“Just notice them and be curious,” my friend said as 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. We’d been talking for hours about spirituality and mental health.
Her comment referred to emotions. We’d been realizing how we had learned to label certain emotions as good or bad, positive or negative. And this shaped and limited our ability to be honest with ourselves and others by suppressing certain emotions and highlighting others. And yet, as has become increasingly evident in society today, suppressed emotions tend to come out in other ways, often affecting our health and well-being.
But there’s also a reason not to act on every emotional impulse. Self-control and self-possession are 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. So rather than muting or dulling our emotions, we can learn through Christian Science how to balance feelings with thoughts before they turn into emotional responses. This “sweet rhythm of head and heart” (Mary Baker Eddy, 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.
This means we can overcome what feels like a tyranny of positivity. How often I’ve heard a friend tell another who’s describing a serious problem, “Just be positive!” But positive thinking wasn’t enough for me 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. Then I began having panic attacks. Back then, no one talked about anxiety, and I didn’t know what was going on. I just knew I would shake uncontrollably and have shortness of breath. I felt ashamed, not wanting anyone to know I didn’t have it all together.
So, I would pray along the lines Jesus advised when he said to go into your closet. I could actually take this literally, as I had a huge walk-in closet in my room. I would hide amongst the mothballs and out-of-season clothing, 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.
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. We don’t have to keep hard feelings hidden or hold to a false positivity, but can lay all feeling and emotion on an altar before an infinitely loving God. When we honestly and authentically listen for divine wisdom, without self-judgment, self-condemnation, or shame, overwhelming feelings gently settle, calm, and become still.
The all-power of divine goodness and infinite Love affirms our wholeness and embraces all aspects of our being.
Accepting an all-good God does not mean also accepting toxic positivity. It doesn’t advocate for ignoring negative emotions and just trying to not see them. Instead, the all-power of this divine goodness and infinite Love affirms our wholeness and embraces all aspects of our being. And shows how the core of our being is never too messy or emotional for divine presence 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 our individuality from divine Mind. Watching our emotions and finding the balance of head and heart is not an effort or activity of the human mind. That sounds exhausting! And would focus life too narrowly on self-improvement.
Rather, it involves seeing our individuality as directly flowing from the oneness and allness of divine Mind, not from an accumulation of messy human 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 us a pure affection that reflected spiritual balance, equanimity, and stillness. This invites us to not stifle hard emotions, but to examine them and see what they have to teach us. Overanalyzing emotions, suppressing them, 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.
Christian Science is the only practice I’ve found anywhere that lifts humanity out of getting 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 transcend mortality and feel a wholeness based in oneness with divine Mind. This ensures emotional health, not just in one instance, but in every instance. Rather than a tyranny of positivity, we can experience the freedom of authentic living and see the unlimited nature of our spiritual being.
As my friend and I discussed that day in Paris, we are designed to notice feelings and emotions, but not to let them control us. God-given qualities of being 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.
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