Find the right replacements for your emotional losses
Notes on Dr Francis Macnab’s Sunday address, 26 July 2015.
By John Abbate.
“For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man.”
—Luke 8:29 (KJV)
“Build positive anticipation of joy into the whole fabric of your life.”
—Dr Francis Macnab
The mind is intimately connected with the body. Our immunity to disease, for example, is to some extent tuned to the vicissitudes, the ebb and flow, of our emotional life. This begs the question, which emotions are associated with our enhanced wellbeing?
In our daily lives we no longer speak, as they do in scripture, of possession by “unclean spirits.” It is easy to dismiss such language as spiritually infantile and irrelevant for us today. But, “If we realise the unclean spirit is maybe an angry spirit, then we recognise it,” said Dr Macnab. Some of the lessons of scripture can be made more relevant when looked at in this way.
When we’ve lost touch with our best emotions, what can we do? In order to answer that question, it is important to first understand the nature of our loss.
Dr Macnab lists four possible positions or models of negative emotionality that can establish themselves as long term structures within the personality.
- The damage and deficit model: After psychological injury, life goes on, but with a deficit. The damaged person carries their injury with them.
- The loss and grief model is characterized by a overwhelming sadness after loss. Feelings of despair and helplessness can set in, sisters to a prolonged un-forgiveness.
- The storing and simmering model: We can fail to notice as damaging emotions take up residence in the psyche and simmer away for years or even decades.
- In the emptiness/unattended model, we become a welcoming host to everything.
We are prone to fall into long term situations as custodians to one of these negative models. The challenge, then, is to look at things differently, to look at replacing the negative states with positive ones. Instead of resigning ourselves to being continuing custodians, we can choose to focus on relevant replacements for the negative “spirits” of disharmony and un-forgiveness that attend these models.
What are the replacement emotions? For Dr Macnab, they are contained in good (“magnolia”) moments, in good memories, and in good mind states.
Let us take a closer look at the first of these. One way to replace an unwelcome spirit is the “magnolia moment”, as Dr Macnab calls it. In the depths of Winter, the magnolia tree appears lifeless, twisted and barren. The moment when its flowers begin to bud is sudden and brilliant. The magnolia moment happens when something beautiful surprises us after a period of emptiness or negativity, and tells us to “lift up our hearts.”
For a long time, religion has inhabited the negative side of the emotional spectrum: prejudice, resentment, hate, guilt, self-negation. Dr Macnab stresses the importance of repositioning religion, planting it within the heart of the positive, “replacing emptiness with transforming growth, replacing a colourless existence with strong symbols of healing and inspiration, replacing our well-learned self-negations with a strong, repetitive self-affirmation.”
“The real satisfactions of religion come not from your beliefs and their doctrinal details. The real satisfactions of religion come from these replacement emotions that release us, for our growth, for our celebration, for a much more liveable life.”