An Emotive Issue

What is the strongest drive that moves the human heart? It is our need for emotional comfort. This need or craving is at the basis of all human partnerships. It would seem that life’s difficulties would easily overwhelm us without some comforting element, and this is most obviously provided by discovering or forming a deep affinity with another human being.

In seeking emotional comfort, our mind has usually created unconsciously an ideal interior picture, and our choice of friend or partner is related to how far they conform to that imagined perfection. If both can sincerely feel: ‘You are the one I have been searching for all my life’, then the affinity is likely to be strong and lasting. If one of the two feels that way, while the other feels ‘not quite’, the differences will soon gain ascendency, and the relationship may founder. Obviously the match is not going to be entire, but is generally acceptable if our partner conforms in some aspects, to the vaguely conceived ideal we hold in our heart.

One example of a partnership based on emotional comfort is presented in Shakespeare’s drama, Othello. Desdemona, the young wife of the military hero, found comfort in the stories he told about the pathos and adventure of his life so far. Similarly, Othello found contentment and tranquillity in Desdemona’s presence, in whose simple love, admiration and sympathy he could blissfully lose himself and gain relief and renewal.

She loved me for the dangers I had passed
And I loved her that she did pity them.

Somewhere in the psyche of both was an ideal image of the right sort of partner, and for Othello, their union fulfilled the deepest need of his being and was the main inspiration of his life.

How I did thrive in this fair lady’s love
And she in mine.

Any form of self-development, to be complete and fulfilling, must allow for the dynamism of human emotion, and the need to direct our love to an object worthy of devotion. Our greatest challenge is not to stifle and suppress our urge for emotional comfort and support, but how to love wisely.

For wise loving, we need to keep fit emotionally, and not lapse into apathy, or allow familiarity to breed indifference. We must do our best to see the highest and deepest values in the beloved; and if these are not obvious, they should be regarded as latent potentialities that will be actualised in due course. We can never know another human being through and through; there are always hidden facets waiting to shine forth, and it is up to us to give sufficient respect to the one we love, so as to strengthen their self-confidence, and share our hopeful and expectant sense of their higher destiny.

There is a further phase of this path of love, which transcends the quest for fulfilment in purely human terms. In every wisdom tradition, we learn of those whose personalities seem to be invisibly connected to some higher realm, where normal human motivations and urges have been transmuted and universalised. Comfort now comes from a sense of oneness with the All. Personal love, still burning brightly, is now part of an all-embracing sentiment; our heart no longer includes or excludes, since it is not felt to be separate or other than the whole. Such is the love of the great spiritual figures, whose words, thoughts and deeds have a purifying influence when we give them due reverence and attention.

Still higher is the love and emotional comfort we derive from the contemplation of the deeper reality which we first approach through the finite forms of the enlightened sages and incarnations of God and which later will be recognised as not separate from the innermost reality of our own being—our true Self. Ultimately the greatest comfort has its eternal abode and availability within our own heart, and needs to be uncovered, not created. This final and most meaningful detail of our journey to complete fulfilment involves a turnaround, where our self, in the form of our purified and infinitely expanded mind, now realises the true nature of its own higher being, the source of its light and consciousness. This is the source of all comfort, being bliss absolute.

This article is from the Autumn 2022 issue of Self-Knowledge Journal.