Friday, January 29, 2016

Considering Odd Emotions

My daughter and I went to the drug store yesterday this afternoon, and I picked up the new issue (Feb. 2016) of Psychology Today, with an interesting cover story, "Odd Emotions: Mastering the Feelings You Can't Name."

The article by Rebecca Webber (pp. 42-51, 77) discusses several emotions that many of us have experienced, which can be overwhelming yet difficult to describe:

* the overwhelming experience of one's eventual non-existence (not only the event of death itself, but of not existing at all)

* the dual feeling of facing a churning ocean, which is potentially deadly yet exhilarating to see

* the way that nature can look different to us after we've experienced certain great works of art

* the way time seems to slow drastically when one is in the midst of an accident

* the combination of both anxiety and peace when undertaking a right course of action

* schadenfreude, but also the opposite of schadenfreude: a lack of exhilaration when someone gets what they deserve.

* a strong feeling of feeling connected to strangers we see coming and going

The article goes on to list words for such emotions that are found in other languages but not in English, and even lists neologists developed for certain odd emotions.

One can certainly see how some of these emotions can fit into a religious framework. In fact, that last one is much like Thomas Merton's famous experience of love for humanity as he mingled in the crowds in downtown Louisville, KY. I also remember reading that the philosopher Martin Buber, when he was a sensitive young person, felt overwhelmed and frightened---nearly to suicide---by a realization of his smallness in the universe. And haven't many of us made important decisions about our religious life, based on the knowledge that we'll eventually die and thus our time is limited for doing good?

I know the feeling of doing the right thing (apologizing, for instance), simultaneously feeling terrible and yet full of peace. I feel I'm doing God's will as best as I can and am being guided (which is itself an odd emotion!). I've also felt pleased when I'm not smug about someone else's "bad karma"---perhaps I'm growing in forgiveness.

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