David K. Reynolds, Ph.D. writes powerful books that introduce Western readers to Eastern growth methods. What David calls “constructive living” provides awareness about what in life is controllable and what is not.
A sensible individual does not waste time and energy trying to directly control their feelings, because feelings cannot be manipulated by the will. “We can’t make ourselves feel confident or satisfied or grateful or loving or courageous just by concentrating or wishing we were so. Try it. It doesn’t work with any consistency at all,” Reynolds says in “Even in summer the ice doesn’t melt.” (Quill Books)
You can will yourself to go to work, or to spend an evening with someone you don’t like, or walk the dog, even when you do not feel like it. To be mature is to be responsible for your actions, regardless of your feelings.
“People who try to ‘go with their feelings’ all the time run into a lot of trouble,” says Reynolds. “So do people who try to control their feelings. Some people try to extend the notion of responsibility for what they do (behavior) into the realm of emotions of feelings. That approach is a mistake. We can’t control what we feel. We aren’t bad for feeling anything -- sexy feelings, lazy feelings, angry feelings, depressed feelings, confused feelings, any feelings. The best strategy for handling a feeling, any feeling, is to accept it as it is (without trying to fight it directly in any way) and go on about doing what life presents us to do. The feeling in time, will pass and be replaced by some other feeling. No feeling lasts in its intensity forever.”
I often quote a Reynolds line: “Behavior wags the tail of feelings.”
In other words, you can control your behavior, which in time may alter how you feel in a particular life area. If you watch pornography (behavior), you’re going to generate sex-related emotions (feelings). If you avoid helping someone you care about (behavior), you’re going to lower self-esteem (feelings). If your boyfriend left because you demanded he do what you wanted him to do (behavior), you now feel depressed about being alone (feelings).
You can control your behavior no matter how turbulent your emotional life. When you do, your feelings tend to settle down relatively quickly. But when you allow yourself to express wild extremes of behavior in response to extreme feelings, you perpetuate the intense emotions.
So accept your feelings as what is, knowing they will fade over time unless you do something to re-stimulate them. You are not responsible for what you feel, but you are responsible for what you do no matter what you are feeling.
A friend has repeated his soap opera to me dozens of times over the last few years: “If only I had money, I could enjoy my life.”
A recent business venture has finally provided him with monetary abundance ... and a new soap opera: “If only I had a little free time, I could enjoy my money.” The new business is consuming his life.
And I suspect if he had the money and free time, his soap opera would be, “If only I had a loving relationship, I could really enjoy what I have.”
IF ONLY ... IF ONLY ... IF ONLY! Each “if only” generates another “if only.”
“If only I could find a soulmate, life would work.”
“If only my lover gave me more sex, I wouldn’t be frustrated.”
“If only I could lose some weight, I’d feel good about myself.”
“If only I could sell my novel, my career would get going.”
“If only the stock market would come back, I could think about retiring.”
“If only I could attain enlightenment, I’d be peaceful.”
A QUICK “IF ONLY” PROCESS:
1. Explore your relationship “if onlies.” (If you don’t have a primary relationship, explore from the perspective of your quest for a relationship.)
2. Explore your “if onlies” with friends.
3. Explore your “if onlies” in regard to what you really want out of life.
4. What are your job/career “if onlies?”
5. Do you have any health “if onlies?”
6. Do any of your “if onlies” require another person to be the way you want them to be?
“If onlies” are about ME, ME, ME! What I want, so I can feel better and avoid pain. But they generate anxiety. And when we feel anxiety, we seek out “AVOIDS”--places to hide such as, overeating, drinking, drugs, working excessive hours, or watching too much TV. The more we buy into our “if only” viewpoints, the worse it gets, because this mind-set generates negative mental programming.
We need to WAKE UP. Instead of trying to get something, we need to get rid of something. Enlightenment is an absence--an absence of “if onlies” and all the other fear-based programming from dependencies and addictions to jealousy, greed, envy, blame, resentment, repression and prejudice ... and the list goes on and on.
Become an OBSERVER of your thought processes. Catch yourself the next time your “if-only” tape starts to play. If it’s your standard soap opera, remind yourself of the negative programming and GET OFF IT.
On the other hand, if you’re ready to act to create your own reality ... DO IT.