I have been trying to get a good understanding of Spinoza’s advice for handling the passions. My understanding seems to require stories and analogies, so I ended up with this one:
Imagine taking a group of very special kids on a field trip. Each of them is enormously sensitive to different sorts of stimuli, and will react to them with great and terrible enthusiasm. Your mission is to take them to the zoo and back. If you just carelessly make the trip, there will be many, many sudden outbursts, as Mary sees balloons, Jose sees water fountains, and Tom hears lions roaring. These outbursts will trigger further outbursts from the children who are sensitive toward outbursts in general. Reasoning with the children or bribing them with sweets will not help, since the reasons and bribes you offer them will never have as much force with them as the stimuli to which they are “set” to respond. If you want to accomplish this mission peacefully, without so many disruptions, so that a good time is had by all, you will plan very carefully to avoid certain stimuli, or to have distractions at the ready, or you may choose to break the group into smaller groups and direct them toward attractions which won’t trigger the responses of the kids in that particular group.
You yourself are being driven by a desire to get to the zoo and back with as little suffering as possible. It is true that you too may be distracted, or succumb to your shameful desire to ditch the kids and go grab a beer. So you may prepare for yourself certain strategies or mantras to keep yourself on task; if you are mature enough, you may be able to stay on task by promising yourself rewards for a job well done.
In the end, you will fail. There are simply too many ways for things to go wrong. You will run into an old college drinking buddy, or the lion cage will have moved, or some idiot will be honking a loud horn and passing out free balloons. When that happens, you will console yourself by recognizing that these things were beyond your control and could not have been avoided. And why will this be consoling? Because it diffuses the blame into the wider cosmos, and offers you no tangible object for meaningful regret, scorn, or hatred. You may even come to laugh over it, as you appreciate all the causes which conspired to ruin your day. And that, my friends, is the intellectual love of God.