Are the moody blues a gateway to profundity? A romantic explanation for anger? A sign that we’re mysterious and deeper than the average individual? A depressing response to a far-from-perfect world? No. Moodiness is a conditional suffering that does not have to continue.
Human beings subjectively experience their feelings in their immediacy. Some subjective experience feels decidedly felt in the body. For example, a loss may feel like a blow to the solar plexus. Some subjective experience doesn’t feel felt in the body, per se. It seems cognitive or perhaps “known,” as in appreciated, intuited, sensed, a “lightness” of being.
This interpretive ability, or handicap, depending on the quality of the impression, means that human beings feel what has come to be described as bitterness, jealousy, resentment, frustration, disappointment, alienation, inhibition, outrage, inertia, optimism, emptiness, fulfillment and on and on.
The quality of the impression is particular to a given person at a particular time and a particular place, and it is not necessarily warranted by a circumstance. For instance, when we are preoccupied by a project, focused on handling an emergency or enraptured by love, the moody impression disappears. When the focus changes, we may feel blue again.
Unfortunately, beset by moodiness, we tend to retreat to the metaphysically supported parallel universe in our heads. This parallel universe is a psychologistic illusion that we are actually separated from our bodies and from material reality at large. I refer to this phenomenon as “a voice turned in on itself.”
Here, we brood. Fearful that we might lose control of our hotheaded temperament, we “stuff” our feelings down our throat. Now suffocated, and perhaps embarrassed by our metabolism, we go round and round (in our head), searching (in vain) for a distinction that will make a difference to what is going round and round (in our body).
Much of autonomy and life is about relieving this voice turned in on itself of its suffering. We do this by identifying ourselves with the concrete character in the story of our lives instead of with the unhappiness that attends the radically detached abstract character only psychologistically alive.
When this alienated voice, preoccupied only with itself, disappears, nothing is lost but the anger and despondency.
In fact, in the world, just as it is, we want to be heard, to detach ourselves from the painful, invalidating exiled-from-public-view conversation. Out here in the material world, we don’t want to be silent, inhibited, moody, suppressed. We want to bring ourselves forth as declaration. We want to stand for mercy over malice, kindness over cruelty, persistence over retreat, optimism over bad faith, care over indifference, tolerance over impatience, generosity over pettiness and solidarity over opposition.
Interestingly and happily, the practice of our values—the unique human products described above—is accompanied by activities in the brain that are emotionally rewarding. This is the kind of enlightening subjective experience that I mentioned earlier. It seems not felt, exactly, but rather “known,” appreciated, intuited, sensed.
Achievement of this general condition of satisfaction is probably the basis for the more sophisticated types of valuation involved in aesthetic appreciation and in the love of knowledge and truth. Love of the truth, that is love of thinking truthfully, and a strong desire or passion to live a thoughtful life can and does become, if we make the effort, one of our highest values and the motivation for the choices we make.
Arnold Siegel is the founder of Autonomy and Life and the leader of its Retreat Workshops and Advanced Classes. Visit autonomyandlife.com for more information.