This is part one of what is likely the most important post so far. Of course, you’ll likely hear me say that later, so please be ready for that.
Our reader, Alise, asked me what life was like before I figured things out, woke up, and actually got out of bed. I’ll share a little bit about that here. Allow me, first off, to share with you that my whole endeavor is to help make the One’s mercy intelligible to you: The source as well as end of my waking up is the One — and I pray that I will always confess this reality.
My nature is to be fairly optimistic and energetic. I’m also an extrovert. During my dark days, life was especially difficult for me (and pretty much everyone around me) because I was pessimistic, lacked energy, and didn’t like talking to people. I was diagnosed as bipolar with psychotic features (2002) after my initial diagnosis of major anxiety and acute depression (1998).
I’m not confident about how much self revelation would be meaningful. I could tell stories or recount details, but I think that would be better conveyed within the context of things I want to illustrate during the course of future discussions. Suffice it to say, as a response to the people who have wondered about how bad things were, the following bullet points summarizing about twelve years of my life, punctuated by brief periods of lucidity:
- I went for days and weeks without having a kind or generous thought: Everyone or everything around me was to blame for pretty much everything happening to me;
- I was paranoid and suspicious of everyone’s intentions;
- I reacted to external stimuli in anger, all the time, pretty much no matter what;
- My longsuffering, beautiful, and glorious wife called 911 several times because of my violence and anger;
- I was taken in handcuffs to the hospital for “evaluation” each time that the sheriff deputies came to my home;
- I destroyed and later replaced many of the walls in my home;
- I destroyed numerous pieces of furniture, some of them pretty nice;
- Discipline towards my kids was, for the most part, punitive;
- I had the presumption, a few times, to discipline or punish my wife;
- At one time, we had some good-willed women from our church encouraging my wife to divorce me (saying things like, “Men like him don’t change. You need to protect yourself and your kids.”);
- I went through two mandatory “domestic violence” classes offered by the County (I could say a lot about the circumstances precipitating these classes, but suffice it to say that I went to them because I was required to and I wasn’t graduated until after the second six-month cycle.); and
- I always felt that I was the victim in each of the situations in which I demonstrated anger and was convinced that breaking things or yelling at people was the best thing that I could do in those situations. For years, I was never responsible for my actions.
I share these as bullet points to show the kind of power that negativity exerted in my life. It’s no small thing to say that, while today I recognize my own responsibility in all of these things, at the time I felt completely powerless and out of control. The important thing here is to see that I was really unhappy, my family was unhappy, and that I’m not that way any longer — Thanks be to God!
This is important to understand as well: I do not look back on these events with mournful regret. I’m sorry for my sins, yes. But, more importantly, I’m glad I am able to put my mistakes in context and I’m glad that I went through them. I do not stand with Lot’s wife who, when being led out of her city, looked back with regret.
What is Negativity in Mind and Heart?
Negativity here means those impressions, whether mental or emotional, that do not accord with the reality around us. Think here about St. Thomas’s definition of “truth” as the mind’s conformity to reality.
Another way of looking at it: Negative constructs of the mind or heart are those mental and emotional experiences that prevent me from interacting with reality in a healthy way. There are true emotions, it seems, and I would submit that a negative emotion is an inauthentic reflection of our experience at the present moment. A negative feeling is the inability to respond accurately to the now.
If I’m right, then, a negative emotion would be an emotion that did not promote a healthy experience of reality. Or, try this: A negative emotion is an experience of the heart that pushes me away from relationships, producing sickness, sadness, death, destruction, or the sword.
While there may be true emotions or false emotions, considerations of truth and falsehood are, especially at the early stages of this process, distractions. Recall, gentle reader, that I’m Catholic, and I fully condemn the doctrines of relativism. However, we’re dealing with practical matters here and manifestations of an illness of the soul. My experience is that it is more helpful to reflect on our thoughts and emotions as being either healthy or unhealthy, effective or ineffective — rather than good or bad, true or false.
The First Person in our Illustration
Let’s turn, now, to the illustration at the top of this page. In the first image, we see a person with shapes in the head and in the chest. The two portions, head and chest, represent mind and heart. Essential to my theory is the notion that there are in reality, two kinds of knowledge that we must deal with: Knowledge of the head and knowledge of the heart.
Let’s lay down the following notions. We can argue to them later if sufficient comments ask for that, but for now, it seems to me that my ideas are not inconsistent.
- It seems that the human person is capable of “knowing” things from external stimuli;
- I call sensibles those things that we perceive on whatever level;
- Sensibles that are perceived and processed in the mind are intellectual;
- Sensibles that are perceived and processed by the heart are feelings;
- When I use the word “feelings” here, I do not mean the sensations that are merely physical such as heat and cold;
- “Color” and “shape” are used by me figuratively. A triangle may have three sides, but it’s known more in contradistinction to the square or circle by not being a quadrilateral or round;
- We’re generally not taught from our youth to distinguish the source or cause of our feelings, but we have plenty of lessons about objects;
- An “impression” can be a thought or feeling, depending upon whether it resolves in the mind or the heart;
- Perfect natural knowledge happens when there is rectitude of the mind and of the heart and results in peace;
- Fasting is essential to discovering right thinking and right feeling;
- The highest form of knowledge is unction, or what Saint Thomas called unctio. It is the least discussed and it comes about as the result of a life lived well and cannot be sought for its own sake. Unction is the source of that knowledge that allows martyrs to stand before tyrants and grant them clemency. While unction is a divine gift and I will not deny the capriciousness of the One, I believe that unction can only come about in one who is fasting and unction is always accompanied by a profound sense of peace;
- Poetry, while being intellectually vague, can (at times) convey truth to the heart more effectively than discourse or:
Words may seem to tie us down
When not displayed as verse.
Impressions that once did make me frown
In poesy slay the hearse.
- The Evil One inverts all kinds of knowledge in order to confuse us.
When negativity dominates, we perceive reality in smudges and indistinctly. Impressions of reality come to us filtered through negative paradigms in the mind or filtered by our emotions of the heart. Forgive me here, as I am intentionally choosing not to define my words too carefully. I’d ask my Thomist friends to view this as a dialectical argument, not as a propter quid.
So the first person in the progression illustrated on this page is correctly sensing something. But the impressions are not understood or interpreted correctly. For whatever reason (We’ll call it the filter of negativity) our persona sees not only shapes, but colors unclearly. The shapes and colors represent different kinds of sensibles.
Mental sensibles include abstractions from things we perceive with our eyes, ears, taste, touch, etc. (Abstractions happen in the mind — direct sensing happens in the body. Few of us actually “feel” a sensation when we see something, while few of us have a clear notion of varying degrees of heat when we feel cold.) Mental sensibles include images of the mind that are conveyed with words by other people. Anything that is perceived by the senses and acted upon by the mind producing thoughts is, for my purposes, a mental sensible.
Emotional sensibles are things we perceive with another kind of knowing, what I call a knowledge of the heart. We’ve all experienced these in a variety of ways. I’m convinced that sometimes they are appropriate and other times not. But suffice it to say that when we’re perceiving reality by a negative filter on the heart, everything is terrible. Depression and the demon of acedia strikes here. We feel bad all the time.
Just like in the mental distortions, there are real things that are perceived. So, too, in the emotional distortions, those real things are being filtered so that their “color” and “shape” are not accurate, i.e. do not conform to reality. Hence, in the first picture, the shapes are not equilateral and the colors are dull. Moreover, the shapes do not have an order with respect to each other.
In the second image, however, the shapes appear brighter and they have become ordered around a central location within the heart and mind. Note the process is not finished and many people stop here because it is comfortable to do so.
We’ll have to end here. I hope you see how destructive the filter of negativity really is. I also wanted to broaden your understanding of what negativity means. Until next time, then, please grant me the gift of thoughtful comments. Peace and blessings to you all!