Emotional storms? Stop fighting and watch it pass…

Feelings are powerful and complex creatures that can easily make or break your day. However, in today’s rational society, we like to believe that we can “think away” emotions, because we assume feelings are unnecessary and fluffy obstructions to achieving our goals.

I once knew a person who swore never to vote for a female president because of a belief that women are inherently more emotional than men and thus would make rash decisions.

Feminist sensibilities aside, I think people who dismiss emotions are missing out on some of the most rewarding aspects of their own lives. After all, why do we do anything in life? Why do we get married, chase dreams or spend time with friends? Because we like these things. They make us feel good. All things considered, we live for emotions.

That said, emotions often guide and inspire us but occasionally can hold us back from our full potential. Haven’t you ever let a negative emotional response influence your actions and ended up suffering for it? If you ever became bashful and tongue-tied when chatting with an attractive member of the opposite gender or if you ever lashed out against someone who didn’t deserve it, then you understand. Sometimes feelings of heartbreak, devastation or hopelessness can shroud everything in despair. Normalcy starts to seem like a faraway illusion.

No matter what you’re dealing with – stress, hopelessness, fear, frustration – I can tell you with certainty there’s a way out, even when it all seems impossible to deal with. Trust me, I’ve been there many times. When you’re in the midst of an overwhelmingly difficult emotion, you have a few choices. You can use some sort of mental trick to bend you out of your negativity, or you can let go of it. Transforming fear into excitement and tracing your emotions back to a source are a couple helpful tactics, but I find that sometimes the effort you use to disentangle yourself will only feed the fire. Once, one of my co-workers was in a ridiculously bad mood. After muttering plenty of insults behind customers’ backs and giving away lots of glares, he started to say to himself, “I really need to calm down. Man, I should really get over this. It’s getting ridiculous.” But he couldn’t quite seem to do it. If anything, he just grew more furious. I told him that he could just be making himself angrier by trying to stop it, that he should just accept the anger so he could forget about it more easily. He nodded and said I was probably right. Let’s think about it for a moment. If you are getting sad that you’re sad, worried about being worried or insecure about being insecure, how on earth is that helping you?

The most lasting method I have learned to deal with overwhelming emotions is by relaxing – by simply accepting whatever is going on inside of you instead of incessantly worrying about fixing it. When I stop worrying about my bad feelings and stop trying to find a way out, they simply fade away. But this gets tricky, because if I tell myself I’m going to relax my feelings away while really I am only telling myself this to see if the feeling disappears, then it won’t work – I’ll just keep worrying! I must accept negativity without pretense or agenda, something completely counter to our “go get ’em” culture. From a spiritual perspective, the suffering you feel actually is teaching you and guiding you. You will eventually turn that pit of despair into an equally affecting glow of happiness when you stop trying to resist it. Let it in, let it do what it has to do and it will fade away instead of continuing to bang obnoxiously at your door.

Observe yourself regularly to measure your success. Emotions are sensations within the body, not just imaginary wisps floating around in your head. Anger appears in a different part of the body than joy or sorrow does. I feel sorrow in my throat and anger more in my chest and forehead, for example. Note the sensations and look at your pain as objectively as you would an aching back. Both of these hurts are trying to tell you that something is wrong, so paying attention to what they tell you is important, unless you can’t control the situation causing your distress. In that case, let go. Let go. Let go. Repeat as needed.

But here, listen to someone much wiser than me explain:

Heavy Emotions

Emotions can weigh down like a heavy shroud.

This is something I’ve struggled with this summer, which has been a bit of a wake-up call. Normally, I don’t let my emotions control me for long. In fact, I sort of pride myself on my ability to keep my attitude in check.

But sometimes it’s not that simple. I’m not going to lie, my emotions have driven me to the point of physical exhaustion at points in the last few weeks. Dramatic though it sounds, a few days ago a pit of despair (such as I’ve rarely experienced) hit me over my head like a ton of bricks, dragging me to the point of physical immobility. Only lots of willpower got me through daily routine. I’d let stress and anxiety build up within me, then the smallest catalyst threw me into the deep end.

(Please note: I’m not trying to feel sorry for myself. I’m truly fine now. Just using this as an opportunity to explore.)

I did a CD meditation on managing emotions, which helped. The focus was accepting, not resisting, negativity. Letting it “solidify.” I heard an applicable saying, that resisting duhkha (suffering) is still duhkha. Repressing those gnawing feelings is like too many strong antibiotics. It ultimately creates a stronger and more uncontrollable strain. If you’ve ever tried ignoring your emotions, then you know to expect an eventual break down (that will probably hurt someone in the process).

I find that vexing emotions -impatience, irritation, discontent, stress – evaporate when I allow them to flow through me. Honestly embracing the negativity, with no underlying intention of driving it away, can instantly dissipate the tension. Emotions are not what hurts you. Only your reaction to them does.

Looking negativity straight in the eyes is essential. Sometimes emotions are bright flashing arrows to turn around and look within. Maybe there’s a deeper root to that jealous or angry instinct inside yourself. It could point to old fears or a need for self-love. (Negative emotions usually stem from fear, I believe.) And remember that emotions are physical, not just mental…try to notice where the feeling is located in your body and to describe the sensation. Is it in your chest? Your back? Your throat? Stomach?

This is a tricky process. Perspective helps. During my downswing, the more I dwelt on the feeling as something hopelessly consuming me, the deeper I dug myself into a hole. On the contrary, the more I thought of myself as a person with temporary problems, the more manageable things seemed.

This particular doozy disappeared when I came face to face with the root cause of the conflict, but other things helped in the meantime: attention to other people, exercise, artistic release, meditation. Meditation helped me to regain touch with myself as pure consciousness, rather than overwhelming sadness.

Here’s a beautiful article on managing emotions, from a spiritual perspective.

In the words of Eckhart Tolle: “Rather than being your thoughts and emotions, be the awareness behind them.”

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More life, less effort

“‘Are you able to have a little room where you can close the door and be alone?’

‘Yes.’

‘That is your cave…That is your sacred mountain. That is where you will find the kingdom of God.'”

In “Autobiography of a Yogi,” Paramahansa Yogananda runs to the Himalayas to find holy men. A saint he encounters chides him for running away from home (with his guru) to find adventure. The saint says Yogananda should not seek God by running far and wide but rather by stilling himself wherever he is.

This spearheaded me when I read it. Lately, I’ve been overcome with everything I have left to accomplish in life. I want to develop as a painter and musician. Read more about sustainability and gender issues. Write more poetry. Work on the garden. And somehow, fit in day-to-day duties, work, people, spontaneity, and spirituality.

The world is far too vast and interesting for one lifetime!

Is life a blank slate that we have a limited time to fill? A 90-minute videotape we must cram with as many interesting experiences and activities as we can?

In the end, what do we have to show for it? Who’s going to view a copy in 300 years when you and everyone you know is long gone? Why will it even matter?

When I think about life as a process, rather than a static box I need to fulfill, the question changes from what I do to who I am. Nothing ultimately makes me happier than becoming in touch with the part of me that is pure consciousness (rather than staying entrapped within the seductive haze of the ego). The Now is pure awareness. No future concerns, no past regrets.

Self-realization transforms the smallest experiences, from sipping water to gazing at the sky, into ecstasy. When the change shifts within yourself, you don’t have to stuff the world in your pocket. Instead of constantly working toward the next adventure, everything becomes vibrant. You can just be, and you do more with less.

Find a room and try to be still for a few minutes. See what happens.

“The life of sensation is the life of greed. It requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet.” (Annie Dillard)

Eckhart Tolle on finding stillness now.