Feelings (something more than feelings)

When I was younger (so much younger than today), I was drawn toward Stoic philosophy. Logic and reason were guides to life; feelings were to be ignored. After all, the great virtues all involve working against one’s feelings. Courage is not lack of fear: courage is doing the right thing in spite of fear. True love is not feeling good because of someone else; true love is caring more about the other person than about one’s self. Victory over evil does not come from never being tempted; victory over evil comes from resisting temptation, from saying no to temptation.

Yes, I was Mr. Spock, but with a better script-writer than Spock had. I did not prattle about logic, because logic consists of the rules that govern reason. Loving logic rather than reason is like loving the rules of football rather than the game of football. The rules make the game possible, but the game is the thing. Reason, of course, has limits; there are things that are beyond reason, and those things are of vast importance. Having learned of the reality that lies beyond reason, though, does not diminish reason. In fact, reason can be used to study and understand even those messages that come from the world beyond reason.

But in the last few years I have learned that feelings are not to be ignored. A human being consists of body and mind and spirit, and feelings happen at the intersection of body and mind and spirit. Many feelings come from the body, warning the mind and spirit of the body’s needs. Other feelings can come from the mind or the spirit, guiding the whole being along a certain course of action or turning away from a different course of action.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this” most of the time. It is rare for me to start a trip, long or short, without the feeling that I have forgotten something important back at home. If someone at home or at work is in a bad mood, I often feel that I am responsible—I must have done something wrong to annoy him or her. In shopping malls and large stores I often feel threatened and overwhelmed. I feel an eerie sense of doom, and I want to make my purchase and leave as quickly as I can. (And I am grateful for self-serve registers, so I do not have to interact with another person while in the store.)

Negative feelings have their silver linings. I never leave my keys locked in the car, because my feelings of anxiety cause me to clutch the keys in one hand while I close the car door with the other hand. In a similar vein, I never leave my magnetic pass key on my desk at work; I’m always touching it as I go through the secure door of the work area. I am probably kinder to my co-workers than I would otherwise be because of my false sense that their unhappiness is my fault. If bad feelings make me a better person, who am I to complain?

A therapist has helped me to be mindful of my feelings, to look at them and ask myself what they are telling me. Why am I especially jittery on Saturdays? Is it because of the change in routine, the one day that I don’t jump out of bed to head to work or to church? Is it anticipation of the coming Sunday morning responsibilities at church? Or is it awareness that, unless the weather is bad, I will be exposed to the noise of neighbors working in their lawns and gardens with the racket of power tools of various kinds?

In short, I’ve learned that feelings are not to be ignored. They have their place, even if they are not reliable guides for decisions to be made or actions to be taken. Feelings are part of being human. Much as I may have wanted to be a Vulcan, both my parents were human, and I am human too. And that’s not a bad thing—the Lord created humans and said that they made creation “very good.” When sin and evil entered creation, the Lord entered creation as a human to ransom and redeem humans. And the Lord has experienced the full range of human feelings, even as I do, without sinning in the process. Being human, having feelings, is good. J.

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Dealing with it

First, it’s Saturday. I always have greater stress and anxiety on Saturdays—I don’t know why. Second, it is a hot and humid summer day. Heat and humidity do not agree with me. Third, the neighborhood is noisy. The cause is not Mrs. Dim (for once!), but an airshow at a nearby airport. Fourth, the family desktop computer stopped working last night. (Murphy’s gremlins work extra hard on Friday nights. They must get overtime pay.) Fifth, I am a day away from being told whether or not a certain job will be offered to me.

Since the computer is not working, even though I have work that must be done, I take my work to the place where I work, even though the work I must get done is not related to my job. I’m not on the clock; I’m just borrowing my work computer. Before I do my work, though, I research troubleshooting for my home computer. The most probable trouble is dust inside the computer. I sprayed some air through the vent last night, but when I will go home I will do a more thorough cleaning.

Sixth, on my way home I stop at Walmart. I want to pick up a few items, including a frozen pizza for Saturday lunch. I go to the self-serve register with my seven items, and the second item I scan—a bag of frozen peas—brings up an error message. My peas are a restricted item. I must set them aside and continue scanning my other items. Something about Walmart makes me anxious, especially on Saturdays. I get the attention of a young girl working for Walmart, and she gets a manager, and the two of them agree that I cannot buy that bag of peas. Restricted means I cannot have it. An experience like that is bound to rattle an easily-rattled person like me. I let them keep their peas. I take the rest of my food, drive home, cook my pizza, and eat it.

After lunch, it is time to tackle the recalcitrant computer. I try three screwdrivers before I have one that fits the little screw that holds the side panel in place. The side panel pops off with a clatter and falls to the floor. I spray every surface I can see inside the computer until the dust is gone. Then I have to restore the side panel and the little screw. My hands are trembling. Sweat is pouring off my forehead and my neck. My arms feel clammy. This is anxiety with six triggers activated.

First I have to find the little screw. It disappeared when the panel clattered and dropped. Finally I find the screw—oddly enough, balanced on its head instead of lying flat on the floor. It requires some fiddling with shaking hands, but I finally get the panel aligned properly. Still, the screw does not want to drop into its place.

I take a break and towel my face and neck with a damp washcloth. I take a deep breath and return to the computer. With a little more effort, I get the screw installed properly. I reattach the power and all the other cables and test the system. I breathe a prayer of thanks as the monitor springs to life.

Since the problem was dust, I take some time to redesign the work station. The tower is three feet higher than it was, sitting next to the monitor rather than near the floor. The family will have to get used to the change, because this is better for the computer.

It is still Saturday. The air show is still happening. Mrs. Dim even joins in briefly with her blower, but it’s all good. My stomach is still swirling and my knees are still weak, but the computer is working again. Everything else will fall into place the way things are meant to be. J.