We Are What we feel: A Formula for Unhappiness
All of us experience painful emotions and unwanted situations:: as separation from loved ones, diseases, loss of job, death, and many more. Westerners have a strong relationship with their emotions either positive or negative. People focus on their good and bad emotions much more than Orientals do. Today I will focus on our negative emotions but the talk can be applied as well to our positive feelings. What are the consequences of relating, to various degrees, to our negative emotions?
1) We perceive our negativities as enemies:
We dislike being angry, feeling guilty, upset, fearful, anxious, etc. All negativities are perceived
mostly subconsciously as something that we have to fight, resist, and eliminate. By doing so, we are adding fuel to the fire. We will see that the proper attitude is counter-intuitive; acceptance is key.
2) On our self-identity:
Emotions have become the core of our Western identity, even literally. We are what you feel.
The English language expresses this idea. We identify directly with the emotions, saying,
“I am angry” rather than “I have anger,” as we also do in other languages like French, Spanish, or German. Why do we say “ I have pain” and not “ I am in pain”?
In the Oriental languages, they actually say, “Anger is present” and do not connect the emotion with “I” at all
In addition to the pain and suffering, when we focus on our negative emotions we also lose our ability to connect properly with ourselves that is our genuine self, including our rational thinking, and
our positive emotions such as compassion for self and others, kindness, etc...
During severe emotional states, we have the tendency to withdraw because our negative emotions are sucking a lot of energy with very little left to function mentally, emotionally, and interact socially.
We lose our societal skills and have trouble communicating properly, and understanding how people feel.
Therefore, many people struggling with negativities feel isolated and misunderstood.
The result of this withdrawal creates loneliness, unhappiness, and poor self-image adding even more negativities to our negative emotions. This is a perfect vicious circle.
In the end, we are doing just the opposite of what we set out to do. We thought that protecting ourselves, resisting to our negative feelings, and trying to eliminate them would make us happier, but actually, our unhappiness and suffering increased. Again, the vicious circle from above.
In the dharma, we have a saying, “Many desire happiness, but most of us are stuck with suffering.”
How to deal with our negative emotions?
The Zen Buddhist teaching has tools that help us to train our minds so we don’t put so much energy
and attachment into our negative emotions and their consequences. How?
By minimizing if not eliminating our self-identification with our emotions meaning for example
“ I have anger rather than I am angry”
It can be achieved by practicing mindfulness-based meditation during which one focuses specifically
on a given emotion i.e. anger by observing it with a neutral attitude the same way we observe our breathing while meditating.
By doing so, we accept anger rather than resisting, fighting, or eliminating it. Anger is not an enemy anymore but a sort of acquaintance passing by. Gradually our identification with anger will disintegrate slowly.
This learning process is progressive and requires dedicated daily practice when dealing with the present demon.
As we identify with our emotions less, we become more willing to let our negative situations and feelings go, and we begin to feel more relaxed with ourselves, and with others.
A different kind of emotional cycle appears, and this one is positive.
Letting negativities go brings us peace of mind and serenity.
We are less self-protective, self-isolated, and less emotionally reactive with others, and we feel happier if not more serene. THANK YOU