| The Tyranny of Feelings
by Norman Walford 19th April 2011
Telephone—it’s John . . . again.
“Hello John, how are you?”
“Dreadful. My whole life is wrong . . . Nothing to live for. Why do I get so much bad luck? . . . “ and so on.
John’s 74, retired, and in a chronic slough of despond. He hates his life, thinks he’s done it all wrong,
wishes he could go back and start again. In real terms he’s not had a bad life. From coal miner’s son to
Associate University Professor would classify as a successful life in most people’s book, but he can’t see
it. All he can see is the negatives.
Actually I have some sympathy with John. I went through similar emotions 40 years ago in the early
years of my Christian life. It was tied up with my tendency to passive dependency, looking to god to
solve problems that I should have been sorting out for myself, that sort of thing. You’ll find it all in the
book in a bit more detail. And I know just how all-embracing those negative feelings can be.
It reminds me of something I’ve often experienced skiing. You go up the mountain with your skis and it’s
a clear blue sunny day—except for that one little cloud huddled at the top of the peak. And that’s just
the peak you’ve planned to go up. So up you go, and suddenly you’re in the cloud. It’s a thick fog, you
can’t see a thing. You put your skis on and feel your way forward, peering into the murk just looking for
some sort of shape to fix on to, orientate yourself. It’s a little scary. It seems like it just goes on forever,
that the whole world is shrouded in this fog. It’s hard to believe the sun even exists, the foggy sensation
is so all-embracing. You feel your way forward, inching down the mountain, hoping you’re on the right
track. And then suddenly, down a few more feet, and—you’re out! Bright sun all around. And you look
back and you see that fog that seemed so all-embracing for what it is: a tiny little island of cloud in a sea
of bright sunshine.
Feelings can be like that. When you’re in them they just swallow you up, envelope you. You can’t see
anything else, it’s all blotted out. You know in your head that there are people out there happy, content—
but you can’t visualize it. You’re trapped in the feelings.
Is there a way out? I found one—or rather god thrust one upon me. I’ve described in the book how I’d
maneuvered myself into an introverted hell of drug abuse etc. which had sapped my self-will to such an
extent that all I could do was be carried along, passively, unable it seemed to lift a finger to help myself.
Then God lifted me out and dropped me into the bizarre cult of the Children of God. I won’t discuss here
the rights and wrongs of the Children of God theology. It was fairly misguided in some directions, I see
now, but at the time it was lifesaving for me. In a way it was a bit like doing National Service. I was thrown
into a rigid military-style discipline where from morning till night you worked till you dropped. No time to
rest, no time to think, just never-ending constant activity. It was hell—and at the same time it was
lifesaving for me. The discipline, the forced activity, broke all those nasty vicious circles in my brain, all
the cycles of negativity. Suddenly I was able to take control of my life again, make decisions, get things
done. I won’t say that was the end of it. I’ve been back through some pretty rough times again since
then, but it’s been different. Since then I’ve always known, in part a least the secret of how to step out of
So how to do it? Here’s my formula:
1. We need to recognize some key facts about our feelings. Which are:
I don’t think it’s going to happen, ever. The cloud is just so thick, he no longer believes that he sun could
be shining just round the corner.