blame ourselves or anyone else. We have the absolute power simply to act on thoughts that arise during clear-headed states of mind, and to step aside from thoughts that arise as overwhelming emotional upheavals.
We can see that this, as everything, is a matter of degree. If we see it in the small, distressing things in life, we can see how the same process is at work in the big, terrible things, only magnified. So here is a simple example.
Before I learned the Principles underlying our experience of life, I was CEO of a company that — among other things — operated medical billing for a number of doctors’ offices. It was before the dawn of desktop computing; we ran a mini-computer system that was programed by expensive experts who came from out of town. Every time some small rule changed in the way billing was submitted, we had to fly the programmers in and shut down for a day or more while they changed the system to accommodate the new forms. Medicare, especially, seemed prone to issuing new directives frequently, some of them changing nothing more than the location of a certain bit of information on a complex form. As the owner of a business that was operating on small margins generated by the volume of billing we handled and the timeliness with which we handled it, I fretted that this was very costly to us. When seemingly unimportant changes arrived from insurers, I would be incensed. I knew better than to take it out on my employees, but my office had a big window to the general work area and I would fly into reactions that anyone could see and hear.
As I was starting to learn the Principles, I realized how ridiculous that was. Nothing I said or did was going to change the situation. We had to continually find economical ways to adjust to the reality of our business. Getting upset was a drain on my well-being and a waste of my time, as well as distressing to those around me. As the truth of the inside-out nature of life dawned on me, I realized I did not have to get upset; it was within my power to allow upsetting thoughts to pass without acting on them, to quiet down and wait for better answers to occur to me in a calm state of mind.
Shortly after that awakening, we got another one of those notices. My assistant put the mail on my desk, and scurried back to her desk, watching for my reaction. I read the notice. A torrent of angry thoughts came to mind. I took them as a warning to sit down and stay quiet until they passed. So I just sat at my desk and looked out the window until I calmed down.
A few minutes later one of my employees knocked on my door. She was taking computer classes, she said, and she thought she would be able to re-program our system for the changes that came in. At least, she said she would like to give it a try.
“How long have you thought that?” I asked.
“Several months, since I’ve been taking these courses,” she said, “but I was always afraid to talk to you about it because the subject made you so mad. I didn’t think you would listen. I didn’t want you to yell at me. But you seem different today so I got up the courage to tell you. I am not sure I can do it, but if you give me a chance, I am sure I will not in any way damage our system by trying.”
She was able to do it, saving us thousands of dollars and hours of time. The only barrier between her success and our company’s well-being was my self-absorbed anger. I could not blame the insurance industry, the mailman, the “system.” The answer was sitting outside my door and I had been too angry and too emotionally reactive to allow it in.
That was the first of many humbling experiences I have had — and continue to have — as I realized more and more clearly the consequences of giving in to insecure thinking, negative emotions, and reactive impulses. Every day, I see more and more clearly that I am only one thought away from a completely different experience of the same external events. As I see that in myself, and in others, it is difficult not to long for the day when every child on the planet is taught the simple psychological logic of life. We live from the spirit, the breath of life, that empowers everything we do, including the ability to generate thoughts and see them as real. And including the free will we have to take any thoughts, any interpretation of our own reality, seriously, or not. Our guidance system is our emotional state, our state of mind.
An upset state of mind may feel urgent, but it is not the clarion call to action; it is the warning siren to take shelter from all those negative feelings. It is the signal to find safety within our fundamental understanding that peace of mind, clarity, creativity, new answers, a whole different perspective, is only one thought away.
The doorway to that new thought is quietude. It is always open.
*The illustration above was drawn a year ago by my grandson, Anthony Quesen, then age 16. It is 2/3 of a large triptych. I have placed the entire triptych below to be fair to the artist and honor his permission to me to extract a portion of it. I felt it captured the contrast between emotional upheaval and reflection.