The Tao of Emotions
If you've been reading Into the Centre for long, you'll have more than a sense that we're heavily into balance. While many people equate balance with "lukewarm-ness," we think, rather, that the life well lived is more like the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Too hot, too cold, just right!
We can make a few assertions about emotions that are universal - we all have them, we all hurt ourselves if we do not express them, and we all hurt ourselves and deepen the mess we are in if we express our emotions in a non-helpful way.
Lets pretend that Goldilocks is today's guru, and look at emotions from the perspective of her three categories.
Too hot: Rather than get into a big head trip about how we generate emotions, let's just say that they "arise." I want to say one more thing: emotions are all ours. What I mean is that others (or externals) do not cause us to have emotions. Emotions arise as we participate in life, and are completely and totally self generated.
That being said, we remember that we "all have 'em." Too hot emotions are emotions that spill all over the place, and are usually container-ed in blame. Or perhaps better put, are delivered in the context of blame, while justifying the delivery through powerlessness.
We hear, "It's all your fault I am so angry, and there's nothing I can do about my anger, because this is what I learned from my parents."
Blah, blah, blah.
The problem with too hot emotion is that it burns everyone. Better put: blaming, other directed emotion, like a pile of manure in the living room, is pretty hard to ignore, and needs shovelling before life can return to normal.
Too cold: Too cold emotions are repressed emotions. There is a tightness about repression, and especially where emotions are stuffed over time. There is a biting off of the emotions, and thus a tight jaw. There is a disengaged quality to the person's approach to life. (affect) While people think there is something noble and restrained about repressing emotions, the end result is internal turmoil, and often, illness.
Just Right: It's funny how few people reach a balance point in areas of their lives, and especially as it has to do with emotions. Most are stuck at either of the above poles, and rapidly swinging between the two. The balance point, the "just right point," is this:
I choose to safely and cleanly express my emotions without aiming them at anyone or anything. I say what I need to say, at the appropriate volume, using "I" language, and making it clear that I am accepting responsibility for my emotions and my reactions.
This, of course, is a tricky walk, as no one prepares us for it. Indeed, our society sells us either or both of the other two positions. It's also tricky because it requires that I stay present and aware of my self all of the time (which is how one balances anything, including life.) With no one and nothing to blame, including myself, I am simply responsible for my life, my fate and my direction.
Now, oddly and paradoxically, the more you practice this middle way, the less you will find yourself needing to engage in responsible emotional dumping. You'll find that not many emotions are worth the time and energy needed to express them. You'll notice them building, coming forward, receding and passing. Like clouds.
This differs entirely from "too cold." Too cold is a forcible repression of the emotions. "Just noticing" is letting what happens, happen. It is seeing everything and attaching to none of it. Or, as a modern Taoist might think, (cf. Stewart Wilde) "The way it is, is the way it is."
This week, notice your approach to your emotional life. Too hot? Too cold? Too much of both?
Re-imagine your life as "just right." Hmm.
What a concept.