One of my students recently asked “Why do we have emotions?”.
She grew up in a family where communication and interactions were mostly fueled by anger. Either, anger that was forcefully expressed to pressurize others into submission, or anger that was suppressed creating a cold and unloving atmosphere.
Now a parent, she was keen to unhook herself from unconsciously repeating her family history. She wanted to stop feeling like a walking bomb where the smallest irritations would spark uncontrollable anger. She was seeking a way to steward her emotions in a healthy, conscious way.
At the movies
Many people would say that the mark of a good movie is one where we experience a range of emotions; from fear to laughter or sadness and tears to joy. We pay money to go on this kind of emotional roller coaster because deep down we know that our emotions are simply movements generated by the story and images on the screen.
In the play of life our emotions are what create texture, color and contrast. Without our emotional body we’re not able to feel moved to silence at the sight of a beautiful sunset, or opened to tears at the passing of a loved one. Our emotions are part of are what makes us human.
The price pay for taking emotions personally
We have an incredible capacity to flow strong emotional energy. Award winning films are often ones that evoke intense emotions. However, our ability to feel the full flow of an emotion and walk a steady line is broken when we take our emotions personally.
We create a false identity when unacknowledged sadness turns us into a sad person, or unresolved anger turns us into an angry person. Our emotions make us unstable when we deny them or dumb them down with food, alcohol, sex or medication, or when we become addicted to strong emotions to feel alive.
Being honest with emotions
Within a few short weeks or our conversation, the same student called me tell me that she’d had an unexpected breakthrough with her ex-partner. They had recently been through a divorce and conversations about the care of their son had been contentious and bitter.
On this occasion, when she felt a familiar stirring of anger about to erupt, she shifted her attention. Instead of identifying with her emotional flow she chose to face her anger. She allowed herself to feel her emotion all the way into her body.
In the next moment she found herself talking in a voice she hardly recognized. She told her ex partner what she needed and expected of him cleanly and clearly. To her surprise, he responded, not with his usual disdain or judgment, but with an openness and vulnerability she had not witnessed before.
Emotions are colors of love
When we learn to face our emotions honestly and meet them with friendliness, rather than fear or denial, our emotional body becomes an extra pair of ears, deeply attuned to the needs of the moment.
When it’s time to be a spiritual warrior in the face of injustice, our anger moves us to be truth tellers. When it’s time to respond to the cry of a baby or the loss of a friend, our compassion moves us to tenderness and care.
It’s when we stop running from our emotions, and stop letting them run us, that we discover our emotional body is a sacred instrument turning each moment into an array or exquisite textures and colors revealing our capacity to love.
When have you had a moment of meeting your emotions to discover a new level of love?