The subject of emotions is probably the most universal one and yet can at times be a uniquely controversial one. We all emote. We all feel emotions. Some perhaps more strongly than others. But it is a tough thing to measure. And emotions are not unique to humans alone. Affection, fear, joy, lust, sorrow, excitement. Nearly all members of the animal kingdom experience emotions. What is perhaps unique to the human being is the ability to cognitively recognise our emotions and analyse the effects they have on us. We can relive a memory and experience the same emotion time and time again. We can review the same memory and analyse what it was about that particular event that made us feel a particular way. We can reflect on an event and consciously rewrite the logic behind the way we felt in the moment, overcome fears by rationalizing with our instincts and understanding the psychology of our minds. We can consciously create positive emotional associations and consciously disassociate with negative emotions. This is perhaps the most powerful ability of the human mind.
Are emotions selfishly driven?
One thing about emotions however, is that in varying extents they are usually selfishly driven. By that I do not mean that all emotions are inherently selfish. The idea here is that all emotions are driven by the idea of self. Fear is an emotion that is driven by self-preservation. Depression is clinically defined as anger directed towards one’s self. When we’re happy we think “I am happy!” and when in love “Gosh, I am so in love!”. The unfortunate twist in the story of emotions is that they are self-identifying, they become objects of your ownership and they reinforce your individuality separate from everyone else.
Lens of spiritual evolution
Let us evaluate this through the lens of spiritual evolution. Individuality is not inherently a bad thing. Emotions are not bad. Many people are motivated to perform acts of kindness, acts of service and acts of charity because of the ‘feel good factor’ associated with such acts. If you go out and feed the birds, share your lunch with a colleague who forgot hers, offer a stranger a bottle of cold water in the scorching summer heat, crack a joke to cheer up a loved one, all because it makes you feel happy about yourself, then the emotion that motivates the action is most certainly a positive influence in your life. These are all acts that elevate your feeling of self-worth. That in itself will certainly lead to spiritual evolution. So clearly emotions can play the role of a strong catalyst in many cases of spiritual evolution.
But only to a certain point.
The emotional approach to spiritual evolution is unfortunately limited. It is limited because the emotions tie you into your sense of self identity. If your goal in spiritual evolution is to evolve beyond your identity and identify with the supreme consciousness (or the universe around you), you have to detach yourself from everything that makes you an individual in order to identify with the universal. I cannot think about the everyone if I am only thinking about the ‘I’. Emotions are but one such self-identifying obstacle that you need to overcome in the journey of spiritual evolution. They will take you far but not beyond.