Emotions are a fact of life. Like most animals, humans have bodies whose main objective is to survive and procreate. Should anything seem to threaten survival, the human body reacts by secreting a dose of hormones and neurochemicals that we feel in our tissue that gives us the signal to take action. It gets our attention so that we can make a move and save ourselves, quickly. These are emotions. On the other hand, when something occurs to the body as safe, or even lovely, we get a dose of a whole different cocktail of natural biological chemicals that feel delightful and easy. We rest into ourselves and our environment. These are also emotions.
Safe or unsafe? Pleasure or pain inside the body? It’s this pain pleasure continuum that we are looking at transcending when we speak about emotional mastery. Either your emotions will pull you around, or, you can rise above the ride and be the one who decides how you feel.
Below are three components that together will give you a foundation to begin to understand how you can master this phenomenon. And by master, we don’t mean ‘not have emotions,’ because, well, that’s not quite possible in these bodies. What we do mean is that when emotions come, you know how to successfully navigate them in a way that benefits you and those around you.
Emotions: powerful waves of energy that are susceptible to suggestion
Emotions are energy and they move. They are changeable. They are powerful like water. They can be thought of as a fuel that carries or propels our mental energy through the body and into action. They can also be thought of as currency that can be used to invest in our vision the same way we might invest in a financial opportunity.
They can carve deep channels through practice, so that even an extremely painful emotion can feel easier and more normal. They can have so much power that if you attempt to force them into a new direction you will only feel the power of the momentum they are already carrying. They are also extremely susceptible to suggestion: a word, a smell, a thought and the feeling can change.
The fact that they are changeable puts you in a position of power. You can change them, using your mental faculties. With a little skill, and a little discipline, you can shift a feeling. At first it may take a few hours, and, eventually, with practice, you can do it on the spot.
The mind is the director; the mind can intercept and change the current of emotion
Our mental faculties have far outgrown our discipline of them. Without discipline, our mind follows our emotions, using its power to solve the discomfort and fear that our survival-based nervous system presents to us. Think about this as a child running a whole household based on their moment-to-moment moods.
The mind has a greater power than just spinning out on emotional errands. The mind can rise to a higher perspective and choose a direction for our experience. It can then focus itself in that direction, so that the emotions follow. In practice, this looks like noticing that you’re frustrated, and choosing to disengage from frustration and calm down.
The body is what is experiencing your thoughts and emotions
The body holds both emotion and thought. It can be seen as a vehicle that is guided and propelled by each, respectively. It can also be seen as the storage place of each of these, a way of accessing emotion and thought in a more tangible and workable way. This view of the body lets us communicate with our mental and emotional systems in a way that has lasting impact, versus just working at the level of thought or the level of feeling that is quick to change and just as quick to revert back.
The body can also be seen as a metaphor for emotion and thought, a physical representation of our internal world. As such, moving the body can move our internal world.
When focusing on shifting an internal feeling, it is critical that the body is involved. Dissonant emotional reactions send our internal biological experiences into stress response, and this is what pulls us offline. It is not enough to just engage the mind to shift an emotion, we must also calm the body. This can be done by tapping on the body, caressing one’s self, going for a walk, taking slow breaths. The body needs to be told, “Hey, everything’s alright sweet one.”
A first step in emotional mastery is exercising internal choice
Having awareness of how these systems work gives you a powerful opportunity to look at your own emotional experiences as internal events you have power over. Your sadness is not running the show; your anger is not ruining the night; instead, your higher perspective can see that you are having these emotional experiences, and choose a new direction.
Whatever the mind focuses on, the body and emotions will follow. Take a step back from the content that is upsetting you, close your eyes, and breathe. This calms down your internal systems, slows the mind, slows the body, allows homeostasis to come back online, and puts your body back into a state of feeling safe. Then, focus on what you DO want. Something lovely. Let your mind rest there. This is your practice. “I want to feel easy,” “I’m looking forward to an enjoyable evening.” Of course, there are some emotional responses that are rooted in deeper, denser causes such as trauma, but, this is a beautiful starting place for transcending the emotional tug.
Emotions will keep coming, so the abundant opportunity to practice choosing where you’re investing your energy is all yours. We’re here to help. Mastery comes from many intentional reps.