If you have been doing the exercises you are well on your way to dealing with emotional issues artfully. This section will highlight some of the sources of our negative emotional issues, and help you to develop some enhanced skills for dealing with them artfully.
Have you seen someone describe an event that made them angry years ago and get angry all over again while they are talking about it. We take our negative emotions way to seriously, we fixate on them, and then we become them. We think “I am mad”, “I am sad”, “I am scared”. The fact is we are not our feelings. We feel mad, we feel sad, and we feel scared, they are just feelings not who or what we are. Practicing mindfulness will help to see this perspective first hand. It teaches you to learn from the event and your mistakes and then move on without the dead weight of the bad emotions that occurred as a result. Keep in mind that anger, frustration, irritation, jealously, and so forth are self inflicted emotions. You get an itch you fix it with pain. Someone or something creates and mental itch and we fix it with self inflicted emotional pain. Why should you allow others to manipulate these reactions? If you think, “I can’t help it”, you are wrong. Practicing mindfulness will clarify this perspective.
Recall the scene in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and her companions finally made it to Oz and then got to see the wizard. They were terrified by his presence until the dog, Toto, pulls back the curtain to reveal an ordinary old man at the controls. Emotional fixations are like that, if you can see them clearly for what they are, just ordinary old feelings, you can take the power away from them. They will no longer control you. She had the power all along to find her way home.
Many emotional fixations are a result of how we feel about our self. We spend way too much time thinking about our self in relationship to those around us. We are self-oholics.
You may be familiar with the account of Adam and Eve. Notice what happens right after they ate from the tree. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” Take a moment and reflect on how their thinking had changed. They went from being unconcerned with their looks to being overly concerned, “naked” was a new word and new concept. All of the sudden they are worried about how others perceive them. They were compelled to cover themselves in a feeble attempt to change the perspective of those around them, and hide the reality.
Many of our emotions problems result from our sense of “nakedness”. We try to put the figurative “fig leaves” in the right place in an attempt to create the perception we want to others. If we do not get the response we want then the emotions problems erupt. We start to scratch the itch; we get offended, stressed, angry, agitated, depressed, and perhaps even self destructive. Thinking artfully involves cultivating a honest accepting attitude towards your self and those around you.
Consider how much attention we give to the figurative “fig leaves”. Most every purchase, our cloths, our cars, our houses, are chosen with the concern for how others are going to perceive them. The thought “how is this going to make me look?” is there even if you know it or not. The concept of “fig leaves” does not only apply to our material possessions, it applies to our actions as well. We put on the personality that will hopefully get what we want from those around us. If we do not get the response we want then the emotional problems erupt.
Take a moment and imagine what Adam and Eve looked liked to the angels and God with those fig leaves on. They all knew exactly what they looked like inside and out. They were hiding something, the fig leaves were a demonstration of shame and guilt.
Keep this in mind, own this thought, you are not responsible for your genetics and you are not responsible for you upbringing. There is nothing you can do on the outside to change what is on the inside. Thinking artfully involves being honest with yourself and accepting yourself for who you are, and then calmly working on improving your perspective of yourself. The only perspective that matters is how you feel about you. As you practice your mindfulness techniques you will develop a strong friendship with yourself.
As you may be very well aware some emotional problems have been programmed into us. For example if you were raised in an environment where yelling and fighting were a way to solve problems then you are most likely to resort to the same techniques to solve your problems. There may be a traumatic event in your life causing negative emotional issues such as abnormal fear and anxiety and you may not even know what that event was. As you develop your skills in mindfulness you may become aware of the source of your abnormal emotional reactions. You will become more skillful at letting go of your traumatic events and mistakes. Learn from them but do not carry them around. If we carry too much cargo on the ship it will sink in a storm. Keep what is precious and dump the junk.
It is important to note that some emotional problems are due to genetics which can cause abnormal chemical imbalances. For example a person with a problem controlling their temper and dealing with constant anxiety may be having a problem with too much cortisol and adrenaline release in stressful situations. If you suspect a serious problem such as this please seek professional help. There are hundreds of problems caused by brain disorders.
Taking on the Emotional Storm
When you get into an emotional storm you want to do just what a good captain would, take the helm, take control. If it is possible, find a quite place and give your attention to your breathing for a few moments that is your anchor. Then mindfully focus your thoughts on the physical symptoms of the emotion just as you did in the pain exercise. Remember that they are just feelings as in the pain exercise they are simply messengers sent to inform you of what is going on in your body. Give the messengers your attention and they will go away.
Once you have control of your physical reactions to the emotion, you can give your attention to the cause. Take the position of an impartial observer and rewind your memories of the previous events and your feelings during the events. In most cases there are several causes to an emotional storm but we give all the credit to the last one we remember, so keep rewinding as if you are watching a movie. Go back to each scene and play it forward. Remember to observe the scenes mindfully, no judging allowed, no expectations allowed, be gentle with yourself.
I would get a sick cold feeling every time I went into a hospital. I could not even think straight, everything seemed gray and cloudy, I wanted out fast. For a long time I thought I was over empathizing with the patients. After learning to practice mindfulness I realized that it was my father’s death that caused the feeling. I was in the waiting room at the hospital when I was given the news. He was only 53 and he was my best friend. Going into a hospital brought back a shadow of those feelings I had when he died.
You may be very well aware that there is nothing more painful than losing someone you love. It is not a storm situation, it is a hurricane situation. You can deal with death artfully. It is just as painful but if you practice mindfulness the pain will be much more manageable and subside much faster.
The art of mindfulness will help you to see your thoughts and resulting actions in a more compassionate nonjudgmental way. You can focus on the problem as a doctor would his patient. Examine the symptoms deal with them and then look systematically and calmly for the cause. Once you can see the causes clearly and mindfully then similar events in the future will have much less of an effect on your emotions.