Articles From the November 1994 Unification News
When Your Heart Chills Out, Part 1
Is your prayer life as dry as saltines? Is your zeal for God near zero?
Are your providential ambitions out to lunch? All of us have experienced a dry spiritual life once in a while. But what happens if you're stuck in a killing drought that seems to go on forever?
I have known this. From being a workshop director and spiritual parent several times over, I found myself becoming someone with no desire-in fact an aversion-to witnessing. From being a passionate Principle lecturer, I saw myself becoming lukewarm and even reluctant to teach. My prayer life had long since been reduced to a trickle of perfunctory appeals. Whether towards God and True Parents or toward friends and family, my capacity to love seemed to be slowly fading.
I had gone through the usual remedies: workshops, prayer, study of Father's words, care for people. I was fortunate to be in a uniquely inspiring mission, involved in spiritual education and interaction with many enthusiastic new members. But divine words-True Parent's speeches, Sunday sermons, the Bible-slid off my heart as if it were made of teflon. Where compassion, concern and desire to give salvation should be I found only growing indifference and a fear of commitment.
When I reflected on my internal state I was frightened and sometimes to the point of panic. I felt like a hypocrite and a fraud. But I could numb out even these feelings in the routine of performing my duties and meeting others' expectations of me. Only in the presence of those who represented my responsibility to God-leaders, my wife and child, younger members- did the pain of my inner contradiction become acute. Even then I learned to cope by indulging in cynicism and comforting myself by thinking that so many others were the same as I.
Feelings need expression
What I have learned is that our emotional lives follow certain principles. One is that our original heart cannot flow and animate our emotional lives in a healthy way as long as there are old, stale feelings that are already filling us up and have not been allowed to be released. I call this "emotional constipation." These old feelings may have been called bad, taboo and unacceptable somewhere in the past. They are real feelings, however, and demand expression.
God intended that our feelings and desires should be expressed. The healthy way would be to let out the feelings around the time that they arise; we laugh, we cry, we shout, we sigh. Sometimes we would share feelings with others; at other times we would be content to share them with God. Once the feeling was expressed, we might realize the need to change something about ourselves or our situation or apologize for what we said or did. The point is, however, to let the feelings out, for two reasons. One is so that we can know the truth about ourselves and the world. The other is to reclaim these rejected feelings so that they can be harnessed to get constructive things done.
In an ideal world, we would not know unending frustration, sorrow or pain. In this fallen world, however, this is our tragic reality. Our natural process for dealing with these feelings is by airing them; crying or seeking comfort and insight. Once processed in this way we gain strength and wisdom to act responsibly. The same is true of corresponding feelings of fear, guilt, and anger. All of these have their healthy function, and once properly dealt with they bring the fruits of understanding and power to live a better life. Stifling our emotions
Our upbringings, however, often train us to stifle these feelings. We learn to pretend they are not there. Whether through workaholic activity or drug abuse, whether through loud music or food binges, whether through promiscuous sex or compulsive study, we find ways to medicate the feelings that constantly threaten to spoil our respectable facades and disrupt our tidy lives. These adaptations may have been necessary to survive at some point but they persist beyond their usefulness. One problem becomes that with all the energy we devote to keeping the demons within at bay, we may find little energy to give to constructive pursuits. Our capacity for love begins to evaporate, along with our passion for life. We care less and less about more and more.
In religious life, this can be aggravated by condemnation of our unacceptable feelings in the name of God or theological belief. Further, there is the premium placed on looking good and "fitting in"- with the community of faith. We want to be spiritually mature-truly beyond anger and resentment-so much so that we pretend to be there when we are not. We also hope that by starving the weeds of our unwanted feelings and fertilizing the crop of our desirable ones, our fallen nature will simply wither and die. This appears to work for a time, but the weeds will remain dormant as roots or seeds to spring to life again when conditions are right. Or, using the constipation metaphor, we feel sluggish and vaguely ill as the toxins infiltrate our system.
In the next in this series of articles, I shall explore the ineffectiveness of many of the tactics we use to cope with our undesirable feelings. On this basis we shall discuss the solution in subsequent articles.
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