Mindful Examination of Emotion
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | January 2014 (edited January 6, 2022)
Emotions push for action when our environment arouses our system. Sometimes these emotions lead to destructive action.
Our emotions are in flux; waves moving through the soul, inspiring action, creating the content of felt experience. Joy, disgust, sadness, and anger are not weaknesses but naturally emerge from the vagaries of experience. When we emotionally respond with harshness, hurting our futures, we shouldn't blame life as an excuse for our rotten behavior. As humans, we are self-empowered; seated in our mind is a power to direct. We can feel intense emotions; but, then choose a productive response. Emotionally motivated choices bless and curse our lives.
We can act against motivational pushes; we are more than a dry leaf carried away by the wind. Housed within the broken soul, tormented by destructive emotions, are morsels of goodness. The hidden wholesomeness requires nurturing. Eventually, with care, the seeds of goodness break through the crusty soil of a sensitive ego, and we discover the missing joys.
"Constructive emotions help improve a situation; destructive emotions make it worse."
Gustavo Razzetti | Fearless Culture
Many people deviate from healthy living, drifting into self-perpetuating cycles of darkness, justifying actions and repeating destructive behaviors. Their misrepresentation of reality limits gathering of wisdom. Ego protecting justifications swoop protect positive self-images while dismissing soul-destroying paths.
Poor choices accumulate, threatening survival, and provoking anxiety. With occasional glimpses, we see the weight of reality. The broken soul may recognize the destruction, knowing change is needed. Life warns, sending crushing messages. Yet, when normalcy has been destroyed and flourishing seems out of reach, we crumble in helplessness. It our disastrous existence, small changes appear insufficient and unrewarding.
The most immediate relief comes from continuing the deceptions, lying about the true condition of our life. Future destroying pleasures provide escapes from the destructive emotions rotting our souls.
"Emotions occur quickly. We feel that emotions happen to us, not that we chose them. We aren't witness to the process leading to them and often become aware of them only after they are strong."
Change for those caught in downward spirals is difficult. Emotions programmed from pain and chaos are inadequate guides. The past is jumbled. Clear connections between action and reward are obscured. Our confidence is shaken. Our autonomy is lost. Our sense of belonging fractured.
When emotions fail to guide, we must learn to pause, denying natural impulses to act. Skills for processing destructive emotions must be learned. In Dialectical Behavior Therapy they refer to this as using our wise mind.
All Emotions Can Spark Destructive Responses
It’s not the emotion—anger, sadness, frustration. The power or destruction is determined by our response to the arousal. Even joy can lead us astray if we inappropriately forsake personal values or neglect essential preparations.
"Healthy anger entails any strategy that helps us to help our rational brain override our emotional brain. While we may desire an easy strategy that will work in all situations, healthy anger includes learning as many strategies as possible to flexibly respond in different situations."
Mindfulness teachings provide clues to begin the learning process. First, we must acknowledge our initial feeling (it belongs to us, we felt it). For many, the trigger, arousal and reactive behavior is a single blur. These are individual events that can be separated, explored and mediated.
When we skeptically examine the individual components, the compulsion to act weakens. These patterns of destructive emotion and reactionary behavior run deep; we have run this course a thousand times, carving ruts that are difficult to escape.
Change for those sucked in these downward spirals is difficult. Emotions programmed from the chaos are inadequate guides.
Value of Emotion
While the mind significantly accentuates and minimizes emotions, we shouldn’t disparage emotions all together, disconnecting from attachments. The goal isn’t perfect harmony with experience. The world sends messages that impact our souls and stimulate passions. This is the richness of living.
With mindfulness, we acknowledge the role of spoiled expectations, accepting normal discomforts of living in an unpredictable world. Mindfulness examines the flowing emotions without wishful escape or destructive reaction.
Those who explore their inner worlds without fear, compassionately examining without judgement find peace. We can’t escape the pangs of life; but work towards resilience to absorb the impacts, processing emotions stirred by disturbing events in a constructive life-giving manner. This is empowered living; the foundation of well-being—a life of feeling, connecting and accepting.
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