Wouldn’t it be a great world if everything we felt lined up with everything we intellectually knew? Imagine if the foods and beverages we felt inclined to consume were exactly what we knew to be good for us. A quick scan of the world makes it pretty clear that religious feelings outweigh humanity’s rational approach to spirituality. On the other hand, how many times have you had a gut feeling that turned out to be correct, in spite of what the rational intellect dictated? The question becomes: How do we balance and integrate our feelings with our thoughts? How do we get our intellect and our emotions to work together instead of combating one another? We can start making progress on these conundrums by paying attention to the below signs that signal areas of growth.
1. Intense Emotional Red Flags
Usually, an intense emotional response indicates a lack of integration. Often, this can be an intense emotional aversion to another person. How many times have you experienced a misunderstanding with another person? It could have infuriated you. Perhaps for days, you couldn’t let it go. Then at some point, when they explain themselves, you realize you misunderstood the situation. Nevertheless, every time you think about that person, the anger, hurt, and resentment returns. You intellectually know better, but the intense negative emotional response is still there. We would do well to work with such intense emotional red flags. They can point the way to deeper emotional issues, perhaps even from childhood. I think we all recognize how difficult it is to hold such intense emotions in a mature and reasonable manner. Unfortunately, our lives are usually guided by such emotions.
We humans are really quite clever: we can justify almost anything with the intellect. Consequently, truths are sometimes more attainable through our feelings rather than through our thoughts. At other times, we may re-frame life’s experiences from a perspective that justifies whatever our emotional response may be. Unfortunately then, both our thoughts and emotions must be carefully scrutinized. Are we rationalizing or are we discerning? Are we off on a rash emotional tangent or are we tapping into the more refined, wise, and reasonable feelings within us? In fact, doesn’t reasonable mean a healthy integration of our deeper feelings with our rational thought? And what of our more passionate emotions? How difficult it can be for these passions to be consistent with our deepest truths. Indeed, that wise balance and integration of our feelings with our rational thoughts can be most elusive.
3. Biases and Indoctrinations
We’ve all been indoctrinated to think and feel certain ways. For example, religious affinities are more the result of the family and environmental influences than a rational look at spirituality. Such cultural orientations can be a very good and beautiful thing. However, at the same time, indoctrinations into various religious perspectives can certainly, at times, be more detrimental than constructive. A healthy balance between our emotional and spiritual biases and our rational mind can be very difficult to accomplish. It can require a great deal of self-honesty which is not always easy to attain. Yet, that balance can lead to a deeper and fuller understanding of the true nature of our religions.
When thoughts and emotions are in conflict, attaining a healthy balance requires a settled soul. When we’re in an agitated state, balance is unattainable. It is essential to find a quiet time and space to ponder and reflect upon such conflict. We mustn’t hurry or rush the process. Instead of looking for the solution, we would do well to allow ourselves to go with the natural flow of our thoughts and emotions, while holding onto neither. It’s more an exploration than pursuit of a conclusion. Such reflection is non-judgmental. It’s almost like listening to music—just allowing whatever comes to flow easily, innocently, and simply. It’s like tilling the soil. Integration of thoughts and emotions blossoms naturally as we cultivate the art of reflection throughout our lives. It is called the attainment of wisdom.
Michael Mamas is the founder of The Center of Rational Spirituality, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the betterment of humanity through the integration of ancient spiritual wisdom with modern rational thought. Dr. Michael Mamas helps individuals and organizations develop a deeper understanding and more comprehensive outlook by providing a ‘bridge’ between the abstract and concrete, the Eastern and Western, and the ancient and modern. Connect with Michael Mamas on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+.