The glow of sunset told us we’d been sitting in this Parisian cafe much longer than anticipated. But the engaging conversation had kept us there. My friend and I had been talking for hours about spirituality and mental health.
We realized we’d learned to suppress “bad” emotions and highlight other “positive” ones, which limited our ability to be honest with ourselves and others. And, as has become increasingly evident in society today, suppressed emotions tend to come out in other ways, often affecting our health and well-being.
Over-analyzing emotions or trying to not feel what we feel can lead to cruelty and heartlessness. Conversely, living by every emotional impulse can lead into self-destruction or extremism. Self-control is key to functioning as individuals and as a society. The way we deal with our inner world affects the way we live in the outer world.
Rather than muting or dulling our emotions, we can balance feelings with thoughts before they turn into emotional responses. This “sweet rhythm of head and heart,” as Christian Science discoverer Mary Baker Eddy puts it in “Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896” (p. 160), promises we won’t become overwhelmed by our feelings and unable to function in society. Nor will we live primarily in our heads with a disregard for genuine feeling and affection.
Instead, we can feel a spiritual balance that comes out from our true nature, which isn’t a mixture of good/bad, positive/negative. It’s an unopposed goodness – joy that doesn’t come and go, but is rooted in the unchanging nature of God, good.
When my dad left my family when I was in high school, I put on a strong, happy face and continued doing well in school, while working at night to help make ends meet. But then I began having panic attacks. Back then, no one talked about anxiety, and I felt ashamed, not wanting anyone to know I didn’t have it all together.
So, I would pray. I would hide among the mothballs and clothing in the closet in my room, reading “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” by Mrs. Eddy and the Bible by flashlight until I felt surrounded by light and love. Every time, the shaking stopped and I could breathe normally again.
These attacks ended for good when it began to feel more important to know my true selfhood as God knows me than to appear perfect or ultra-positive. When we honestly listen for divine wisdom, without self-judgment, self-condemnation, or shame, overwhelming feelings are gently calmed.
Accepting an all-good God does not mean ignoring negative emotions. Instead, the power of this divine goodness, infinite Love itself, shows we are never too messy or emotional for God to bring peace to our hearts.
There is a healing power in true self-knowledge. The basis for knowing ourselves and not living at the mercy of our emotions is understanding that our true individuality comes from the divine Mind, another name for God – not from an accumulation of messy experiences. This spiritual foundation of our identity is not a jumble of good and bad feelings, nor is it an endless chase to maintain a happy emotional state at all costs. It’s an awareness of the wholeness of our being in God. Happiness may at times be fleeting, but even then, we can feel a deep peace from knowing ourselves this way.
The Bible says Jesus was “moved with compassion” (see, for example, Mark 1:41). But he didn’t get overcome by emotionalism. He showed a pure affection that reflected spiritual balance, equanimity, and stillness.
We don’t need to feel stuck in a cycle of always having certain emotional reactions in certain circumstances. We’re not meant to just cope with life. Understanding ourselves as the outcome of God, we feel a wholeness based in our oneness with the divine Mind. This brings lasting emotional health.
As my friend and I discussed that day, we are all capable of noticing feelings and emotions without letting them control us. God-given qualities of being – such as joy and peace – are not affected by human experience, but affect human experience. Finding the right rhythm of thinking and feeling gives us a solid basis for mental and emotional health so we can help others find it as well.
Adapted from an editorial published in the June 10, 2019, issue of the Christian Science Sentinel.