The modern world tells us that it is bad to be emotional. We are told to put on a victorian, stoic like face and ‘get on with it’. The essence of this teaching is correct. We must transcend emotions. We need to become strong enough and not let our emotions overwhelm us. However, this teaching goes against one of the most fundamental truths of human biology. The emotional mind and the rational mind are born out of two completely different centers in the brain. We cannot use the intellect to override the emotional part and we cannot use emotions as a proxy for rational decisions.
We need to understand the role of emotions in life. Emotions are critical to our survival as a species. The two fundamental emotions are fear and greed. Fear protects and saves us from physical harm. Greed helps us proliferate and grow as a species. These are the basic fight or flight emotions and we share this with other species that are lower in the evolutionary chain. From an evolutionary standpoint, this is perhaps why these emotions arise from the reptilian or the ancient part of the brain. However in today’s world, we are less prone to attacks from wild animals. We are less likely to be swayed by greed for food for our basic survival. However, we still feel fear – anxiety for losing that job or that relationship. We feel greed in acquiring the latest phone or the new house. The raw emotions have now developed a mental story around themselves. The desires have evolved. It is therefore important to understand that the emotions are telling us who we are – our innermost yearnings. Yes, this is not rational – but they do exist – they are. Emotional intelligence begins by recognizing and honoring these yearnings as a part of our irrational selves.
When we rationalize our emotions we use logic to override the raw sensations in the body. For instance, when we lose a relationship we tell ourselves “Ah, this was anyways not meant to be” or “I would have anyways not been happy with the other person” and so on. Notice that the rationale is deployed to protect oneself from pain. It is as though we are telling ourselves ‘Here is the reason why you must not feel this pain’. In reality, if we are sensitive enough, you can feel the split in us. Our emotional centers (the heart) is pulling us in one direction while the head is telling us something opposite. This tension creates a dichotomy in our behavior and prevents us from become an integrated whole. People who constantly rationalize their emotions are usually devoid of empathy. They deploy the same strategy towards others around them – their children, their partners, their friends. They usually get very uncomfortable around any sort of weakness or vulnerability. Most often than not, they resort to anger to avoid vulnerability. If they manage to sit through the emotional display, they will be the first to quickly dismiss them by giving solutions or using philosophy (example: everything is temporary. Or life is misery). Such people become escapists. They are constantly running away from emotionally challenging situations and this makes them prone to change places, jobs, careers, partners and hobbies constantly. The restlessness is essentially born out of an inability to accept an emotionally challenging situation.
Does this mean that we must succumb to sentimentality? Does it mean we go into a self pity mode of “Oh poor me”? Certainly not. That is taking it to the other extreme end. In this sentimental approach we build stories around how bad we are feeling. Or how unfair life is to us. This approach makes us perpetuate the emotion and make us stuck. Such people never progress. You notice how some of us remain sad or depressed for ages after a lost job or a broken relationship. Progress eludes such people.
What must be done? We must learn to face the emotion, without either building ‘poor me’ stories, nor dismissing them by rationalizing them. Both these extreme views must be eschewed on the path of self actualization. Instead, we must learn to look at the raw emotional sensation in the body – squarely and directly. That is, we must learn to sit down, close our eyes and observe the emotional sensation in the chest, the throat and the tummy. These three centers are prone to accumulation of emotion. The throat is associated with cough (grief). The chest with palpitations (fear). The stomach with acidity and heartburn (greed). Perhaps, several of us would have an associated physical condition. This indicates a blocked emotion. By sitting with them in a meditative manner everyday, we begin to open the floodgates. This can appear very very scary. But we must have the courage to go through this phase. This is the challenging phase. Depending on our acceptance and the extent of our repressed emotions, this may take months. This we must accept. We must sit and feel the pain completely and fully. We must learn to give it full permission. We must be very careful here that the mind doesn’t build stories of ‘Gosh, look how much pain I have’, or ‘Okay let me quickly get rid of this so that I can move on’. No. We must take an exploratory, curious attitude of wanting to know what this pain is made up of. Most importantly we must not be in a hurry to get rid of the pain.
Slowly as we get acquainted with this pain, it begins to dissolve on its own. We do not do anything, with the exception of bringing the light of our awareness on it. This is the beginning of transcending our emotions. Everything else merely perpetuates the emotions by either burying it (escapism) or getting stuck in it (sentimentality). As we become more and more aware of our emotions, we can learn to detach from them. It isn’t as though they completely disappear, but we know that a background awareness always exists. This makes the emotions non threatening. We can then – and only then – begin to use the emotions as indicators from the external world. We will be able to pick subtle emotional changes in others around us. We can begin to know their true motives. We begin to know if people are lying to us. Haven’t we all had this experience where someone is being very nice to us, but it feels wrong – we detect an ulterior motive in them. We all have this intuitive awareness in us, however, it has been masked by the confused and noisy mind. By becoming aware of our emotions, we begin to detect them in people and situations. From this additional information, true action arises which is beneficial to the situation and to us. This is mastery. This is self-actualization.
Therefore let us not rationalize our emotions. Be vulnerable to yourselves but not sentimental. This is the beginning of wisdom.