So why do we need to be connected to our 'ruach', or our emotions in order to truly be spiritually-healthy? And what happens, health-wise, when our emotions go AWOL - when they're permanently squashed down, or drugged away?
Let's start by addressing the question of spiritual health, first.
As we learnt, we're meant to fix each level of our soul, then move up to the next level. We know we've made it, spiritually, when the most-refined part of our souls, called the neshama, is effectively 'in charge' of the other two levels.
Practically speaking, we can see how this plays out in our holy tzadikim, and how they live their lives. The nefesh is all about desires, lusts, physical pleasures and self-gratification. When a person's neshama is truly in control of their nefesh, a person won't over-indulge in food, drink, gashmius, or other material pleasures. They'll get up early for the netz minyan; they'll sleep minimally, and the body's desires will be indulged minimally, just enough to maintain good physical health.
At the next level up, we hit the ruach. As we learned, ruach is all about emotions and feelings. We feel happy, we feel sad, we feel important, we feel like we're nothing, we feel angry, we feel forgiving, etc etc.
When a person's neshama is truly controlling their ruach (and let me just add in here that the level I'm about to describe takes years' and years' of serious prayer and work), a person is in control of their emotional reactions.
When someone upsets them or hurts them, they won't automatically lash out and punch them in the face, or shout curses at them. They'll be patient, forgiving, understanding, kind. When life doesn't go their way, they don't get bitter, broken and depressed, and accept their lot happily.
How can they do this? Only if they have really strong emuna. Only if they truly believe G-d is running the world, and that He does everything for our good.
Now, let me make a crucially important point here: CONTROLLING OUR EMOTIONAL REACTIONS IS NOT THE SAME AS REPRESSING THEM, OR DRUGGING THEM AWAY.
In the first case, the neshama is in control, and the person can still feel their emotions, and then choose how to respond. In the second case, the emotional response is still occurring under the surface, but the person has no conscious idea what's really going on, or how to deal with it.
In the second case scenario, people can believe they've 'fixed' their ruach, or emotions, when all that's happened is that they've gone underground. Instead of the neshama running the whole show, control has actually reverted back to the animalistic nefesh - and the person themselves has no clue about what's really motivating their behaviour or how much of a mess their soul is actually in.
Repressed emotions don't just go away. If they aren't dealt with and released in a healthy way (more on this in the next post) they go 'inwards' and they start to cause all sorts of physical, mental and spiritual blockages.
If someone is feeling lonely, for example, that feeling can go underground and then pop-again in the nefesh as an impossible-to-resist urge to eat a whole chocolate cake. Then it will resurface in the ruach as a feeling of inferiority or self-hatred; then it will move up the neshama and make the person feel so distant and far away from G-d.
That one 'lost' feeling just did damage to all three levels of the soul. And this is what happens with every other 'lost' feeling we have, too.
Even if we somehow manage to repress our ruach without any obvious damage to ourselves, the next thing that happens is that the problems we've repressed simply manifest themselves, often shockingly, in our children.
My repressed anger has now turned into my child's out-of-control rage fits; my hidden feelings of self-hatred have morphed into my child's terrible depressions; my secret apathy and despair about life are the reason my kid can't get out of bed any more, and is flunking out of school.
We can't run away from our emotions, our ruach. If we do, we'll either just make ourselves sick, or make our children certifiably crazy. G-d gave our emotions to us to work on, to fix and to heal. So how, exactly, do we do that? G-d willing, I'll discuss that in the next post.