Life of the Spirit: Thoughts and Emotions(and dreams)

From the body signals of last week’s blog to the dreams, thoughts and emotions of this week’s is not a long journey. No matter the source of the signal, the important point is to pay attention. Dreams constitute a special category, because they have a language of their own, a metaphoric, poetic symbolism that needs to be unpacked, not unlike the signals from the body, and they offer up a truth about us that is discoverable.  I won’t spend much time talking about dreams here, except to say that they offer many important clues to us if we’re willing to take the time to decipher them. There are many excellent books on dreams and dream analysis.

Unlike dreams which offer up truth about us, our thoughts and emotions often arise from opinions and judgments that we accepted as true. Right up front I want to say that we are not our thoughts or our emotions. They are among the many false “gods” that we can put between us and God. Just because you think something doesn’t make it true! This is especially true of thoughts about ourselves. The repetitive, and usually negative, thinking, the “tape” in our minds, grabs us emotionally, negatively, drawing us back into the past.  These thoughts represent what we learned as a child, the attitudes and opinions of parents and teachers and other important people in our lives. They are often trying to warn us of some danger, a situation from the past that has no present relevance or may be way overstated. One example from my life is being on time. This was a high value in my parents’ house and I am to this day pretty driven to be on time.  Now there is nothing wrong with being on time, it’s a fine quality, but if you add a mistrust of yourself, and a hyperactivity on behalf of serving that “god,’ it is no longer a fine trait. My own internal timer has led to some arguments with my husband on the way to the airport, when in reality there was plenty of time, but not enough to satisfy this inner “god” and the fear it generates in me.  In other instances I have arrived too early for some hosts who count on a grace period of fifteen minutes or a half an hour after the prescribed time to finish preparations.

Another “god” I have suffered from is this thought: “it’s not going to work out for me.”  I’m not sure where this comes from, but that thought is patently a lie, for many things in my life have worked out beautifully, but my internal “god” always says no.

We accept as children, seemingly wholeheartedly, pronouncements about us or how to behave such as the two above, both explicit and implicit, from family members and other important adults in our lives: “You’re no artist, don’t even try;” “You are so lazy, why don’t you just do the math;” “your [brother, sister, cousin] will always do better than you, because you are stupid;” “Don’t move away from here, you must stay near your family;” “You’re a woman, you belong in the home;” etc. Other children deliver these kinds of messages: “You’re not in the popular crowd;” “you’re not thin or pretty enough;” “you’re so clumsy you can’t play sports;” or “you’re a nerd.”

The family and society can inculcate prejudice about others in us against other races or nationalities. In addition here is an “America” way to do anything that we absorb inadvertently from the culture: be direct, make the most money you can, go for the gold, pull yourself up by the bootstraps, etc. There may be some truth in these statements, but we tend to apply them negatively and universally, true or not.  These various attitudes just illustrate how corrupt our thinking can be, even when the attitudes are not the truth!

Here’s an illustration of how potent our culture is. When I was growing up in the 40’s and 50’s, Marilyn Monroe was the epitome of what a woman should be: curvy, beautiful, and sexy. In the 1990’s I saw her movie, “Some Like it Hot,” on TV. I thought she looked fat! In the intervening years, the model of a perfect woman had gone from a size 14 to a size 2. Unknowingly, my thinking had followed like a sheep.

Like a glacier which calves with some 5,000 years of accumulated debris, we have accumulated a lot of unnecessary and unhelpful thinking that rules us until we cease to give it power. Our emotions then follow our thinking.  If we grow up thinking that we can’t do math, every time we face a math problem or a situation that needs math skills we may panic, be totally scared of the situation and avoid all math like it’s the plague, just because of being taught that we’re not good at math. This sense of panic, of not being good enough to do math or anything else is a habit of thought fortified by old emotions, deeply ingrained, from the past; it may or may not be the truth, but in us it has the ring of truth. And if it is true, then we must feel bad about it. Math may have been more of a challenge for you than for others, but so what?  We all have strengths and weaknesses—that’s the truth. Today, any lie stands between the Life of the Spirit and us and needs to be let go of, because our negative thinking about ourselves keeps us from the relationship with God. It is a signal that something is wrong with my thinking. Once you understand what the signal is telling you, offer it up to God.  I am feeling _______, now I lift it up to you. I let it go.

Emotions can be very direct signals, too.  Over a long period of time in my marriage, one sign of being angry at my husband was this: I’d find myself singing, “I’m going to wash that man right out of my hair!” That’s a very clear signal; all I had to do was figure out the trigger for that anger. Another time I had shingles, an outbreak caused by the chicken pox virus on the surface of the skin.  In tracing the meaning of that condition I figured out that the shingles were caused, at least in part, by anger. Emotions, like old thinking, must be healed and transformed.  Use the onset of emotional states to clear out habitual patterns of feeling: let them go and lift them up to God.

The purpose of the emotional and mental clearings is to attune our being to a more harmonious state, like a violin being tuned for an orchestra. A violin needs to be tuned each time it is played so that its tone agrees with the other instruments, so it can play in harmony. So in the same way we need to harmonize with God’s much more positive energy through clearing out what no longer serves us, all those false “gods,” so that we can be a clear vehicle for his love. In this process of attuning thoughts and emotions become signals that something is not right in me and needs to be released.

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