“We have only this moment,
sparkling like a star in our hand...
and melting like a snowflake.”

Rationality And Emotion

Excerpt from the book "The Four Noble Truths" by Luang Por Sumedho:
«If you love rational thought and are attached to ideas and perceptions, then you tend to despise the emotions. You can notice this tendency if, when you start to feel emotions, you say, 'I'm going to shut it out. I don't want to feel those things.' You don't like to be feeling anything because you can get into a kind of high from the purity of intelligence and the pleasure of rational thinking. The mind relishes the way it is logical and controllable, the way it makes sense. It is just so clean and neat and precise like mathematics - but the emotions are all over the place, aren't they? They are not precise, they are not neat and they can easily get out of control.

So the emotional nature is often despised. We are frightened of it. For example, men often feel very frightened of emotions because we are brought up to believe that men do not cry. As a little boy, at least in my generation, we were taught that boys do not cry so we'd try to live up to the standards of what boys are supposed to be. They would say, 'You are a boy', and so we'd try to be what our parents said we should he. The ideas of the society affect our minds, and because of that, we find emotions embarrassing. Here in England, people generally find emotions very embarrassing; if you get a little too emotional, they assume that you must be Italian or some other nationality.

If you are very rational and you have figured everything out, then you don't know what to do when people get emotional. If somebody starts crying, you think, 'What am I supposed to do?' Maybe you say, 'Cheer up; it's all right, dear. It'll be all right, there's nothing to cry about.' If you are very attached to rational thought, then you just tend to dismiss it with logic, but emotions do not respond to logic. Often they react to logic, but they do not respond. Emotion is a very sensitive thing and it works in a way that we sometimes do not comprehend. If we have never really studied or tried to understand what it is to feel life, and really opened and allowed ourselves to be sensitive, then emotional things are very frightening and embarrassing to us. We don't know what they are all about because we have rejected that side of ourselves.

On my thirtieth birthday, I realised that I was an emotionally undeveloped man. It was an important birthday for me. I realised that I was a full grown, mature man - I no longer considered myself a youth, but emotionally, I think I was about six years old some of the time. I really had not developed on that level very much. Even though I could maintain the kind of poise and presence of a mature man in society, I did not always feel that way. I still had very strong unresolved feelings and fears in my mind. It became apparent that I had to do something about that, as the thought that I might have to spend the rest of my life at the emotional age of six was quite a dreary prospect.

This is where many of us in our society get stuck. For example, American society does not allow you to develop emotionally, to mature. It does not understand that need at all, so it does not provide any rites of passage for men. The society does not provide that kind of introduction into a mature world; you are expected to be immature your whole life. You are supposed to act mature, but you are not expected to be mature. Therefore, very few people are. Emotions are not really understood or resolved - their childish tendencies are merely suppressed rather than developed into maturity.

What meditation does is to offer a chance to mature on the emotional plane. Perfect emotional maturity would be samma vayama, samma sati and samma samadhi. This is a reflection; you will not find this in any book - it is for you to contemplate. Perfect emotional maturity comprises Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration. It is present when one is not caught in fluctuations and vicissitudes, where one has balance and clarity and is able to be receptive and sensitive.
Things as they are
With Right Effort, there can be a cool kind of acceptance of a situation rather than the panic that comes from thinking that it's up to me to set everybody straight, make everything right and solve everybody's problems. We do the best we can, but we also realise that it's not up to us to do everything and make everything right.

At one time when I was at Wat Pah Pong with Ajahn Chah, I could see a lot of things going wrong in the monastery. So I went up to him and I said, 'Ajahn Chah these things are going wrong; you've got to do something about it.' He looked at me and he said, 'Oh, you suffer a lot, Sumedho. You suffer a lot. It'll change.' I thought, 'He doesn't care! This is the monastery that he's devoted his life to and he's just letting it go down the drain!' But he was right. After a while it began to change and, through just bearing with it, people began to see what they were doing. Sometimes we have to let things go down the drain in order for people to see and to experience that. Then we can learn how not to go down the drain.

Do you see what I mean? Sometimes situations in our life are just this way. There's nothing one can do so we allow them to be that way; even if they get worse, we allow them to get worse. But it's not a fatalistic or negative thing we're doing; it's a kind of patience - being willing to bear with something; allowing it to change naturally rather than egotistically trying to prop everything up and cleaning it all up out of our aversion and distaste for a mess.

Then, when people push our buttons, we're not always offended, hurt or upset by the things that happen, or shattered and destroyed by the things that people say or do. One person I know tends to exaggerate everything. If something goes wrong today, she will say, 'I'm utterly and absolutely shattered!' - when all that has happened is that some little problem occurred. However, her mind exaggerates it to such an extent that a very small thing can absolutely destroy her for the day. When we see this, we should realise that there is a great imbalance because little things should not totally shatter anyone.

I realised that I could be easily offended so I took a vow not to be offended. I had noticed how easy it was for me to be offended by little things, whether intentional or unintentional. We can see how easy it is to feel hurt, wounded, offended, upset or worried - how something in us is always trying to be nice, but always feels a little offended by this or a little hurt by that.

With reflection, you can see that the world is like this; it's a sensitive place. It is not always going to soothe you and make you feel happy, secure and positive. Life is full of things that can offend, hurt, wound or shatter. This is life. It is this way. If somebody speaks in a cross tone of voice, you are going to feel it. But then the mind can go on and be offended: 'Oh, it really hurt when she said that to me; you know, that was not a very nice tone of voice. I felt quite wounded. I've never done anything to hurt her.' The proliferating mind goes on like that, doesn't it - you have been shattered, wounded or offended! But then if you contemplate, you realise it's just sensitivity.

When you contemplate this way, it is not that you are trying not to feel. When somebody talks to you in an unkind tone of voice, it's not that you don't feel it at all. We are not trying to be insensitive. Rather, we are trying not to give it the wrong interpretation, not to take it on a personal level. Having balanced emotions means that people can say things that are offensive and you can take it. You have the balance and emotional strength not to be offended, wounded or shattered by what happens in life.

If you are someone who is always being wounded or offended by life, you always have to run off and hide or you have to find a group of obsequious sycophants to live with, people who say: 'You're wonderful, Ajahn Sumedho.' 'Am I really wonderful?' 'Yes, you are.' 'You're just saying that; aren't you?' 'No, no, I mean it from the bottom of my heart.' 'Well, that person over there doesn't think I'm wonderful.' 'Well, he's stupid!' 'That's what I thought.' It's like the story of the emperor's new clothes, isn't it? You have to seek special environments so that everything is affirmed for you - safe and not threatening in any way.
When there is Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration, then one is fearless. There is fearlessness because there is nothing to be frightened of. One has the guts to look at things and not take them in the wrong way; one has the wisdom to contemplate and reflect upon life; one has the security and confidence of sila, the strength of one's moral commitment and the determination to do good and refrain from doing evil with body and speech. In this way, the whole thing holds together as a path for development. It is a perfect path because everything is helping and supporting; the body, the emotional nature (the sensitivity of feeling), and the intelligence. They are all in perfect harmony, supporting each other.

Without that harmony, our instinctual nature can go all over the place. If we have no moral commitment, then our instincts can take control. For example, if we just follow sexual desire without any reference to morality, then we become caught up in all kinds of things that cause self-aversion. There is adultery, promiscuity and disease, and all the disruption and confusion that come from not reining in our instinctual nature through the limitations of morality.

We can use our intelligence to cheat and lie, can't we, but when we have a moral foundation, we are guided by wisdom and by samadhi; these lead to emotional balance and emotional strength. But we don't use wisdom to suppress sensitivity. We don't dominate our emotions by thinking and by suppressing our emotional nature. This is what we have tended to do in the West; we've used our rational thoughts and ideals to dominate and suppress our emotions, and thus become insensitive to things, to life and to ourselves.

However, in the practice of mindfulness through vipassana meditation, the mind is totally receptive and open so that it has this fullness and an all-embracing quality. And because it is open, the mind is also reflective. When you concentrate on a point, your mind is no longer reflective - it is absorbed into the quality of that object. The reflective ability of the mind comes through mindfulness; whole-mindedness. You are not filtering out or selecting. You are just noting whatever arises ceases. You contemplate that if you are attached to anything that arises, it ceases. You have the experience that even though it might be attractive while it is arising, it changes towards cessation. Then it's attractiveness diminishes and we have to find something else to absorb into.

The thing about being human is that we have to touch the earth, we have to accept the limitations of this human form and planetary life. And just by doing that, then the way out of suffering isn't through getting out of our human experience by living in refined conscious states, but by embracing the totality of all the human and Brahma realms through mindfulness. In this way, the Buddha pointed to a total realisation rather than a temporary escape through refinement and beauty. This is what the Buddha means when he is pointing the way to Nibbana.»

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