Emotions are immensely powerful and they can be our greatest asset in our spiritual growth and connection to the Creator. After all, they are key in decision making and can tell us (if we listen) whether or not we are on the right course in life. Unhappiness is often an indication of something needing to change, while happiness is an indication that we are on the right track. On any given day, sometimes minute to minute, we experience a broad range of emotions, some negative and some positive.
Let’s focus on three emotions: love, fear and regret. (The Big 3!)
Let’s start with the fun one, love! A great kabbalist, Rabbi Akiva, taught that there is no greater purpose and no greater work than this simple statement:[blockquote]
Love your neighbor, your friend, as yourself.
We’ve all heard the cautionary tales of the man rich in money but poor in love, who has no family or true friends. The parable was told by Fitzgerald in the Great Gatsby and real life millionaire Howard Hughes died a wealthy, yet deeply troubled recluse having shut himself off from the world for the last 30 years of his life. These tales carry the same message: our happiness is completely dependent on how much we are able to give and receive love.
The ultimate love is when we naturally care and share with other people who do not give us anything in return. This type of love is not dependent on anything. It is not swayed by circumstances, it is the love of a mother for her child, ‘for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…’
Obviously, not all love is so unconditional. It is important to differentiate between selfish love and unconditional love. Selfish or ego-based love gives as long as there is a return on the investment. Whereas when we love unconditionally we are behaving like the Creator and that love connects us to the Creator and attracts blessings into our lives.
Our goal is to be consistently growing our love for others. There is no finish line, no moment of perfect, unconditional love where we can stop putting effort into our relationships. Imagine nurturing a tree with water, nutrients and sunlight. Once the tree grew to the desired height the person would not forget about the tree, depriving it of water and light, because as we all know, the tree would wither and die. This is why we must constantly grow our love towards all people, towards humanity. That is the ultimate test of spiritual growth.
The second emotion I’d like to talk about is fear.
If I had to identify the emotion that holds people back from finding love, reaching their potential and really living their purpose in this lifetime, it has to be fear. There is only one thing you need to know about fear – its only purpose is to hold you back. Fear works perfectly in the sense of keeping us from danger. Fear tells us not to jump off a roof, or touch a hot stove. Those instances of healthy fear keep us safe, but all other kinds of fear only serve to limit your innate potential and purpose.
The first step to making proactive choices in life is to stop making fear-based ones. Recognize that fear causes damage and become aware of the effects fears have when they are allowed to dictate action. Any emotion we have, whether it’s fear, or sadness, depression or anger, is as big as we allow it to be. The more scared we are, the more we feed the fear and the bigger it grows.
Fear stops us from seeing opportunities that present themselves. I don’t think that most people would equate missed opportunities to fear, but fear blinds us. When we give space in our minds to fear, we cannot see the blessings that are right in front of us.
The kabbalists teach that every one of us was born with a protective sphere of Light from the Creator and moreover, this Light literally covers us and shields us from anything negative of a physical nature. How profound! Of course, we need to do our spiritual work in order to maintain our connection to that protective sphere. Next time you fear trying something, talking to someone, presenting an idea – whatever you fear – visualize yourself surrounded by the protective Light of the Creator. Ask yourself, what would you do if you had not fear of rejection or failure?
The third emotion I’d like to talk about is regret.
Who has never done something that they have come to regret? My hand isn’t raised and I bet yours isn’t either! The truth is, we’ve all done things that have hurt ourselves and damaged others. The kabbalists teach that regret is an important emotion, possessing both a positive and a negative side. If you feel regret and it keeps you stuck, throw that regret away. But when we look back at the actions and it gives us a push to do things differently, to change, to grow, then that is positive regret because it brings about a change in our consciousness and thereby our behavior.
Negative emotions such as regret, shame, doubt and dissatisfaction can limit your ability to grow spiritually if you allow them to occupy your mind. The dark sides of emotions send a message, and once received, steps can be taken to correct our course — thus changing our emotional state. In this way, we all have the ability to take control of our emotions. One of the best tools for regaining control is to not take our emotions too seriously! Feel the feeling, certainly, but don’t allow it to consume you, coloring your outlook on the world and blocking you from seeing new opportunities.
All emotions have a positive side and a negative side. Our work is to take hold of these emotions and use them for growth. We each possess a spark of the Light of the Creator. When we base our spiritual work on a foundation of respecting and loving that part of ourselves, then it is natural to love and respect others. Embracing our own Light makes it easier to acknowledge the Light in others.
Thought into Action
If you do something wrong, instead of a confirmation of failure, practice self-tolerance. See it as an opportunity for growth. Being tolerant and compassionate about our own faults is important in our goal of loving others unconditionally.