One of the biggest challenges we face is having a conscious control over our emotions and our responses to what takes place either internally or externally. In other words, a major challenge is actually being the way we ideally view ourselves, unshaken and uninfluenced by the things that come along the way in our lives.
Because, let’s face it – we know we want to be more loving, compassionate, and kind but there are events that come along that pull us from those ideal states of being. We experience frustration, fear, and confusion, among other things, and the emotional experience then pulls us along a path of reaction that does not embody or represent us at our best, exuding love, compassion, and kindness.
So I was asked this the other day: “Just how do we keep our emotions from getting the best of us?”
My response was a suggestion of increased awareness of our emotional experiences. That’s a great starting point. It is not the end, by all means, but when we’re looking for any way to get started on having a better handle on our emotional disposition and responses, it’s better than nothing.
The problem with negative emotions is that they are tethered to a need or desire. A negative emotion is a signal that a desire was not met, or that our preferred progression of events did not unfold as we’d like. For example, if we want to be on time, but events transpire that lead us to be late, we experience frustration. The negative emotion had arisen from the desire to be on time, but that didn’t happen, thus the frustration results.
Logic would tell us that we just need to retrace our steps, and I would agree. The end of the trail is the frustration. What caused the frustration? The need to be on time? What is the cause for the need to be on time? The answer to that will provide us with the information we’re looking for.
This is where simple awareness can be invaluable for us. Being aware of the things that are triggering our emotional responses can be paramount to stopping the cascade of events that results in us deviating from an ideal version of ourselves. This deviation alone can be the cause of further frustration and angst. So having a clear awareness of what is starting us on the path toward a negative emotion or an emotional response we don’t prefer is the key to overcoming emotionalism.
If your child’s inability to find their shoes in a timely manner was the reason you were late, and you don’t want to be late, your negative emotions are indirectly arising from your child’s lack of timeliness; this lack of timeliness resulted in you not meeting your desire to be on time. Gaining awareness of this leads us to further inquiry (and awareness). Next, for example, you could simply ask yourself why it is important for you to be on time? This will lead to awareness of another aspect of this situation. Further, you could ask yourself why you need to be attached to that idea of being on time.
It’s sort of like peeling an onion, starting at the surface, and then digging deeper and asking, “Why, why, why?” Why are you frustrated? Why do you have the need? Why can’t you let go of the need? Why is it important for you to have this need? The answers to this question will lead you to increased awareness of the situation and put you on the path to dissolving the emotional response.
Finally, one thing you can easily do to also increase your awareness is to detach yourself from the first-person experience of the emotion itself as it is happening. I would suggest its something akin to watching the event as if it’s on a movie screen rather than through your own eyes in your own body.
If it’s fear you’re experiencing, for example, picture the emotion of fear as a leaf or a log floating on the surface of a river. The log approaches, passes before you, and then moves away from you as it travels along the river. If you can visualize that emotion doing the same thing: approaching, passing before you, and then moving away from you, as an object not attached to you, you will find that your own response to the emotion is very different and more manageable.
After the experience passes you then have the opportunity to start peeling away, and asking those “why” questions to help you should that set of circumstances arises in the future.
Awareness is a powerful, yet frequently overlooked tool that we have at our disposal every day and every moment. Perhaps trying to introduce this tool to your life, especially after having a negative emotional experience, would greatly enhance your life and provide you with the control you would enjoy having over your emotions so that you can share your love, kindness, and compassion with those around you the way you’d prefer.