IT’S COMPLICATED. OR MAYBE NOT.

I’ve been thinking about the trap we set for ourselves in the judgments we make of each other. Every moment of being together is colored by our feelings – the degree to which we like or dislike ourselves and the other person – and the same holds true of our feelings about everything else. A judgment can be as mundane as a reaction to a new look in fashion, or as serious as an attitude toward a strong prejudicial opinion. The result is either pleasing or it isn’t.

Westerners in particular tend to see in black or white: winners vs. losers, for instance. If you’re not perceived as the former, you’re apt to be branded the latter. Likewise, we obsess over good and bad, subconsciously guided to one label or the other, affixing it here and there automatically. As we see in disturbing abundance, simple issues of personal taste, not to mention morality, can quickly turn a dialogue into a feud. Different folks have different ideas about everything under the sun. Is it any wonder that complication prevails?

As a further complication, our certainties are not always certain. Think about how we think of war and peace. When we are not at war, are we at peace? One might say yes, but hardly in absolute terms, because true peace is the absence of fear, and that describes almost no one. War and peace exist on the same wheel. As relative values, they show a direction of movement toward one or the other, not an unqualified state. The fabric of our lives is woven of both.

Love is another virtue that is often misrepresented. So much gets confused with emotion. It is said that every human act is either an expression of love or a cry for help. Where emotion runs deep, however, even a so-called act of love is tinged with insecurity as well. Emotional love is a transient. Born of desire, it conveys a form of attachment, which, by definition, involves the ego. Thus, the passion that emotional love ignites is bound to diminish. At its core, it is contractive. Surely we have all experienced how, as time goes by, complication tends to encumber even our most ardent relationships. Love of God is the one and only love that is ever expansive, for it alone is unaffected by circumstance or result. It alone is free of personal motive.

But is love of God a practical response to the whirl of our daily lives. Does it make sense to accept, without judgment, whatever comes down the pike? St. Francis gave thanks for all that he received, no matter how meager or rude, as exactly what God had in mind for his spiritual growth. Was he just a good-hearted fool?

I doubt there is anything more difficult than letting go of one’s emotional investments: that is to say, living without attachment to the outcome of our endeavors; learning to surrender our likes and dislikes to serve our soul. Yet, how else can we escape the sway of our fears? A popular mantra of the 1970s was “Give peace a chance.” But what chance will it ever have if we, as mere reactionaries, continue to give a thumbs up or down to every person, item, and event that enters our field of awareness? This automatic exercise, harmless though it may seem, guarantees that fear of the unwanted will torment us. As duality ordains, every plus requires a canceling minus. Like night and day, every want must include its twin, whether in actual occurrence or the apprehension of same.

Of all the options we face, there is really but one that matters: either we roll our emotional investments into a more productive portfolio of stocks—compassion, forgiveness, introspection, meditation, and simple living, for example—or we keep falling short of the capital needed for inner peace, contentment, and unconditional love.

Could it be that faith in God is, after all, the most practical choice before us?