Friday, November 21, 2008
Personal and Transpersonal Emotions
Just after midnight. This journalist's deadline is extended, as you have come to expect from someone riding other waves and journeys. In this installment the issue of feelings arises. And I am here not just to do the usual tapdance around the subject with fine-sounding phrases.
Actually as I write I must say the urge to accomplish too fat birds with one stone - the expression of feelings and wider publication - forms a dual purpose with power: as I rise to the occasion with strength and inspiration. But then in the next breath I relax into the winter sleep, forgetting your presence on my doorstep. Have I not yet invited you in? When you say How are you, how am I (feeling, that is ...)?
At the moment I can identify ...
neutral ... but that's a cop-out.
sad ... but that's really just tired.
inspired ... by pipe dreams.
empowered ... but that's an illusion of egocentric politics.
content ... but that was earlier this evening.
happy ... depends how you define it.
I come back as I once did long ago to a kind of Buddhist understanding that most human emotions (start with the powerful ones like fear, greed, love, and joy) are usually attached to our desires and aversions; these distract us from truer, more lasting states of tranquility, which are available to us through spiritual practice and awareness.
On the other hand, Pema Chodron (When Things Fall Apart) came along when I needed her most, after a sudden marriage breakup, teaching me to make the best use of those emotions that were arising in that situation.
Back to present time: I'm skirting again - after even contradicting those emotions I so briefly affirmed. But here I am at least expressing. And if the flow of words is heady and ungrounded, so be the nature of my feeling, as it grows in power again at the very pace of thought and the music of the words playing their way on to the page.
It's kind of like blues vs. jazz -- with blues representing the more raw and direct expression of those human feelings most arising from attachment, and the jazz evolution finding, as it were, new kinds of emotion in the sheer possibilities allowed by freedom and transcendent form. Think B. B. King compared to John Coltrane or Miles Davis.
Besides, it's not me that is the subject of your interest; it's sharing concern about those things that move me. Politics? Well, there's your rage (my rage, actually). If I express that . . . ranting doesn't carry anyone very far. So I have to transform it, into research and networking, to the extent I can act on it all all. Otherwise there is denial; and distraction by myriad masks; yet I still give Buddhism top marks for putting it all in larger, all-embracing perspective.
Personal emotion has again to do with attachment, yet it is very real. For me to express such with you, however, when we have no intimate personal connection, would be inappropriate: it would be the one-sided rant, or like reading over the shoulder someone else's gushing report from summer camp. Or I could portray it (channel it, you might say, from my own experience as well as others') in the form of fiction, drama, or lest I forget, poetry (the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings recollected in tranquility --Wordsworth).
I guess I'll have to leave it at that for now, to catch some of the latter.
What Wordsworth expressed in his poetry were the kind of feelings I would call transpersonal: those feelings of communion with nature and with people who live as integral parts of the natural fabric. And in music, again (which is a form of natural energy) it is possible to access states of feeling that are beyond the realm of simply personal experience. In fact I would say that it is only when we are free from the grip of personal emotions such as lust and affection or anger and jealously, that we can be open enough to receive the transpersonal emotions such as compassion or righteous indignation (think Jesus vs. the moneylenders, or Martin Luther King, Jr., or more recently, Congressman Dennis Kucinich with his fiery speech to the 2008 Democratic Convention, "Wake up America"
You could say that a great blues artist such as B. B. King also is able to transcend the personal and tap into universal human emotions. In such a case it might be true that the impulse for a song comes from or is enriched by the depth of personal experience, yet in the performance of art that personal feeling is raised to a higher power by the power of music itself, by the invocation of a spirit of communion between artist and audience and also between nature and art. The joy we feel in the presence of a waterfall or crystal stream, or even red-leaf maple dewed with sun-jewels along a city sidewalk, surely transcends whatever issues and emotions we are facing in our personal lives. Such a transpersonal emotion is not an abstraction, however; it is the very essence of our feeling to be alive.
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