“It is not our emotions which cause human suffering but our attachment to them.”
As children we are taught that there is a duality about life.
Things are black and white, good or bad, right or wrong. Over time, this “either or” way of thinking becomes etched in how we navigate the world, making us unwilling participants in a never-ending game of duality.
Labels are meant to make our lives more manageable and having things “this way” or “that way” is meant to create order. But, in the end, viewing the world in only black and white terms can make us less curious about the gray spaces in between.
It might even be fair to say that it can lead us to a life-long process of living too cautiously—eventually making us reticent about coloring outside of the lines all together.
Our emotions are generated in the brain’s gray matter and the color gray is known as a neutral color. Is it possible to argue that learning to experience our emotions with neutrality can help us create a more harmonious life?
On an average, we have 70,000 thoughts run through our minds daily. That is roughly 1.5 thoughts every second. Our brains can focus on and process only an infinitesimal percentage of that input.
When an emotion is triggered, we immediately begin the labeling process. We get into a fight with our lover and we feel bad. We get some great news and we feel good. Sometimes we are blindsided and there is no rhyme or reason why we suddenly go from feeling happy to feeling downright blah.
Emotions don’t cause human suffering, but the labels we attach to them and the power they then acquire from that judgment certainly can.
We become powerless over our emotions because we have never understood them. They are an enigma which continues to elude us, so we just tiptoe around them pretty much letting them run the show.
We are led to believe that emotional catharsis, such as having a good cry or a throwing a fit of anger, is healthy, but the human mind is not a steam cooker on the verge of exploding as we are led to believe. Studies have shown that expressing intense emotions can actually be more damaging then helpful. Indulging in either sadness or anger can have consequences. Sadness can turn into depression and anger into rage.
When we get stuck in an emotion, everything becomes about that particular feeling, and before we know it we have tunnel vision and everything makes us sad or everyone makes us mad.
We break up with someone and suddenly we are digging frantically through the back of our glove compartment searching for the worn out CD that played the first night we met and became “our song.” Fast-forward to us driving down the street balling our eyes out, certain that the pain might very well kill us.
So why do we choose to punish ourselves by ruminating in the pain?
Perhaps because of some misguided notion which convinces us that by staying in our pain long enough it will help us to exorcise our emotional demons. But in the end, indulging in our emotions usually just prolongs the pain and we end up feeling more miserable than free. We become prisoners of our own design.
I am not suggesting that we all become Spock-esque, but rather that we learn to manage our emotions responsibly. The goal is not to eradicate our emotions but allow them to exist without judging or being attached to them.
It may not be possible 100 percent of the time to be in a Zen-like state—I imagine even Buddha had off days. But, it’s not perfection that we are striving for here, because none of us are impervious to our emotions.
Remember the goal is balance. It’s not that we don’t want to have emotions, but rather that we don’t want to become enslaved by them.
So where do you to start? Well, unfortunately last I checked (and believe me, I did), there is no elixir that will automagically (an actual UD word) immunize us from being attached to our emotions—so you will just have to learn this the good old-fashion way, through practice and patience.
The first step to developing the fine art of neutrality is to learn how to monitor your thoughts without judgment. You do this by acknowledging when an emotion pops up and then trying, very quickly, to determine what triggered it (sometimes you can’t and that’s okay). Once you have a fix on its origin, you have the power to either: let it take over your thoughts, or consciously release it and just let it be present without any attachment to it.
Science shows us that the human brain is capable of experiencing both negative and positive emotions simultaneously—so ultimately, where we choose to place our focus is a conscious and deliberate choice.
I am not going to blow smoke up your ass folks—it takes a lot of discipline at first, and chances are it may seem like way too much work. You might even throw your hands up a few times (okay, maybe more), but I can promise you this: If you have a sincere desire to stop letting your emotions control your life, with lots of P & P (practice and patience), over time you will successfully find a balance you never imagined.
You will develop a neutral state which allows you to detach and watch your emotions drift through your mind like clouds floating gently across the sky-and eventually, the black and white will meld together to create a beautiful shade of gray.
Or…. you could just go back to searching for that CD. I am sure it’s in there somewhere.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Emily Bartran