The path of continuous improvement is always far from level. In spite of our aspirations to flatten the contours, the breakthroughs and setbacks arrive in groups, like the red buses that convey me from Streatham Hill to Brixton.
In parallel to the cycles of fortune and misfortune that weave their way as unbroken threads through our lives, we experience waves of emotion that are to some extent concomitant.
Emotions are powerful forces in our lives. They can be constructive or destructive depending on how we handle them. It is not just a question of whether the emotion is “positive”, as joy, love and optimism are generally perceived, or “negative”, as in the case of anger, fear, guilt or hatred. If we know how to respond, we can derive as much – or even more – value from the latter than the former.
How can this be true? Can guilt, with all its destructive potential, really be a benevolent agent? Instead of allowing the sharpened chisel of guilt to gouge pieces out of our soul and the blunt instrument of shame to bludgeon it mercilessly, we can adopt a different perspective. By treating these apparently pernicious emotions as assets, we can use them to build our character.
In order to do this, we need to understand and control our emotions. Guilt and shame offer us a valuable opportunity – the opportunity of forgiveness. As The Knot Garden does not recognise the need to practise forgiveness of others, as it does not apply blame to them, we need only consider here the act of forgiveness in relation to oneself.
Guilt is serious stuff. It should not be ignored or taken lightly. Whereas anger must be controlled, we should strive to eliminate guilt in its entirety, otherwise it will fester deep inside us as a malignant sore, sucking up more and more of our energy. Unlike anger, which is usually a short term phenomenon, guilt requires persistent effort to overcome. To remove guilt and other malevolent feelings, we have to understand their cause. As with a serious illness, treating the symptoms will cause us to neglect the source.
If we examine our guilt in earnest, rather than being repelled by it, we will discover what lies at its root. We can then take well-directed action to improve the way we live, reinforcing the principles and values that we have placed at the centre of our belief system. Rather than attacking the guilt head-on, we can erode it by re-asserting our beliefs.
The Knot Garden considers the so-called negative emotions to be signposts directing us to aspects of our life that need attention, in the same way that pain makes us aware of physical and physiological issues.
If we can be the master of our emotions, smoothing out the cycles rather than making futile attempts to eliminate them altogether, we can remain attuned to our belief system. If we allow them to get the upper hand however, they will run riot and cause havoc in our lives.