The Mind –Intellect and Emotions

By Desmond Yeoh SC

We normally associate the mind with One’s intellect but the mind also encompasses One’s emotions, which is represented by the heart. In our day to day decision making process, we use both our intellect and our emotions. Most of the time, our emotions play a bigger role in the decision making process. We can easily observe this based on our own experience from the choice of our friends to the food we eat.  A neuroscientist, Antonio Damasio, found that people whose part of the brain which regulates emotions is damage, have difficulty making decisions. They can dictate the pros and cons but it just not capable of making even simple decisions.

This shows the importance of observing and understanding our emotions in our spiritual practice. Take boredom as an example. During the lock-ins brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic, boredom was the common experience for all of us. Many of us may view boredom as unpleasant. However, if we take the time to stay with the emotion and observe, we will find that boredom is not a negative feeling after all. Really, if we have to choose between boredom and other emotions such as anger, hatred, fear, jealousy and so on, all of us would choose boredom without doubt.  If we patiently observe boredom, we will find that it changes into serenity and peace after a while. Once we see this, we will never try to rid ourselves of boredom ever again.

All of us chase after excitement and delight all the time. Some of us are even willing to sacrifice our health and indulge in alcohol or even drugs just to feel joyful. The wise do not chase after this type of happiness simply because they clearly see feelings a fleeting. A pendulum that swings to one side (joy) must also swing to the other side (sorrow). They clearly see that contained within these fleeting period of excitement is suffering. So, they rather rest in the calm within and conserve their energy to develop mindfulness and wisdom.

woman in red long sleeve shirt sitting on chair while leaning on laptop

As we observe our emotions, we will find that we have little control over them. Rather, they arise because of causes and conditions. For instance, if we sleep late every night and flood our body with caffeine, we are creating the causes and conditions for anger. Anger is unpleasant and yet many of us entertain that emotion all the time. If we continuously chase after excitement all the time in order to overcome our boredom, we will leave our mind and body tired, and this again, is a condition for anger to arise. Rather than trying to control our emotions, it is much easier to control the causes and conditions. We lay more of the causes and conditions that reduces anger (such as adequate rest and sleep) and avoid those that breeds anger. This argument applies to all human emotions.

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