Deep feelings, when I am graced with them, generally have a calming and ennobling effect upon my spirit—and this is reason enough, perhaps, to court and cultivate them. The gravitas communicated to me by these deep feelings produces a grounding effect within my soul, even when the feelings themselves are not unalloyed with painful hues and ominous suggestions. Such feelings effectively neutralize or knock the wind out of all puffed-up, petty, and non-essential concerns if only by virtue of their greater substance and heft. A psychic state that is saturated with deep feeling, rather than rising above mundane and trivial feelings—as is often the case with “intellectual” abstractions and conceptual thinking—burrows underneath them, then swallows them whole without getting their little bones “stuck in the throat” as they descend the gullet without much ado.
There is something proud, I find, that accompanies deep feeling. It is the pride that is left as a residue after a long struggle and much suffering, a noble pride that bears no resemblance to the bloated arrogance of the popinjay or the haughty contempt of the egoist. In other words, there is a strong tincture of compassion present in such proud and noble, deep sentiments. If the psyche may be likened to an ocean, such feeling as I describe here confines itself to the quiet depths far below the rippled surface. Deep feeling is a precious refuge as well as a privileged vantage point from which to behold the human comedy.
Why are deep feelings ennobling? Is it because we are often obliged to display considerable bravery in the mere act of dropping our shields before them and allowing them to pierce our armor and course through us? Is it because they carry such a strong charge that they burn away any dross and oxidation that may happen to tarnish our inner circuitry? Is it because they tend greatly to enhance the sense of our own inimitable and fateful uniqueness—which entails, among other things, confronting us with the finality of our inevitable personal death?
The sublimity of deep feeling is a natural efflorescence produced by a conscious connection with the transcendent—that realm of experience which, like a clear cold impersonal ether, envelops the warm little world of our ordinary personal concerns, our comfort levels, preferences, and mundane preoccupations. Sublime feeling momentarily reconciles those familiar pairs of opposites that are typically split into incompatible, warring sides. Good and evil, wonderful and horrible, noble and common, desire and disgust—all are mysteriously and precariously wedded and neutralized in fleeting moments of speechless bliss.
It is tempting to link deep feeling with Stoic endurance—a breed of suffering which must be sharply distinguished from the fretful anxiety, resentment, the feelings of impotence and insignificance which are so prevalent in this—as in perhaps every—age. Paradoxically, the suffering associated with gravitas, sublime feeling, and nobility is suffering which is not a common experience for many persons in contemporary society, precisely because it is not so much personal as it is universal in its scope. Moreover, because this impersonal suffering pertains to the species, or to existence, as a whole, it cannot be genuinely experienced so long as we remain consciously fettered to those surface-level, personal ego concerns (our own and of those dear to us) that constitute the great bulk of everyday human affairs.
Lines from Matthew Arnold’s poignant poem, “Dover Beach” (1867) movingly capture the impersonal, universal character of this grounding melancholy—with its power almost to dissolve our personal preoccupations in the “sea” that it alludes to:
… from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery…