Even if we can’t control our emotions, we can control the attention we give to our emotions

Suppose some hawker comes near our property and starts peddling their wares. If we pay attention to them, they will start promoting more loudly, excitedly, aggressively. Hearing them, we may gradually get interested, attracted, persuaded – and end up buying something we didn’t need at all.

Like uninvited hawkers, various distracting emotions appear uninvited at the periphery of our consciousness. Despite no apparent trigger, we start feeling emotions such as loneliness, boredom or anger. Faced with such mood swings, we may feel helpless and get carried away.

But are we really helpless in the face of our emotions? Not entirely. Returning to the hawker metaphor, even if we can’t drive a hawker away, we can choose whether we may attention to them. If we neglect them consistently, they will eventually give up and go away. Similarly, even if we can’t control how we feel, we can still control how much we think about how we feel. Emotions that are fed with our attention become stronger; starved of our attention, they weaken.

Pertinently, the Bhagavad-gita (14.22) reminds us that our emotions usually arise from the modes of material nature, whereas we are spiritual beings, souls, who are different from those emotions. Just as we can more easily neglect hawkers if we are busy doing something important, we can neglect distracting emotions more effectively if we busy ourselves in the most important activity: purposeful service to the all-attractive supreme soul, Krishna (14.26).

If we just try to serve Krishna as much as we can despite the presence of distracting emotions, our intent will please him. And he will give us the taste to become absorbed in him and his service, thereby fully turning away from unwanted emotions.


Think it over:

  • How are we not helpless in the face of our emotions?
  • Can you recollect any incidents when your attention strengthened a distracting emotion and your lack of attention weakened it?
  • List three activities that you can busy yourself in amidst distracting emotions.

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Regulate emotion with reason, animate reason with emotion
Respect the dark within you, to keep it within you
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