Jan2017: The Power of Emotion

by Brad on December 31, 2016

 

“We are so intimidated by other people’s emotions and so convinced by our own that we lose sight of the underlying reality.”                                        — Deepak Chopra

Our world seems increasingly characterized by high-key emotion. Wherever I go, no matter the situation, I encounter complaint, upset, outrage, fear, or some kind of drama – whether it’s personal, local or global in nature. Examples are everywhere: social media posts, ‘she made me upset,’ bullying in schools, U.S. elections, climate change. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting tired of it all. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not tired of emotion; it’s a natural, even crucial, part of what it means to be human. I’m just tired of the attachment some people have to their emotions, and the associated drama they then force upon the world. I want to offer a different view, perhaps a path out of the weeds, as it were.

It seems there are two viewpoints when it comes to emotions. The first, and overwhelmingly the most common, says: “Emotions just happen. I can’t help it. Furthermore, they’re real … therefore they’re valid and true. I need to allow my emotions to express themselves through my thoughts, words and actions. Really, if I didn’t do this, I’d be denying my feelings, right?” This view may be a conscious choice or it may be the unconscious result of not having given the topic much thought. Either way, subscribers see their emotional response as evidence that justifies the emotion’s validity.

The other, decidedly less common, view says: “I agree. Emotions do happen; yet they don’t just happen. Emotions are indeed real, but what matters is that when they arise, they represent a signal, asking me to stop, listen, and get to know the thinking creating them. It’s up to me to respond, by learning about myself, not through outrage at the situation. Via practice, I’ve learned that most of life’s events are neutral. (Truth is like that; it doesn’t need justifying.) If emotion is present, it’s because I stirred it into the pot; so it’s time for me to discover what the emotion is trying to teach me. As I get better noticing my hidden thoughts and beliefs, I find my response to emotions calming, leaving me more balanced despite living in an unbalanced world.” The key for those adopting this view is: I can’t respond constructively to much of anything if my emotions have hijacked my rational mind.

Exercise: A path to calm: we all have emotions, but when we become them, we lose perspective and personal power, and we live in anxiety. The path forward is awareness. As you get to know thoughts that trigger your emotions, you become open to choosing new responses. On the other side of this choice you’ll find calm and a sense of freedom. So, in 10 – 15 minutes of quiet time each day, mentally replay events and conversations from your day. Choose a few that went well, a few that didn’t, and a few where you were the only player. In looking back, identify which situations triggered you emotionally, as well as how you responded at the time. Just notice. After some practice “noticing but not trying to change things,” look more deeply inside each emotion; see if you can trace it back to a thought that triggered it. Examples: If you’re stressed or overwhelmed, you may recall childhood lessons that said you weren’t good enough unless you did everything perfectly. (If so, do you believe that thought is true, for you, today?) Or, if you’re furious about the presidential election, perhaps you’ll trace the anger back to early experiences of being denied your personal power (or witnessing others denied theirs), now lodged as a belief about the misuse of power. (If so, is that thought true for you, about your power, today?) Resist easy answers to these questions; depth is an opening to freedom.

A River Runs Through It [Life lessons from nature]: When a cataclysmic event happens in nature (no shortage of examples here – earthquake, tsunami, hurricane, flood, forest fire, asteroid), nature doesn’t have a “gee, ain’t it awful, why did this happen?” story. There’s no blame and no drama (except what we stir in when we experience such events). Instead, nature just continues doing what she was doing just before the cataclysm creating. Mountains, forests, wildlife and beaches come and go, yet the process that creates them is sustained. The beauty we experience in nature today is not static; it’s the current (and temporary) manifestation of a creative process in touch with its environment.

Book of the month Emotional Chaos to Clarity, by Phillip Moffitt. A piece of clarity on the topic of clarity! How to cultivate a responsive, rather than a reactive, mind, and live from your values regardless of life’s circumstances. He offers ways to recognize mental chaos, practices to shift from chaos to clarity, and perspective on living in an uncertain world. And if you’re on Cape Cod, you’ll find this book at the Market Street Bookshop in Mashpee Commons; 508-539-6985.

Download January 2017 pdf

 

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Ted Curtin December 31, 2016 at 12:31 pm

Boy, did I need to read this! Thanks, Brad, for providing some excellent thoughts as guideposts to clarity.

Julie Fraser December 31, 2016 at 1:15 pm

Thank you Brad. I took a big chunk of this morning parsing through an emotional state. Indeed, the negative trigger was embedded from my very early childhood. On examining the thought that I was undesired and an annoyance to the person I most wanted to please, I started to realized the fear underlying it was completely unfounded and outdated. (As the Chopra quote indicates.) I was able to feel the pain for a bit, but then move on to see from the other person’s perspective and create strategies for how to better present myself while still being completely authentic. I also created strategies for protecting myself from feeling so wounded when I don’t get the attention or response I want from someone. I’m feeling strong emotions of joy to have your newsletter back in my inbox!!! I do love a thinking buddy!

Elaine Johnson January 1, 2017 at 3:28 pm

Hey Brad. Glad you mentioned Phillip Moffitt. One of my fave books. Thanks for the post and insight.

David Collins January 2, 2017 at 10:33 pm

Thanks for posting, Brad! I sure have missed you this past year. In my Buddhist practice, I’ve been learning to catch that emotion that arises before it triggers a reactive response. Most times, I’m successful, and can even watch the emotion (usually anger) as it arises from deep within my belly. And most times, I have time to formulate a considered response, not based on anger, but based on what I believe to serve the highest good of the other person and me. It’s amazing to watch time slow down, to give me the time to formulate my response. This teaching is crucial, and I thank you for bringing it forward.

David Collins January 8, 2017 at 6:55 pm

Thanks for posting, Brad! I sure have missed you this past year. In my
Buddhist practice, I’ve been learning to catch that emotion that arises
before it triggers a reactive response. Most times, I’m successful, and can
even watch the emotion (usually anger) as it arises from deep within my
belly. And most times, I have time to formulate a considered response, not
based on anger, but based on what I believe to serve the highest good of the
other person and me. It’s amazing to watch time slow down, to give me the
time to formulate my response. This teaching is crucial, and I thank you
for bringing it forward.

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