Do you find you’re easily overwhelmed by emotions? You aren’t alone. Emotions can be extremely overwhelming and at times they rule us in a way that makes it hard to function. But even those emotions that we consider ‘negative’ such as anger, sadness, and fear, contain incredible wisdom.
That’s why this month, we are exploring how to ‘ripen the wisdom’ of emotions by learning to shift from pushing emotions away to embracing them directly, and through embracing them - we may gleen their important messages. When we learn to meet our emotions directly - instead of manage them - we find they are by nature dynamic. We can trust they will change if we feel them. This makes emotional energy more manageable and helps us to become more in tune with ourselves and our world.
If you’d like to explore this topic with us more, you can join Senior Teacher Melissa Moore on October 3rd for an online Karuna Live interactive talk on the topic, and/or read a little in-depth discussion about it from her here:
Ripening The Wisdom of Emotions
It's harvest time, and we’re harvesting in all ways this October 2020; a harvest of the summer’s fruit and vegetables in gardens people had time to put in the Spring (unlike other years); a harvest of the summer adherence, or not, to pandemic restrictions; a harvest of centuries of neglectful forest and ecological practices revealing themselves in record fires in the West; a harvest of anger and outrage over suppression, police brutality, and lack of voice for Black lives; and of course there is a harvest of conflicting and difficult emotions arising in each of us as we navigate the times through which we’re living.
If we dare to meet the moment, present and awake, and we feel into the chaos the world is offering us; then we’re undoubtably reeling in an overabundance of emotions.
Living With Challenging States Of Mind
We are living through undeniably challenging times as a global society. During June adults in the U.S. reported considerably elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with COVID-19, according to the CDC. In addition, they reported that “younger adults, racial/ethnic minorities, essential workers, and unpaid adult caregivers reported having experienced disproportionately worse mental health outcomes, increased substance use, and elevated suicidal ideation.”
In contemplative psychology we understand challenging states of mind; such as moods of depression, substance abuse and deep anxiety as signals from our innate intelligence -- notifying us that we are disconnected and that we lack belonging in our lives.
And we also acknowledge there are clinical and debilitating states of mind that are genetically driven and way beyond mere signals. The necessary isolation of the Pandemic is exacerbating negative states of mind, histories of depression and substance abuse as well.
The extreme current events are coinciding with the most hectic time of the year. In the States it’s Fall, children returning to school in new virtual forms. The normal push of fall is in the air -- hastening us to prepare for what promises to be a virus-laden Winter. If we are feeling irritated, pushed or overwhelmed right now, we need to remember our emotional energy is there for a reason. It has a message to bear, and asks to be experienced.
The path of working with emotions in Contemplative psychology is one of learning to listen to ourselves through direct experience of our emotions and feelings. Knowing how to sit with emotional energy, stay with the energetic feelings and sensations in the body, as opposed to the thoughts about the feelings. This is the way that we integrate the energy of our emotions into the wisdom they are intended to be. Learning to listen to and stay with our emotional energy non-judgmentally; especially difficult feelings of loneliness, despair, anger, shame and guilt is the work of building the capacity to tolerate intensity.
Tapping Into Vulnerability and Maitri
When we learn to feel our feelings in a non-conceptual way, we can awaken our hearts. Our hearts become more permeable and strong. We are not afraid to feel our own vulnerability.
Vulnerability is the gift of our humanness. It softens us to ourselves and to one another. It is like putting a hot knife through butter. We melt toward emotions, painful or not, with tears and surrender.
In contemplative psychology, we call this non-judgemental friendliness toward ourselves; loving kindness or Maitri. Thus with maitri we can see and feel into our own vulnerability and open up to the sufferings of others, and this is what waters the seed of our innate compassion. The capacity to feel our own feelings taps our innate compassion and through these compassionate exchange practices, we cultivate a very potent connected heart.
Vulnerability and suffering is what we share with others human beings -- despite our differing styles, opinions, political stances and who we are voting for in an election. We are all vulnerable to climate change right now; regardless of our belief in science, or not. There are a lot of things we share with all of humanity and compassionate exchange practices are dedicated to finding common ground.
Our emotions are a potent and often latent intelligence in us. Emotions are really just energized thoughts -- ramped up to get our attention. If we suppress emotional energy habitually or tranquilize the intensity of emotions away with substances or any number of activities, then we are tuning out the messages.
This is also how we make ourselves sick, disconnected, dis-eased and/or depressed.
When we act out our emotional energy habitually, like anger for instance, in petite fits of rage, or emotional and psychological tyranny over others; then we are adding fuel to the fire and making it bigger. The obvious result is the flames grow hotter and more intense. There is something addictive about expressing our emotions outwardly; often in blame, righteousness or anger toward or about others. For those of us with ‘hair on our tongues’, we know how satisfying it can be to express rage!
Taking Emotions As A Teacher
The Karuna approach to working with emotions is that we take emotional energy as our teacher. We respect the volatility and vulnerability and from the onset learn to apply loving kindness toward ourselves first.
The most gentle approach to feeling our emotional energy is to drop out of our head and into our bodies. By doing so, we learn to meet our feelings in the moment as ‘information’.
As we learn to cultivate a contemplative approach to emotional energy through non-judgmental awareness practice; we are learning to sit with ourselves in silence, to not judge our minds for thinking, just simply touching into the atmosphere by noticing thoughts and gently coming back to the breath. This is the best tamer of self-judgement. Eventually it is so boring, we wear out our habitual voices, and learn to feel the landscape of our minds, moment to moment.
Meditation practice is learning to create a safe environment for ourselves to be with ourselves as we are. We usually need a safe environment, or ‘safe container’ to hold us nonjudgmentally, especially when we are learning to feel our emotional energy directly and thoroughly. Karuna Training is such a safe container to train in feeling emotions with mindfulness awareness. We do so with the intention of sharpening our mind and opening our hearts.
There's no way to avoid one’s emotions from a contemplative perspective. Our emotions are the path to our innate compassion and wisdom, but only when we do not leap to label them as bad, unmanageable or embarrassing.
Feeling The Heartbreak Together
I notice that in times like we are living, when and if we’re brave and dare to feel our emotions directly and fully - - it's like nothing ripens other than the truth of utter heartbreak. Staying with this kind of heartbreak and loneliness, we learn to trust the feeling of heartbreak as wisdom! When we mutually dare to open our eyes together and feel the truth of what we are harvesting; we can begin to be united in finding ways to do something about it. Or we continue to be numb to the crisis, which is what as a society we have all been doing.
The main point is that in challenging times, where we are all under heat, it’s important to acknowledge we need each other. We might have to examine the numerous ways in which we sabotage ourselves in reaching out and engaging with others, just out of habit. Many of us developed habits of hibernating, before the Pandemic. Or we may have habitual false beliefs that ‘nobody likes us’ or we are not worthy of friendship or connection. We need each other to get through this challenging moment in history. A life choice of solitude can also be healthy if it is not driven by negative habits of believing we are not worthy of connection.
There are many examples of modern life which makes us all unconsciously complicit in the heartbreaks of the moment. If we use plastic, if we eat meat or foods that are not local, if we drive, or fly, etc. etc. It seems like it's time to collectively grieve together for a modern life that breeds such conflicts of convenience against justice.
When we cross into these conflicts, then the only emotion to sit with is our collective heartbreak. Loss and destruction is what is true, and in contemplative psychology, it is good to feel things directly for what they are.
In this way we cry together because it is a shared experience of grief. The best result is that touching into our shared vulnerability motivates us to make necessary changes. In feeling collective despair, we are not giving into fatigue with depression. We are allowing our feelings to surface and inform us. When they surface, we can increase our tolerance and intensity capacity to sit with difficult and conflicting emotions.
Increasing Our Intensity Capacity
Intensity capacity is the ability to sit with difficult energy or feedback when we don't want to feel it. This kind of capacity can be trained, and many ecologists understand that is what it's going to take for us human’s to stay present through the necessary global shift of consciousness we are currently being called to undertake.
For example when I reflect on my own privilege, which I aspire to do, I experience a pointed stabbing in my gut. I can go down the rabbit hole of feeling guilty and make up all kinds of habitual thoughts about my lacking courage, laziness, etc … but if I just feel the energy directly, then it can feel wakeful and motivating; and it is still heartbreaking, and that's important information!
Sitting with our own negative feelings about ourselves or the world requires a lot of intensity capacity. The capacity to stay with despair and not be tanked by it, is what will motivate us to get involved and be available to what is needed for our future as a species. We need to touch into our shared humanness and vulnerability together.
These feelings of despair are potentially the collective wisdom of the moment. It’s in our collective heartbreak that will awaken to Black Lives Matter and to the reality that nobody can breathe in the red hue of a nuclear winter's skies! We may have to make some difficult decisions about how to live with nature instead of dominating it.