The Final Key to Emotional Mastery: Love and let go

As the saying goes – “We’ve come a long way, baby!”

Have you been practicing? Have you been consciously accepting and watching your suffering, letting them transmute into peace? If so, then you are ready for the final step. I feel like some old kung-fu master saying this.

What is this final key, grasshopper? Love. When you love your suffering, when you embrace them, you can finally let them go.

This is the final post in the emotional mastery series, and what a huge series it has been! Please read the first Emotional Mastery post first; it is the only essential one in the series. The others deal with specifics that don’t always apply.

The final step

Just like the old kung fu movies, we have to learn the skill in steps. Jumping too far ahead will result in mistakes that could just make things worse. But now you should be ready for the final step. If you are new to the series, please read and practice the first post for a few weeks before coming back here.

I’m not being a smarty-pants; there are good reasons for this:

  1. Love can be hard to implement if your negative emotions are heavy.
  2. Love seems like a contradiction for beginners how can love and suffering coexist?
  3. Love can be repression and denial, if not done properly.
  4. Love isn’t necessary at the early stages (luckily). I had purged some of my most painful memories without the benefit of love.

Let me explain this in detail. Already it is hard to watch yourself and accept the suffering. It took me weeks before I could understand the concept and apply it properly. Trying to apply love will make it that much harder.

Similarly, it is hard to create a loving feeling when you are in emotional distress. It will be easier if you have had experience in watching or if you have already reduced the burden of your suffering with watching. Only then can you begin to cultivate love for yourself.

Finally, a novice might not understand how love and sorrow can coexist. You cannot love anything if you don’t accept and acknowledge it first. Once you have accepted them, then you begin the process of loving them. Without acceptance, all you are doing is repressing them.

What is love?

What is love? Before we explore that, we need to understand what acceptance is. I first came across acceptance and observation in Buddhist psychology, where it is often called mindfulness.

Being mindful is the simplest form of non-resistance. When you watch yourself impartially, there can be no denial or hatred or rejection. Like a scientist, you simply watch all everything that is going inside you. You don’t judge if it is good or bad, you just watch.

And yet, I was stunned to realise that almost all the Buddhist teachings had been teaching an incomplete version of mindfulness. I went to look for the original teachings; a manual named the Dhammapada a collection of verses from the mouth of the Buddha himself. And how did he teach mindfulness?

Love yourself and watch – today, tomorrow, always.

Besides Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Heart of the Buddhas Teaching, I have yet to see someone who has taught the full process. Watch yourself, they taught. Watch your emotions, thoughts, bodily sensations, actions. But no-one has ever remembered the first half: Love yourself.

And yet love is the hardest thing to do; there is nothing higher and purer than love.

Practicing the love of your emotions

So how do we practice loving yourself? Firstly, surround yourself with a loving feeling. Make it as intense as you can. If you have to, think of a time when you felt loved and loving, and capture that feeling.

Now, remember the questions I asked in the original emotional mastery post? What do your negative emotions feel like? Tightness, heat, or maybe a cold sweat? Imagine yourself wrapping those areas up with a loving feeling.

Don’t “penetrate” it with love, for that is pushing it away. Don’t wish it away with love. Cradle it without intruding on it. Let it be, but watch it with love in your heart.

My initial mistake was to try to push those feelings away forcibly, trying to replace them with a loving feeling. All that did was repress them, as I described in The Danger of Positive Thinking.

The suffering baby

Maybe it is better described in this way: See your suffering as your baby; one that you love unconditionally. Be there for it. Cuddle and embrace it. Try to understand what it is wants to say. Just like a baby, it wants to communicate but doesn’t know how. Love it, comfort it. Tell it that everything is okay, and that you will be there for it.

Does this make sense? If you are in emotional pain, let it be. Don’t force it to shut up. Let it cry. But cuddle it with love. You are not your pain. Recognise it for what is: merely something that covers your core being. Make that recognition with love. Suffering and love CAN coexist.

And just like a crying baby, watch as your continued affection lulls it into a peaceful rest. Doesn’t this make sense? Your suffering is a part of you. Why reject it, scold it, hate it, or pretend it doesn’t exist?

With vague, lower level unease, you’ll often find there is nothing to embrace. I sometimes feel a slight agitation. No matter how I explore, I can’t find where it comes from. Watching it and accepting it doesn’t seem to work. So I reached out to embrace it with the loving feeling, only to find that it’s like trying to grasp a cloud – it dissipates immediately.

Put another way: don’t look for peace or happiness. Whatever you are feeling, that is what you are looking for that is what you want to be. If you are feeling sad, then look to be sad. If you are anxious, then look to be anxious. And watch as this embrace turns your suffering into peace. (Remember how we described “actionless” acceptance in the first emotional mastery post.)

Going deeper into your feelings

An interesting question that I’ve been asked is: If I have no more unhappiness to feel, do I stop? Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now contains the answer.

Try going deeper into your physical sensations. How does that feel? You’re deepening your connection with your core self and allowing more of your inner peace and radiance to come through into your outer life. I find that going deeper into my inner body feels so peaceful and joyful now the negativity is gone. Sometimes I even get a ripple of goose bumps, which I’ve heard is a good thing (I don’t know what it means, though).

Finally, rejoice! It’s one hell of a milestone in your growth when you find peace instead of agitation inside you.

Older pains

You might also notice older memories and hurts bubbling to the surface. They’re like a ball that has been held underwater with a heavy weight – take the weight off and the ball pops back up to the surface.

I have been having a lot of these recently, and they initially frustrated me, for I simply wanted to be free.

But, again, rejoice! These memories were coming up so I could be free. You can only heal wounds that are in your conscious awareness.

A lot of these memories seemed insignificant. But none of them are. Upon investigation, I saw how they were turning points in my life – little events that contributed negatively to my character today. Love and embrace them; love and embrace the accompanying emotions.

The source of your unhappiness

One last thing we should be aware of: Not all unhappiness stems from our existing emotions. How did we get the negativity inside us in the first place? We were internally resisting life. It caused us to suffer, and a portion of that suffering got stuck inside us.

Therefore, we should distinguish between fresh and old emotions. How do we know? Investigate. Watch your thoughts and emotions – are they related to your present moment, or are they from your past?

If they are from the present moment, simply carry a smile in your heart. Deal with the situation; get out of trouble if you have to. But do so with a smile in your heart. Try it now. Feels fantastic, doesn’t it? Smile with your face. Smile with your forehead. Then smile with your whole body. Can you remember to carry that smile everywhere you go?

To summarise

I just noticed that we started the month with emotional mastery; it would be perfect to finish off the month with a little summary:

Turn off your mind, and observe yourself. Your feelings, your sensations, your physical reactions. Don’t think about them. That means – don’t analyse. Don’t cling, judge, deny, repress. Accept them. Embrace them. Don’t seek anything else. If you are unhappy, seek to be unhappy. Let it take as long as it takes, and watch it transmute into peace.

Hope this series has helped, please leave comments and feedback – I’d love to hear if it has worked for you and especially if it hasn’t!

Link Love

Before I go, I’d like to give out some link love to a few friends. First, I’d like to highlight the blog of an all-around awesome guy, Arvind Devalia. His book, Get the Life you Love and Live it, is a fantastic primer to changing your life around. Thanks for the copy you gave me, mate!

Secondly, I’d like to say a warm hello to another cool guy: Chris from Succeed Socially. His website and accompanying blog is a great resource for social skills, anxieties, overcoming shyness and making friends. Everybody can gain something from his website, even if you’re an experienced schmooze.

Chris, if you’re reading this, all my emails have been bouncing off your server, I haven’t been ignoring you!

Update: I lied

Remember at the start of the post, where I said this is the final post in emotional mastery? I lied. Well, sorta. We’ve cleared out the negative emotions. But we have to move into positive emotions. This post serves as a transition into love and compassion.

Does it sound woo-woo? A few months ago, I would find it weird too, but trust me on this one. I’ll explain more in the future series. Love is the highest form of emotional mastery. Would you like to know more? Subscribe to my feed so you get updates the moment I release them!