Think for a moment on those things that have changed our lives. Take your time. I’ll still be here when you’re done.
Did you think of the soft smile of a child cradled in their mother’s arms? Maybe it was some other joyous occasion – a wedding, anniversary, or birthday celebration for a dear loved one. OH! I know!!! It was that one moment when you felt your best ever because of some wonderful accomplishment, like graduating from college at the ripe old age of 49!
Maybe you thought about something altogether different – a horrific event you witnessed or were somehow a part of: a cataclysmic event such as an earthquake or flood, or maybe something more normal – the death of a greatly loved family member.
Thinking about those things that have changed our lives, did you go through some sort of denial or other form of withdrawal from the world, or did you instead celebrate the event – in any way – with a loved one or group of understanding individuals?
Did you engage in an active process of denial? I did – and it was a momentous thing; a gift rarely given.
We have become, and in some ways have always been, a society who doesn’t know hot to channel anger and hatred, nor do we know how to appropriately channel love and joy. I can read the hate-mail now… “I KNOW HOW TO CHANNEL <insert emotion here>.” Really? Tell me about that! Help me understand how you APPROPRIATELY channel extreme emotions. Studies have shown (Tannenbaum, 2010; Zillman et al., 1998; Lyth, 1988; Kaufhold & Johnson, 2005; et al) that over 60 percent of Americans do not know how to appropriately process emotions. Collectively, those studies show that of those 60 percent, most will simply not display a negative emotion especially if that emotion is considered harmful (anger, hatred, sadness, etc…). Likewise, 70 percent (averaged) don’t know how to process healthy emotions that are considered helping emotions (love, like, happiness, joy, etc…). The average reaction is to show no emotion or else explode into a fit of what seems like never-ending emotion. There never seems to be balance between the two. Or is there?
Recently, because of an incredible soul I had the great fortune to meet, I fell in love with an altogether different form of emotional expression – relentless optimism. It is a balance between two very different expressions of emotion. It’s neither positive (adding to an experience), nor is it negative (taking away from an experience). It is simply an acknowledgment that something has happened or is making me feel a certain way and I am going to take that something and turn it into some sort of optimistic expression. Confused? Let me explain.
During a recent conference I was attending, I had the great fortune to meet a man whose father was gunned down at our local Sikh temple. His father was the president and lead religious figure of that temple. Pardeep Kaleka was on his way to the temple that morning with his family and would have been in harms way had his daughter not forgotten her notebook. He was deeply affected, and is still to this day affected by the events years ago, but instead of engaging in unhealthy expressions of hatred and anger against those who are very much like the individual who took his father’s life, he instead relied on an old Sikh expression – Chardhi Kala or Relentless Optimism.
“’Chardhi Kala’ is the spirit of relentless optimism: a philosophy that empowers us to persevere and grow from hardship” (Taryn Smith, 2016). Fundamental to the Sikh lifestyle and teaching is that “God is without enemies” (Majhill, 2010) and so loves all, including those who do wrong. If the God loves all, then we as God’s creation must likewise engage the world in exactly the same way – we must take what appear to be horrific events and turn them into life-lessons that allow us to grow beyond our own limitations. It is not altogether different than what our Christ empowered us to live, yet we somehow find ways of bastardizing the Christ’s expressions to suit our own agendas. But it doesn’t end there.
The biggest tragedies we experience in our lives are the ones we impose on ourselves – the “should haves”, “could haves”, and the “would haves”. No matter the emotional expression, we resort to wondering what would be if we just did something slightly different. We impose on ourselves a state of eternal unrest because we can’t get past the three most dangerous phrases in the human language. As we grow older, we look back on our lives and assess those things that may have changed our lives with some form of regret or, if nothing else, longing. Instead, we should look back on our choices and celebrate this moment because right here and now we exist. We have choices to make that can either make our lives better or that can make us learn a lesson about the struggles life offers that help make us grow – remember the old expression, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”? That expression is a perfect example of Chardhi Kala. It is also an expression of the teachings found in our Christian Scriptures:
“10 You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom[a] you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God[b] may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:10-17, ESV, 2001).
Our emotions were given to us by the Creator as a celebration of our human existence, to help us determine those things that are good for us and those things that aren’t so good for us. We were meant to have dominion over our emotions, not the other way around. Instead, we have taken those emotions and used them to usurp power and to control over others. We have also used those emotions to self-flagellate and beat ourselves senseless all because we do not know how to find balance, the middle, in our lives.
If instead of using our emotions as tools to control others, we rely on the expression of turning everything we experience into a learning opportunity, then perhaps, just maybe, we might be able to find a balance in our lives that can help bring us closer to our Creator through +His living embodiment, the Christ – Jesus. If we do so through the teachings of whomever shows us the path to the Father, then so be it. But if we throw away valuable life lessons because they do not come from our understanding of the Divine, then it is our loss – and the world’s – and we do so with hearts filled with judgment and avarice – the kind that controls and holds power over others though various means of manipulation.
We are a people who profess to love and follow the teachings and examples of the Christ Jesus, and of the God our Creator. Yet the example we really follow is anything but those teachings. We instead follow the legalistic laws and dogmatic expressions of those who have sought power and control – and money – from a people longing for salvation.
Turn instead to “Relentless Optimism” and the teachings of our Lord and God. Turn back to the path of salvation and the path of enlightenment. Turn away from extremes and…
…walk a middle road
The Rev. Father Kenneth Nelan is the pastor of the Sacred Wandering Pastoral Center in Milwaukee Wisconsin. He is also the celebrant of the Sunday Mass broadcast on Facebook.