We usually react in two ways when confronted with a problem. We either get overwhelmed by it, or we run away. How can we begin to face problems with equanimity and poise?
Developing awareness is the key. An external situation always corresponds to an internal emotion. What we actually dislike is the feeling of contractions in our body and not necessarily the external event. Unfortunately, we try to desperately resolve this external situation by thinking about it. Thinking cannot resolve emotional problems. This has to be understood. Rational thought happens after the storm of emotions has passed. This is a reflection to be carried out after the dust has settled.
Unfortunately, our culture has completed neglected emotional education. We aren’t taught how to deal with our emotions – neither at home nor in school. This is similar to not learning how to speak. How can we communicate? How can knowledge be acquired? How can we lead a happy life without language? The realm of emotions is similar. How can we lead a turmoil-free life without the knowledge of emotions? In today’s hyper-busy, hyper-connected world, learning how to deal with our emotions is critical to our survival.
We begin to bring our awareness to emotions. This is extremely difficult for many. Therefore, it is best to start becoming aware of our emotions in easier situations. Are you enjoying a tasty meal at a restaurant? Instead of getting subsumed into meaningless mental chatter, become quiet and go to the feelings and sensations. For instance, the standard response to something very beautiful is “Oh my God. This is the best pizza EVER”. Instead of thinking about happiness, FEEL IT. How does it feel to be happy? You can do this in multiple ‘easy situations’ – did you see a beautiful sunset? Instead of sharing the picture of it – go to the feeling of the sunset. Did you listen to a beautiful song? Instead of “Oh My God-ing”, go to the warmth that this song brought into your heart region.
We can begin with such easy situations. And slowly, gently, start bringing this awareness to difficult things. Did someone send you a rude message? Instead of responding immediately, keep your phone down, walk away, sit quietly and feel the sensation. Do you feel a crushing sensation in your chest? Does your throat pain? Understand that you are uncomfortable with what the external event caused in you i.e. the emotion. The external event has only triggered this emotional response pattern that is within us.
Our strong emotions are born because of old patterns, which are usually laid down in us early in childhood. This was a time when our rational faculties were not yet developed. Especially, if we were censured for crying, or throwing tantrums, we tend to avoid or even fight our feelings. Our sense of acceptance is born with accepting our “not so nice” sides. This is why good parents always demonstrate love to the child in all situations. Never love your child only if (s)he behaves well. This of course does not mean that you indulge your child. We can be firm and say NO. The child may begin to cry. At this time, become very silent and tell the child why you are saying NO. At no point do you send the child to its room. At no point do you shun the child, or shout at it. When we bring calm, patient acceptance to the child, the child begins to understand that (s)he is loved in spite of its ‘difficult feelings’. This is the beginning of self-acceptance. In order to accept ourselves, our parents must have accepted us.
But if we haven’t had the good fortune of such an ideal upbringing, all is not lost. We can parent ourselves. When we are low. When we feel like crying. When we are overwhelmed. Be kind to yourself. You do not need to live up to the ideals of the world. It is okay to be weak for now. Practicing this attitude towards yourself is self-compassion. We need to give ourselves some space to be imperfect.
This takes time. And the path is slow. But gently, slowly, you start noticing that you are able to handle tough situations without reacting too much. This is the beginning of delinking thoughts about the external event from the internal emotions. Awareness is the key. Shall we begin?