Beliefs and emotions

NYElight.jpg

Light on Diamond Head on New Year’s Eve morning.

As I was muddling through some sweeping emotions and difficult life circumstances yesterday, I was reminded once again (even after writing about it extensively in my book) of the inextricable linkage between our beliefs and our emotions. In particular, I remembered how often beliefs give rise to what we feel.

If I believe things won’t get better, I will feel despondent.

If I believe things won’t get better but that I can handle whatever comes, I will have feelings of peace and confidence amidst fear or despondency.

If I believe things will get better, I will feel sad at the difficulties but hopeful for the future.

If I believe person x has it out for me, I will feel defensive in her presence regardless of her words and actions.

And on and on.

I then recalled that the inverse is also true. Emotions influence our beliefs just as much as beliefs influence our emotions. If I feel depressed, I may start to believe that things won’t get better. If I feel happy, I am more likely to believe things will work out or are already working out. If I feel deep affection towards and attachment to someone, I will more likely believe the best of them.

It can be incredibly difficult to figure out which came first, the emotion or the belief. They are so much a package deal. However, sometimes, with a little introspection, we can figure out how well or poorly each or both reflect reality. Holding up our instinctive responses to the piercing, exposing light of reality is our task as thinking, perceiving, feeling, believing humans.

Sometimes the light creeps in slowly and we untangle the emotional ball slowly, one reaction at a time, or we unpack our beliefs one assumption at a time. Adaptation to truth is often gradual, and we shouldn’t judge the timing of anyone’s process if they are moving forward. Sometimes reality becomes clear all at once and we feel a distinct shift marking a different stage of believing and feeling. Sometimes, of course, we realize just how much our current beliefs and emotions do reflect what’s real, and we can rest easy in their truthful, though imperfect, presence.

Emotions and beliefs are wonderful things. Neither is an infallible guide to truth or reality, but both are very useful helpmates and can be quite accurate, or at least illuminating. Learning to identify what we believe, what we feel, and also what is real will free us from being driven entirely by beliefs and emotions, and will enable us to better align our internal bits with the realities of the outside world. It will even enable us to better align our inside bits with the realities of who we are.

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