From Old English ‘mod’ meaning frame of mind, mood is integrally related to our feelings and emotions, which as we know can be stirred up at a moment’s notice. My feelings were stirred up from a recent conversation with a psychotherapist. We were discussing being practitioners in the psycho-spiritual field: I told him that people can be overly-emotional at times, wallowing in their feelings, wallowing in their misery. “Can they not try a different approach?” From his experience, he said there was no such thing as being overly-emotional, that clients can express what they want to express and just let it out.
Our disagreement hit a nerve of mine and I pondered on our thoughts for some length. Another feeling was stirred up when a spiritual companion said it was good to get some distance from our feelings at times such as when we become sad over someone not replying to our emails: if we hold onto these feelings, then this sets us on a trajectory of desolation. “So, what is the truth in all of this?,” I thought. Here we are: me, the psychotherapist, and the spiritual companion with different opinions. Where can we look to for clarity and wisdom?
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a school of thought that deals with helpful and unhelpful ways of reacting to situations, often determined by how we think (cognition) about them. Situations can be broken down into thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, and actions. I spoke with clinical psychologist Dr Philip Murphy – my identical twin – about an example of my own unhelpful way of reacting to a situation. It went something like this: 1) Thought: “Oh no, I’m spending too much money”; 2) Feeling: anxiety and fretting; 3) Physical sensation: knots in my stomach; and 4) Action: I sternly stopped spending money. Philip nudged me to consider keeping a log or record of the breakdown of things. I was able to do this in my head as I spoke with him, and although I can’t put my finger on what worked, I was able to turn to a helpful way of reacting to the situation, and most importantly for me I began to feel a sense of calm.
The life of Jesus
Since I meditate on the Bible on a regular basis, a story about Jesus and a woman caught in adultery comes to mind (John 8:1-11). A noisy crowd of people bring this woman to Jesus, putting her in the middle so that all can see. In their cunningness, they question Jesus about what to do with her declaring that in their law she is to be stoned to death. Jesus clearly loves the woman, as is his nature, but he doesn’t fret about the situation. Instead, he starts to write on the ground with his finger. When the crowd confront him again, Jesus faces them and says: “Let the one among you who is guiltless be the first to throw a stone at her”. They go away one by one, beginning with the eldest, who are more experienced in matters of conscience. Jesus is left alone with the woman who is freed from being stoned to death. He calmly and lovingly tells her to go on her way. No fretting, and all is well.
True and false peace
Ignatian Spirituality offers some wisdom in distinguishing between two types of peace or consolation. Saint Ignatius says that true peace is a progress of the soul whereas false peace is a lack of progress. We can tell the difference by looking at the train of our thoughts throughout a day, for example. If our thoughts are all good from beginning, middle, and end, then we can call this true peace. If our thoughts end badly, e.g., not wanting to spend money ever again, then we can say this is false peace or a robber of peace. Moreover, true peace can arise without a prior cause, for instance, an inner joy like the rising sun after a depressive episode. The source of false peace wants to cause chaos to the soul like a drop of water splashing off a stone.
A final note on this journey of discovery is that meditation promotes balanced mood. When I do my 30 minutes of meditation in the morning, I am set up for the day, and I am more likely to be calm, content, and confident. I have just come back from my twin’s graduation at the University of Edinburgh. At the end of a day with good thoughts, I became obsessive with editing a photo of him which I thought was really good. In the midst of this obsession, I was not available to my mam who needed my help. I had to calm down afterwards by visualising 99 white sheep and 1 black sheep jumping through to another field! I was back on track on Saturday after dropping out of thoughts during the bus journey to the airport.