In a Relationship with Your Emotions
Our emotions direct our actions and, in this way, they color our entire world. If you can master your emotions, you can master your actions. When you have full control of your actions, then you have full control over your present moment, your present world, right now. And when you have full control of this moment, now, you have control over your future. Then you can go wherever you want to go, achieve whatever you want to achieve. There’s a sense of great openness and possibility.
We begin by taking responsibility for our emotional health. It’s similar to when you’re growing up, when you don’t take care of our room, your parents tell you to clean up. At that point they’re in control. But later you take responsibility for your room. And if you don’t take control of it, pretty soon your room will get quite messy. In the same way, if we don’t want to be responsible for taking care of our emotions, our mind is going to get very messy.
As we begin to work with emotions, first we need to recognize that within the very experience of emotion itself, there is wisdom there. So on that basis we can have a sense of respect for our emotions. And when you start working with that emotion, it’s important to be kind to yourself. That’s the ground, so to speak, of working with our emotions.
If you want to plant a flower, you need soil. Without the ground in which to plant it, the seed is not helpful. Where can you put the seed? On the table? It’s not going to grow there. You need the right soil. In the same way, you need the right ground for working with your emotions. That ground is kindness, compassion, and gentleness. So it’s very important to start with being kind to yourself.
Start by being kind to yourself
How can you be kind to yourself? By not being too hard on yourself. That’s a good beginning. We don’t need to keep putting pressure on ourselves and placing unachievable expectations on ourselves. There are so many other people doing that for us already. We don’t need yet another person pressuring us, especially not ourselves.
So don’t be too hard on yourself. Be gentle.
Being hard on ourselves, pressuring ourselves, is different from setting goals. Of course you should set goals in your life, you should have a certain sense of expectation for your life. But that’s different from being hard on yourself. It’s important to separate these two.
How else can you be kind to yourself? Bring some humor into your life! Don’t be too serious. It’s okay to relax and let yourself smile. No pressure.
Sometimes it’s also helpful to remember that our struggles in life and the emotions we experience, are all just like a dream. Look at yesterday’s struggle and all of the emotions that came along with it. From today’s point of view, it’s like a dream, isn’t it?
I use this exercise myself. I look at yesterday’s experience from today’s point of view. And then I look at last night’s dream from today’s point of view. And when I look, I see that there’s not much difference between those two. Yesterday’s struggle was a very big deal. And last night, in the dream, it all seemed so real. But today when I look back at them, both of these look very dreamlike.
You know the kindergarten song, “Row, row row your boat, gently down the stream. Merrily merrily merrily merrily, life is but a dream”? It’s wonderful, isn’t it? So we don’t have to be too serious. We can just relax a little bit now and then, and remember life’s dreamlike quality.
Getting to know your emotions
Whatever is going on in our life, working with our emotions is not optional. We’re going to experience our emotions whether or not we like to work with them. Anger, jealousy, irritation, whatever it may be, is going to come up for us. We may not like hearing that it’s not optional to work with emotions. We would like another option. But they’re going to come up anyway. And if we don’t get to know our emotions –– if we don’t find a way to partner with them for our personal growth –– these emotions will sabotage our success in many aspects of life.
On the other hand, if you work with your emotions, then they become your aid and your support. They become part of the energy you need to accomplish your goal. You’re able to harness that energy, the power of emotion, to achieve your goal. If you partner with them, emotions can become your friend.
So what is emotion? Basically, it has two aspects. One is this fundamental level of emotion, a genuine energy of creativity or basic intelligence. No matter what emotion you’re experiencing, whether it’s joyful or painful, there’s a basic sense of wisdom present. That energy of emotions is always there. It’s like the electricity that runs through an electrical wire. Power is always there. The power of wisdom is always at the core, at the heart of your emotion.
But how you experience that emotion, habitually . . . that’s another thing. At that point the emotion is our thought plus the meaning we give to it.
So we can start by just feeling that energy of our emotions and relating to that. Think about when you’re really angry. I’m not sure if you ever get angry, but just try to imagine. When you get a strong anger, you can feel that energy in your body, vibrating, right? And we’re talking about very strong anger here, not just feeling a little bit upset. Really angry.
Or when you’re feeling very passionate. So much passion. Can you imagine that? When you feel very strong desire, passion, can you feel it in your body? In your mind? Very strong, right?
In both of these two moments –– a very angry moment and a very passionate moment –– there’s one similarity, isn’t there? There’s one similarity that you feel inside your body. It’s the energy, the power, and in that moment when you really feel that, there are no words. When you’re really angry, you don’t know what to say, right? It takes time. And also when you’re really passionate, you don’t know what to say. There’s no thought. In that moment, there’s no reasoning or judgment. That’s why, when people get really angry, they kill each other. No reasoning.
Isn’t this also why we say “Love is blind”? If there’s a reason, then you’re not really loving someone.
The energy of emotions is so powerful. And that energy can go either way. It can be your friend or it can be your enemy. It all depends on how your thought process reacts to this energy. So there’s this powerful energy and then it gets interpreted. This energy is interpreted based on the individual person’s cognitive network.
3 questions to ask your emotions
If we’re going to work with our emotions, first we need to get to know them. How can we get to know our emotions? It’s very simple. Ask your emotions these three questions when you feel them coming up.
1. “What is this emotion I’m experiencing now?”
Stay open. Don’t think you know the answer right away. You probably have some ideas, some preconceptions about your emotions. Your judgmental mind will want to start saying, “Oh, I can’t have this, I cannot have this emotion, it’s good, it’s bad, don’t go there . . . .” Don’t listen to that.
Just ask the question in the most innocent way. Just like a child asks a question. Kids like to ask a lot of questions and when they ask, it’s very innocent: “What is it?” So that’s all we’re asking here. “What is it?” That’s a real question.
But usually when we ask questions, the question is so long that it almost becomes an essay. And in that question we’re showing off how much we know, all our speculations and everything. So there’s no genuine enthusiasm there. There’s maybe a slight enthusiasm but there’s also this sense that you already know the answer, and you’re showing that in the question.
Not like that. When we ask, we will be like a child asking a question. We really want to know what is there, at the core of this experience of emotion, now. So we’re asking this question at a primal level, you might say, at the most basic level, of the experience. Now for the second question: when?
2. “When does this emotion come up?”
Now we’re getting a little more analytical here. When is the emotion coming up for us? Is it coming once a year? Like every Christmas? Is it coming on a monthly basis, like our phone bill? Or is this emotion coming up every single day? How often does it come up for you?
When you ask “when,” you’re trying to find out how often this emotion is dominating you. When you know the frequency of this emotion, then you will know the strength of this emotion. And when you know the strength of this emotion, you will know how strongly this emotion is dominating you. So to work with a difficult emotion, first we need to know how often it shows up. And for our third question, we ask Where.
3. “Where am I, usually, when this emotion comes up?” and “Who am I with?”
This question, “Where am I?” will help us to identify the environment of our emotion. And the question “Who am I with?” helps us begin to identify the trigger. All our major emotions have some trigger, don’t they? That trigger could be a word, it could be a gesture, or it could be the way someone looks at you. It could be just one finger. Or hair. Like some orange hair that you see on TV.
There is a trigger for this emotion and we need to really be careful with our triggers. So if we want to work with our emotions, first we need to identify our trigger.
So we ask, What is this energy I’m feeling? When is it coming and how often? Where am I when it comes up, and who am I with? We can ask these three questions with each of our major emotions. That’s how, pragmatically, we can actually get to know them.
The trouble with labels
Just as soon as we have this experience of emotional energy, we can see that our mind labels it. And that label is based on our cognitive network –– all of the influences we’ve picked up from culture, religion, Google, and everywhere else. All of the labels start flowing in: good, bad, ugly, pretty, and so on.
When you label your emotions, then your emotions are getting mixed with labels. When emotions are mixed with thoughts, concepts and labels -–– all these aspects of judgmental mind –– then the energy changes. The primary energy is not the same thing you were experiencing before. It changes and the energy becomes adulterated. The energy becomes polluted.
Then what happens? Your experience of emotion is no longer that original, fresh, raw, beautiful energy. What you are experiencing now is a labeled emotion. So it’s important to remember this. When it is free of our thoughts, concepts and labels, emotion at its raw, naked, original level, is very organic and very beautiful. At the heart of every emotion is this beautiful, powerful, and nourishing energy.