The elusive key to emotional mastery, Part 3: Help, it’s not working!

This is Part Three of a series on mastering your emotions. Please read Part One and Part Two first.

Won’t it be heavenly to master all your negative emotions? You make some time alone to fully accept them, and then they slide off you, never to return.

If simple acceptance is all we need, then why isn’t everyone running around blissfully? Because of all the denials and the repressions, big and small. The most dangerous of all are the subtle ones; these are like landmines that even people who understand acceptance can fall into.

The most common repressions and denials

Some of these are common sense, so I’ll just cover them briefly. Much of our repression comes from our logical mind. You think it’s immature or weak to feel upset or scared over something. Maybe someone told you so. But the fact remains that you are upset or scared, and you have to accept that.

There will come a time in your practice of acceptance where you really won’t have to feel upset, but until then, you cannot change the fact that you have these emotions inside you.

Many people who say that you shouldn’t feel unhappy or hurt are either repressing it themselves, or they are enlightened and forgot that everyone else isn’t there yet. I think it’s the former.

Other repressions can come from the fear of what you would do if you entered your feelings fully. In Part One, for example, I described my friend who was afraid he would get violent if he entered his anger and therefore held it in for months.

Social constraints

Much of this is due to social constraints. These can be small let’s say you are at a party in your favourite dress, having a good time, when suddenly someone calls your dress hideous. If you let yourself feel the embarrassment totally, you might be afraid that you would break down crying in front of everyone. When you get home, instead of feeling it and let go, you continue stewing about it and keeping it inside you.

Other times, societal “shoulds” and “should-nots” run far deeper – Men don’t cry, women don’t rage, children should be seen and not heard. I heard stories about cultures – modern cultures that exist today – that kill men for shedding tears. Look deeply at your own actions and see if you have been operating under any of these constraints. Don’t be upset at yourself if you have been – you did the best you could with what you knew. Same applies in the future – I’ll bet you find more of these as you become more aware.

For all of these, simply remember that entering your feelings does not mean that you have to act on them. That is identification with your mind and ego; that is feeling them through your mind. With enough practice, you can easily accept and let go of rage in a fancy cocktail party, with the people around you none the wiser. In fact, with enough practice, you won’t even be angry – more on that in the next post.

The biggest repression

By far the biggest repression mechanism, though, is instinct. It is a natural reaction to close up and harden your heart when presented with pain. It is a protective mechanism much the same as our instinctive jerk-away when we touch a hot stove. But with our heart, it has the opposite effect – it hurts us more. You have to live with an open heart even if it hurts (in the short term).

This instinctive closing of the heart can show itself in many different ways; but it all leads back to our desire to run from pain. Allow me to use a personal example to describe some of these.

While doing research for this article, I revisited my biggest weakness painful reliving of past relationships. I decided to try purging it once and for all and so I dug up an old “goodbye” email from an ex-girlfriend. It was the same girl that I had described in the first post – our break up had awakened my consciousness amid the storm of unconscious rage.

It was a long email that brought up several painful memories. Old pain, guilt, anger, and sorrow arose in huge waves – I was shocked as to how much had remained in me. I couldnt read beyond the first two paragraphs – my heart instinctively closed to protect me. My fingers took over and I closed the email.

I decided to deal with as much of it as I could. I closed my eyes and turned off my mind, feeling the pain directly. That condescending bitch! my mind tried to scream. But I ignored it and brought my attention back to the physical sensations, and sat silently with them. After a while, the sensations subsided, and I returned to the email.

It would take 7 attempts over a period of one and a half hours before I could finish reading the whole thing. Each time I managed to get through a few paragraphs before I was too overwhelmed and had to close the email. Each time, I sat with the pain until it subsided before I returned to reading. That was almost a week ago, and since then I have been gloriously free of all that sorrow!

The forms of withdrawal

The 90 minutes I spent with the pain brought up the withdrawal instinct in many different ways. Read through the list below and see if you suffer from any of them.

  1. Repression – I wanted the feeling to go away. I told myself OK, Im feeling it now, why doesnt it go away! Come on, come on, I’m letting you be, now go away!
  2. Rationalisation and denial – My logical mind wanted to stop the pain. What would you do if you want to convince someone to do you a favour that you desperately wanted? The mind does the same – it started trying to convince me that it was OK, that all the pain had been purged. But it was a lie. It was obvious the emotions were still there.
  3. Force – When rationalisation didn’t work, the mind began trying to force me away. It bombarded me with other irrelevant thoughts. It reminded me to check for new comments on UrbanMonk.Net; it made me desperately want to check for new email; anything to get me out of the pain. (Although it could be that I was in front of the computer typing rough notes through my tears as I went through this process.)
  4. Direct Urge – Beyond the mind’s trickery was a direct urge. I also wanted to end the pain. I had spent a long time training my emotions, and I knew exactly what I should do to lift my spirits. But it would be a form of denial; I would be sweeping my pain under a carpet instead of letting them go permanently.

Remember how I said the whole process took 90 minutes? The worst of it was over in half that time. And I wish that I could get away with not telling you that. Why? Because knowing that figure in your head can lead to another form of resistance. Can you see it? How long has it been? I’ve let it be for 2 whole hours, so why the hell is it still there? That Monk guy said it took him 90 minutes!

Different wounds require different lengths of time to purge. No two people are the same. So please, just sit there and let it be.

The other obstacles

Here are the remaining obstacles that I can think of; see if you suffer from any of them:

  1. Not feeling consciously – we’ve covered this in detail. You suffer without knowing what it is, and that just indulges your emotions without fixing a thing. By far the biggest cause of unhappiness.
  2. Lack of knowledge – not knowing there is a way out of misery, or not knowing the right way of going about it. This series should fix it.
  3. Lack of courage – It can be extremely uncomfortable facing your demons. The fear of pain might lead you back into repression and denial, or it can lead to an eternal waiting – hoping for someone to come along and fix it for you. It won’t happen, for only you can master your emotions.
  4. Force of habit – I’m so used to shutting off my thoughts when I have a painful memory that I forget it’s a form of repression. This was from the early days of my journey – it is also one of the biggest dangers of positive thinking.

Yes, you read that right. Positive thinking is dangerous. Not always, but in this case it is. That is a big topic, so it will have to be saved for the next post. Stay tuned for it!

What’s next?

I was also thinking it might be a good idea to put some more positive stuff in here. Too much negativity lately . So let’s discuss spiritual teachers one of the funniest and most controversial I’ve ever come across is Osho, although I don’t know if I can believe the claim that he’s enlightened. He apparently has a whole fleet of Rolls Royces and encourages all his followers to have sex… mostly with him. Maybe I should do that once UrbanMonk.Net gets famous, hmmm…

Here’s a video I found on Youtube with Osho, be warned that it has a lot of offensive language.