In a recent correspondence with one of the readers of the blog, I was asked how to change or fix negative emotions. They feel they had done the work but were still catching themselves responding in the negative, revealing a still uncleared resistance.
The first thing I suggested was to reframe the whole discussion. It is the judgment that something is wrong that is the source of the problem. Seeing that there are “good” and “bad” emotions.
The deeper fix to such an issue is in seeing that it is the judgment of something being negative that is the key, not what is being judged.
This arises partly from incomplete seeing. For example, we experience a “bad” emotion and feel bad. Then we experience a “good” emotion and feel good. But the good emotion does not last. Soon we are feeling bad because we no longer feel good. And the bad emotion does not last, so soon we are feeling good again.
Is this the platform on which we wish to build our sense of well-being?
What if instead we recognized that we are not the emotions, we are the experiencer of the emotions. Just notice how emotions flow into and out of our experience, like waves of different values of energy. A little like the noise of traffic. We might prefer the look and sound of certain models of cars over others. There’s nothing wrong with preference. But if we protest every time a truck goes by, we’re bound to be unhappy.
This aspect of protest or judgment – that’s something different from the emotions. There is a feeling, then there is the judgment about the feeling. That judgment is the mind. Mind likes to judge things. It can be very good at that. But if we give the mind too much heed, we accidentally give it permission to be the master. Then it will label and judge everything.
If we try to fix emotions by judging them, we will fail totally. Emotions have to be felt. Thinking about it does nothing but make more thoughts. (and more things wrong) But this also doesn’t mean investing in the emotions. That’s going into the mud. Put another way, running out into traffic. Rather, just notice the traffic going by. And let it go by. Who cares if someone likes an orange SUV?
If we notice this play of feeling and judging, we’ll notice some feelings that are pleasant but mind will judge them “bad”. Our sexuality is a classic example. But if you pay a little attention, you’ll notice mind judging all kinds of things bad.
Many people judge ice cream bad, for example, because it may make them fat. It tastes good and can produce pleasure but may be seen as dangerous to a diet. Rather than enjoying small occasional treats in moderation, they avoid the “bad” altogether. This can create an internal conflict that can result in binges or frustration.
– allow feelings to flow through, be experienced and leave. If we dwell on them, we amplify. If we resist them, we hold on to them and reduce enjoyment. None of it is bad or good – it’s just energy.
– allow the mind to tell its stories and make its judgments. But don’t take it so seriously. When we see most of it is just a story, we stop giving it attention and the stories begin to wind down. Mind becomes much more effective as a focused tool.
All of this sounds so simple. But if we’re not aware of who we are, mind feels obliged to try to control life and use emotions to drive it. We unintentionally create a situation where we need negative emotions and judgments to create a semblance of control. We need things to go badly so we can feel right.
Thus, the deeper solution is to have a practice that connects you to who you are. Perhaps some reminder, like noticing who is having the experiences of emotions and judgments.
Then, when the dynamic is seen, we only have to be reminded of it here and there so we can gradually get untangled from the web of drama. Noticing that these judged emotions are all a form of resistance.
The result is rather curious. Those things we have tried for so long to avoid we start to just allow. In so doing, we let them go and they go away. Or morph into something unexpectedly good. What we had so long tried to avoid turns out to have been held by the act of avoidance.
This is why trying to rid oneself of negative emotions is so difficult. We have to let go of the drivers that are holding on to them in the first place.
This is the magic of seeing. Realizing what’s really going on. One can have a Homer D’oh! moment or 3.
Same with the ego. Any attempts to get rid of the ego all turn out to be the ego fighting itself. When we let it go, we see through it and it pops, like a balloon.
In many cases, we simply have to live our lives. What we need to work on will be brought out by the circumstances that arise. We then just look at the places where we feel the most resistance. If that’s not obvious, the places in our life that are not working as well.
At first, we’ll notice after the fact how we’ve been judgmental and reactive. Then during the reaction. And then we’ll start to notice the responses as they arise, when we still a have choice. Finally the drivers will be seen through and the reactivity will wind down. Our buttons will disappear.
When enough of the drama settles down, the love and happiness that has been there all along will begin to shine through. You will see these are your very life and nature. And you will smile, with the grin that does not end. 😉