In my last blog, “Why is Witnessing Emotion so Challenging?”, I talked about why practicing mindfulness of emotion can be difficult. In this blog, I will outline some solutions to the mindfulness practice of emotion.
The three reasons why mindfulness of emotion can be difficult were:
- Our natural tendency is to avoid painful or unpleasant emotion while mindfulness is about remain present with the emotion
- Emotions are forever moving and changing
- We often do not understand the nature and meaning behind the emotion, especially the painful ones
Overcoming Avoidance of Pain
The tendency to avoid pain can be difficult to overcome at first, and emotional pain is often worse than physical pain. This takes practice to build awareness. Coming back to your breath by bringing your focus back into your lungs and chest helps you to centre your conscious awareness. The trick is to watch what is happening in your body rather than trying to change or control it. As you witness “what is”, the “watcher” [or your awareness] becomes separate from what is watched. The breath, physical sensations in your body and the forever moving emotions held within the body, can all be WATCHED rather than pushed away or resisted. This helps you come out of a state of tension in the body and allow emotions to arise. At first you may feel the emotions intensifying as you allow yourself to feel them. However, this will change in its own time if you remain as relaxed as possible and simply take notice of them. It can help to remember the phrase “I am not my emotions”. So with practice and awareness you can learn or train yourself to not resist painful emotion, but rather simply watch it and allow it to move on its own accord.
Witnessing Emotions in Motion
The second point I raised that makes emotion difficult to witness is that emotions are constantly changing. This makes it difficult to get a firm grip on what you are feeling. As soon as you bring your awareness into an emotion, it seems different or it may shift into a completely different emotion. It is not too different to chasing clouds. They seem big and solid from a distance but as you move into them they become water vapour. The trick in practicing mindfulness of emotion is to allow them to shift and change without attachment to any one emotion. Often we are attached to pleasant feeling and repel unpleasant feelings, mindfulness is about witnessing all emotion without pulling or pushing. So allowing the emotion to change is a key of mindfulness of emotion.
Understanding the Meaning of Emotion
The third point is that in Western culture we often do not understand the nature of emotion or the meanings held within the emotion. Without this awareness it is easy to believe that pleasant emotions are good and unpleasant or painful emotions are bad. The truth is that all emotion has meaning and purpose, even if it is triggered from past experiences and not necessarily relevant to current events. When you learn the meanings behind the emotion, it becomes easier to allow them and to witness them because the mind is not scampering around trying to make sense of them. The way to approach this is to allow the mind and thought to quieten and not try to figure out what you are feeling or why. If any memories of past incidents are triggering the emotion then they tend to become conscious if you allow them. We do not have to “figure them out”. If we try to get the mind to understand emotions, we often become more confused and over analyse ourselves. This results in becoming even more lost! So learning the meaning within the emotion can help you to relax in the face of your feelings and strengthen your mindfulness practice of them.
Mindful practice of emotion is empowering because you no longer feel at the mercy of your changing emotional landscape. Ironically, the less you try to control your emotions the more you are free of their control over your behaviour.
Mindfulness practice of emotion is like surfing waves in the ocean! You move with the wave but you are not the wave. You do not control the waves, you just move with them. To try to control them is futile and to ignore them is dangerous as they will dump you.
Are you interested in finding out more about surfing emotions?
First we often try to avoid, supress and escape from unpleasant emotions. This is natural! It is like wanting to take your hand off the hot plate. This makes every bit of sense to remove our hand from a hot plate if we do not want to be burnt. However, when it comes to emotions, our place of personal power lies in being able to remain present with the emotion. This means that we go against our initial desire to run, and allow ourselves to simply experience what is occurring at each moment in time.
The second reason that it is difficult to practice mindfulness of our emotions is that when we do begin to bring our conscious awareness into the emotion it moves. Emotions are perpetually in motion. So as we begin to witness them they do not stay stationary for us to watch them. Physical matter moves far slower than emotion, so to witness our body movement is much easier.
The third reason for emotions being challenging to witness is that often we are unaccustomed to allowing ourselves to feel emotions so we do not understand their nature. Because in Western society we are accustomed to divorcing ourselves from so called “negative” emotion, we often do not intrinsically understand them. Therefore, when we begin to allow ourselves to feel into our bodies and feel the emotion, our mind often starts to go crazy because it goes into over-drive to figure out what is happening. This mental confusion takes us out of mindfulness and into our mind again. To relax into emotion without thought, past stories, analysis etc. taking over our conscious awareness can be very challenging at first.
In my next blog, I will focus on how to address these problems in remaining present with emotion and outline some solutions. Learning to witness emotion is so powerful because we can then stop running from addiction and feel comfortable in our own skin!
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What barriers have you witnessed when practicing mindfulness of emotions?
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Anxiety is a tricky condition because it feeds itself. It is like a snow ball that rolls down a hill, collecting more snow and growing bigger as it rolls down. Peace of mind and relaxation are the opposite of anxiety. When we are relaxed we can be open hearted and open minded, and things seem to flow easily and freely. A peaceful mind can make it easier to respond to events in the world, rather than emotionally react.
When we are stressed and anxious on the other hand, we are more likely to make mistakes, things seem hard and we feel overwhelmed and exhausted. That is why it is said that love is the opposite to fear! Fear, stress and anxiety close our hearts, feed our defensiveness and put us into a state of fight/flight. So to decrease anxiety, the key is to starve the anxiety of the thoughts, feelings and actions that feed it.
Mindfulness helps us in this pursuit by teaching us how to witness the thoughts, feelings and actions that feed anxiety. It helps us do “dis-identify” from the roller-coaster of anxiety and its food.
The benefits of Mindfulness to reduce anxiety are twofold. Beside the process of witnessing, it also teaches us to breathe! The fight/flight response which is associated with anxiety is a physiological reaction that involves shortness of breath, increased heart rate, sweaty palms and nausea or an upset stomach. These physiological reactions occur because anxiety is a fear response where if we were faced with an immediate real threat, we would need to survive. So all the blood rushes to our hands and feet and away from our internal organs. We can help turn this physical anxiety response around however, we would be hard pushed to change our blood flow! So we focus on our breath! This is a physiological symptom of anxiety that we do have some control over. So mindfulness can help us to slow down our breath while witnessing our thoughts, feelings and actions.
There are several different forms of anxiety. There is generalised anxiety which is not consciously attached to any one cause or trigger. There is panic disorder and phobias, which is anxiety associated with a specific trigger. There is post traumatic stress disorder which results from experiencing a traumatic event. There is obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is an anxiety disorder that results in unusual ritual behaviour to avoid the anxiety and unusual believes. There is social phobia, which is a fear of social relating, and there is agoraphobia which is a fear of leaving the house. All of these conditions can be incredibly debilitating however, therapy can help make sense of the thoughts and feelings behind anxiety, and by using regular mindfulness practice, people can overcome these conditions.
Angie tended to feel sick in the stomach with anxiety every time she had to meet with her boss at work. Richard, her boss, was older than Angie and while he was a fair man, he had a self-confident and direct demeanour. After attending a meditation morning with her friend, Angie decided to begin a mindfulness practice to increase her awareness of her thoughts, emotions and physiological reactions, to reduce her stress. Most of the time throughout the day she gauged her anxiety and stress to be relatively calm. However, when she knew she had to speak to Richard, she noticed feeling sick in the stomach, her throat tighten, her palms were sweaty and her breathe was shallow. She also felt her heart quicken, her hands were slightly shaky and her mind became foggy. Before practicing mindfulness, Angie knew she was stressed when she had to see Richard, but she did not know how anxious she really felt.
As Angie allowed herself to witness her mind and body’s reactions to seeing Richard, she realised her own unique anxiety reaction. To turn it around and feel more confident, she slowed down her breathing and wriggled her fingers. She then challenged some of the thoughts that were entering her mind. She witnessed thoughts that told her she was inadequate and left her feeling like a small child. She knew she was a good worker and that she had nothing to hide and yet she felt like a “naughty girl”. As she watched her thoughts and emotions, she realised that she felt the same way when she was younger and got in trouble for things she did not do. So bit by bit she comforted her inner child within and learnt how to stay in her adult self while speaking to Richard.
The power of mindfulness is that in practicing it, we can increase our self-awareness if we allow ourselves to simply listen! Angie’s story is a great example of how over time we can benefit from increasing self-awareness and practicing mindfulness.
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Mindfulness has been found to be an effective approach to help people overcome symptoms of depression. The symptoms of depression include feeling teary or flat in mood, loss of interest in enjoyable activities, loss of energy and motivation, agitation, worthlessness and a desire to escape from the depressing symptoms or circumstances. So to overcome depression using mindfulness, the trick is to learn how to witness these thoughts and feelings rather than become immersed in them.
The key ingredients in mindfulness practice that help us to break out of depression are dis-identifying from the depressing thoughts and feelings and witnessing them. As we witness these thoughts and feelings, we experience a kind of separation from the symptoms while they are still there. This is a weird sensation, because you can feel the depression, and depressed thoughts as they come in and out of conscious awareness. However, you do not believe the thought or emotion. You know deep down that the thoughts and emotions are actually the depression talking, and are not really true!
An example of this process was when Sarah was experiencing depression. She did not know what underlay the depression. She was just aware that she had little energy, was thinking negatively towards everyone in her life. She was also constantly teary and feeling deeply worthless. Through conversation, we worked out that her depression was telling her that a childhood pattern was causing her to believe that nobody truly cared about her or valued her. As she isolated herself from more and more people, these beliefs grew stronger. She had no idea that it was her depressed “core beliefs”, which were triggered by a recent relationship breakup, that were the source of her pain and depression.
As Sarah learnt the process of mindfulness, she began to see and identify these depressed beliefs, and the attached emotional pain to these beliefs. Before mindfulness, she simply believed that no-one saw any value in her. But as she practiced mindfulness she saw it was the beliefs themselves that caused her pain. When there was enough psychological space in her mind to question the validity of these beliefs, she began to experiment and even ask people how they perceived her. Sarah discovered to her amazement that many people did actually value her in their lives, and that it was her beliefs that were actually spiralling her into depression.
Step by step, Sarah took a stand to her depressed thinking through self-awareness and mindfulness practice. Eventually she trained her mind to believe herself to be valuable and cared for, and she established healthy boundaries with those people who did not respect her.
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Note. While characters in these blogs are inspired by my work with clients, any client information is not referenced to a particular person who has accessed this service.
In my last blog, “Misunderstanding Communication Styles Between Gender”, I spoke about how different styles of communication between men and women create misunderstanding and conflict in intimate relationships. Today I want to focus on strategies that both genders can adopt to enhance communication within their relationship.
An Open Mindset: Assume Nothing!
The first strategy is to develop an open mind set to yourself and your partner. We often assume and take for granted that other people know what we are trying not communicate. In couples counselling I have become all too aware how this is simply often not the case, and especially in the context of intimate relationship. Perhaps that is why so much blame is often thrown around in relationships. People are trying to communicate information that is dear to their hearts, and the other person seems to attack them for it. Often that person is not intending to attack their partner (unless they are already hurt and are trying to hurt them). Rather they are often just trying to communicate and be understood with no avail! Generally people do not go into relationships to hurt and hate the person they say they love. Conflict in intimate relationships is usually the result of a whole lot of misunderstanding.
As for the person who is aiming to hurt their partner, that strategy never works. A rule of thumb in intimate relationships is “if one person wins an argument, they both lose!”
So keeping an open mind, not only about the content of what your partner is saying, but also the process of how they are saying it, can help cultivate a shared understanding between both members of the couple.
Mindfulness Practice: Cultivating Self Awareness
The second strategy is mindfulness practice. We can open our mind about what and how our partner is communicating, but we also have to watch our own style of communication. We often do not reflect on or take notice of how we are communicating or what we are actually saying. Often we are so busy in the midst of unconsciously reacting in intimate relationship, that we simply do not practice the awareness required to successfully navigate through the minefield of relationship. However, intimate relationship does not have to be a minefield! Through mindfulness we can learn to witness thoughts, feelings and actions that arise in response to our partners. We can do this for both pleasant and unpleasant emotional reactions. So mindfulness is an important ingredient to conscious relationships, by helping people to break free from their unconscious reactive patterns. [Feel free to subscribe to my 10 days of Mindfulness Tips & Audio Mediations … it is a free subscription]
One thing I love about Taoist philosophy is that they promote intimate relationship as a conscious daily practice. It is amazing that in the West couples can ‘stay together’ for decades and know nothing about cultivating conscious practice in intimate relationship. It is no surprise that they end up in psychotherapy when the children leave home. They have been existing together in the same geographical location however, they were not really participating in intimate relationship. They may not have even had an interesting conversation with each each other for fifteen years. So cultivating mindfulness practice in conscious relationship can help enhance the connection between both members of the couple.
Honour Ourselves and Each Other
Besides understanding different styles of communication and cultivating conscious awareness of self through mindfulness practice, the third important strategy underlying communication in intimate relationship is to consciously set the intention behind the communication. Good will between both partners is essential to effective communication in conscious relationship. We could call it ‘goals’ or ‘agenda’ but I call it intention because it embraces feeling into the conscious and unconscious currents underneath the communication.
Setting an intention involves really checking out our own intent behind our communication. For example, I might actually say, “you never listen to me” or “why do you always push the point?” But what am I really trying to say? Your partner may hear blame or criticism when what you may really want to say is… “I feel really hurt and frustrated because I don’t feel understood. What is happening between us in our communication that we mis-understand each other so much?”
Honouring ourselves and each other is about checking out our intention with compassion and understanding for our patterns. It is about giving ourselves and our partner the respect to listen deeply rather than react out of our emotional pain. It is about regularly carving time out of the day to pay attention to, and cultivate, real connection with our partners. It is also about knowing ourselves, and standing in our truth solidly with compassion for self and other. It is about self-value and honest communication, while considering our partners perspective.
So here are those strategies again:
- Have an open mindset towards yourself and your partner
- Practice mindfulness to step out of reactive patterns
- Honour yourself and your partner through positive intention
Conscious intimate relationship is all about co-creating connection in love. It involves regular practice which is as important as maintaining your physical health, parenting your children or paying your bills. These strategies in communication are the cornerstone of creating conscious relationship. Learning and adopting them as everyday habits could enhance the quality of your relationship.
In what ways could these strategies help enhance your relationship?
When I was young, I used to imagine my perfect man and intimate relationship. He knew me o well I did not have to tell him what I needed… he simply knew. And he was so loyal and faithful, I did not even think he could hurt me or let me down in any way. And he was so affectionate and verbally communicative, I just knew how much he really loved me … And then I grew up and experienced Real Life!!!
The Cold Hard Reality of Relationships
The childhood romantic dream often becomes shattered and annihilated through life’s all too real experiences in intimate relationship. So many people are then left bitter. They sometimes blame their ex-partners for destroying their lives and devastating their hearts decades after separation. Some people never recover from some relationship breakups, other try to piece their lives together and prepare themselves for their next relationship. Some people turn their backs on intimate relationships altogether and decide to live a peaceful life alone.
The drive and motivation for relationship is extremely strong for a lot of people. It is not so much a consciously thought out drive, but rather more like an emotional magnetism. Rationally, a lot of people acknowledge the difficulties and challenges of intimate relationship, especially after they have tried it a least once or twice. Healthy relationships are found to be generally positive for people’s mental and physical health, however, unhealthy relationships can have the opposite effect. But it is often not reason that drives us… instead it is ‘chemistry’ (or maybe karma)! And the casually? Everyone, especially our hearts!
The Real Reason Why Relationships Don’t Work
As hard as it is to acknowledge… the reason our intimate relationships often fail is not because our ex-partners are idiots, but rather because working through unconscious patterns is legitimately difficult! Relationships commonly bring up emotional wounds and reactivity from childhood that we thought we had outgrown. As a couples counsellor, it is amazing how couples behave towards each other that they would not otherwise be seen acting dead towards anyone else in the same way. It is like all normal respectful ways of relating to other adults goes out the window when you are sleeping with that person.
In a previous blog on unconscious relationships, I described how childhood patterns and emotional memories can keep us bound in unconscious painful dynamics. I also explained how these unconscious reactions usually begin to surface in the second stage of the relationship. Click here to read more about unconscious relationships. The answer to escaping from these unconscious relationship dynamics is to become conscious of our own emotional patterns. This is the art of conscious relationship.
Conscious relationships do not guarantee that a relationship will last. However it is a conscious practice that significantly improves the chances that it will last or at least will be respectful. It does not mean that unconscious patterns and emotional memories will not raise their heads… they will! What it does mean is that there is a process that people can work through their emotions and gain self-awareness. In turn, this increases the chances that a couple will not separate because they could not work through the pain and aggravation of their patterns being triggered by their relationship.
Conscious Relationship is first a process of knowing thy self! The more aware of how our childhood conditioning results in our reactions to current life events, the more we can take our power back from the patterns. Mindfulness practice is a great way of discovering what these patterns are about. If we witness our thoughts, feelings and actions we gain clarity of ourselves and our choices. In conscious relationship, the trick is to communicate your awareness of your own patterns with your partner rather than believe your partner is the cause of your pain and then blame them for it. This last sentence is the key to conscious relationships… so read it again slowly and carefully…
In conscious relationship, the trick is to communicate your awareness of your own patterns with your partner, rather than believe your partner is the cause of your pain and then blame them for it.
Over the next few blogs I am going to cover a range of different topics about conscious relationships. These blogs include:
- What commitment can mean in a conscious relationship
- How our partner is our mirror in intimate relationship
- The attraction of opposites in intimate relationship
- Gender differences in the felt experience and expression of emotion in relationship
- Fundamental differences in communication between men and women
- Strategies to overcome gender differences in communication
- And finally, the difference between sex and conscious love making
Conscious relationship is a beautiful process of self awareness in context and the reflection of another. It is in intimate relationship that we can learn our toughest lessons, and that we have the opportunity to look at ourselves with the eyes of truth, where before we wold not dare.
How could your intimate relationship benefit from increasing self awareness with your partner?
Fear, like all other emotions, has both an adaptive and non-adaptive form. In its adaptive form, fear is our friend. It is there to tell us something important. It tells us that there is danger ahead and becomes the fight/flight response. Fear is fantastic if we are standing at the edge of a steep cliff. It will tell us to back off so we do not fall over and die. Fear is also great if there is an immediate dangerous threat such as a vicious bear that is about to attack. Fear will increase our adrenals, pump our blood out to our hands and feet (where we need them) and it will increase the rate of our thoughts to try to get us out of danger. This type of fear response is perfectly normal and adaptive!
When Fear Becomes Distorted: Anxiety
When fear becomes non-adaptive or distorted, then we begin to have problems. Anxiety is what occurs when fear becomes distorted. Anxiety is like losing the off button. The fear response stays on all the time. Some reasons why anxiety is unhealthy include:
- Physiologically, our bodies are not designed to withstand prolonged stress and anxiety without developing physical conditions
- It is a great deal more difficult to distinguish between real threats and perceived threats
- It leads to impaired memory, decision-making and concentration
Anxiety is felt in epidemic proportions in Western culture and can result in a great deal of harm to ourselves and others. One of many examples is when the US Navy accidentally blew up a civilian aircraft over the Middle East in the 90’s. This accident was partly due to technological inadequacies but when the investigation occurred, it was found that the major cause was miscalculation on behalf of Navy personnel due to fear -based expectations.
Anxiety harms our bodies, our minds, our interpersonal relationships, our communities, and our souls. Anxiety holds us back from being all we can be and reaching our potential. Anxiety smothers and destroys love and connection. When we react out of distorted fear, we are far more likely to mis-judge situations and destroy what is most dear to our hearts. So while on one hand, fear can save us, it can have the opposite effect when it becomes distorted.
Danielle’s Story: Overcoming Anxiety
Danielle discovered just how unhealthy her anxiety was when she found herself in hospital. She had what she thought was a heart attack. Her heart was racing, she became dizzy and disoriented, and could hardly breathe. She thought she was going to die. But after a few hours in the emergency ward the doctor said it was a panic attack and she was being released to go home. Dazed, stressed and worried, Danielle was not sure what to make of the news.
After visiting her general doctor, she got a referral to see a psychologist. She did not want to take mediation so she opted for therapy. In therapy, she explored her family background and what may have contributed to her anxiety. She always thought she just had a nervous personality and was not particularly intelligent. In therapy she learnt that anxiety decreases cognitive skills and could have affected her academic performance as a child. She further learnt that people can learn anxiety. There were no traumas in her childhood and her relationship with her parents was loving. But as she explored her family, it became obvious that her mum was a survivor of World War II in London and had high anxiety herself. Her mum’s anxiety was not treated, and even though her mum was a small child in the war, the effects of war trauma were still playing out in Daniele’s life.
Bit by bit, Danielle learnt how to reduce her anxiety by reality checking her catastrophising thoughts, and through practicing mediation and mindfulness. Systematically, her inner demons dissolved and she was able to do things that she never previously thought she could.
Danielle’s story shows us how we can overcome anxiety and learn to empower ourselves.
What experiences have you had where you overcame your fears and succeeded at things you did not think were possible?
[Note. All stories used in this blog are fictional characters based on the wisdom I gain from working with clients. No character in this blog is an actual person or a client]
I have been a couple’s therapist for twelve years and one thing I see over and over again is the uncanny way that couples who were intensely in love and attracted in the beginning of their relationship, become disappointed and disillusioned. The attractive qualities in their partner end up triggering their deepest childhood wounds. It seems almost inevitable that a romantic partner will be the perfect person for pushing all your buttons that you have put so much effort into hiding, even from yourself! There are unconscious reasons for this initial intense attraction, and then later the intense interpersonal struggle with your beloved.
To start off, I will introduce a few general points about intimate relationships. There are five stages of growth that intimate relationships experience to evolve. In the same way that there are life stages for an individual person, there are also relationship life stages. The first stage is the honeymoon stage. This is falling in love… rose coloured glasses… and perceiving your lover as perfect and complimentary to you. You see all their similarities. It is like this stage needs to be absolutely fantastic to get a couple through stage two. Stage two is the stage of negotiating difference. This stage is about power struggles, disappointment, inner wounds, issues being triggered, and fights. All of a sudden you take off the rose coloured glasses and you begin to see all of your beloved differences. It can be a very rude awakening!
Stage three is where after struggling together over years, you step out of the battle to find yourself again after being lost in the process of the relationship. Stage four is a coming back together in a real way. Now you know who this person is and you make a choice to be with them (or not). Stage five is the symbiotic stage, where the relationship takes on a life of its own. Have you ever seen two happy elderly people walking down the street, knowing exactly how to move with each other?
So while intimate relationships can tear us apart and bring us to our knees, the potential is a beautiful healing and connection between two people.
What has all this got to do with unconscious attraction patterns?
After working with so many couples, I believe unconscious attraction brings two people together to potentially heal past unconscious wounds or patterns. It is as if UNCONSCIOUSLY, there is a knowing that this person is the perfect person to match you and bring to your consciousness what is unconscious and needs healing. The patterns fit like a key in a key hole that unlocks the potential to heal with another. Of course, instead of healing we sometimes simply open the wounds and become re-hurt. However, I have faith that it is actually the potential of healing the wounds that unconsciously attracts two people in intimate relationship.
Perhaps that is why when we fall in love we have a sense of familiarity or of “knowing” them before. The unconscious does know all about them! It knows all about us! And it works its magic that we call falling in love.
The difference between successful relationship counselling and unsuccessful relationship counselling, is when both people leave counselling taking responsibility for their 50% of creating the dynamics between them. Often couples enter counselling blaming one person or each other for the relationship difficulties. They usually come into counselling in the second or third stages of their relationship. It is usually a last chance attempt at repairing the relationship before leaving. So the challenge of couple’s therapy is to explore the readiness of each person in the relationship to become conscious of their unconscious patterns that are triggered by their partner. In general, the more we all become aware of our patterns and how they impact on the people close to us, the more real choice we have in changing what is causing us pain and anguish.
Where To Now?
In the later part of January 2012, I will be posting a series of blogs on Conscious Relationship. So tune in later this month for more valuable information on how you can heal your relationship by healing yourself, and then working with your partner to shift the unpleasant dynamics in your relationship.
The seventh point I made in my blog “The Law of Attraction… Are My Believes Ruining My Life?” was that we experience emotional processes that cannot avoid through spiritual practice. This has been one of the hardest lessons for me to learn on my spiritual journey!
Our emotional selves can knock us over if we do not know how to work with and honour our emotions. Anyone who has been railroaded by powerful emotions knows it can be like being hit by a tidal wave and can be very hard to keep your head above water.
An Attempt To Escape The Pain
A lot of people turn to spiritual practices to save themselves from experiencing intense emotions, however this is incredibly mislead! The way most people try to cope with powerful emotions is to withdraw and shut down from them. This is a very natural reaction. It’s like when you put your hand on a hot plate… you withdraw it so it doesn’t burn. In spiritual awakening the opposite happens. We open to experience and to ourselves. This can really throw people if they expected something nice and gentle… the spiritual path is usually anything but gentle, at least until we have shifted of the patterns that cause us the deepest suffering.
It is not surprising that many people from Western countries especially turn to spiritually to alleviate suffering and distress. In Western countries we tend to try to supress emotions and if that does not work we medicate them either legally or illegally. But emotions are out guidance mechanism system, they are there for real reason. So when we ignore them they simply scream louder. They are meant to get our attention and shoe us what needs changing in our lives. As a general rule, the more we dismiss our emotions the more they intensify. So when we use spiritual practice such as mediation, prayer or magical beliefs as a way to escape emotional pain, we are really using these practises as we would a drug. Then they can become addictive to keep the unwanted emotions at bay.
Spiritual Practice Connects Us To Our Emotional Selves
The irony is that practices that raise awareness such as mindfulness, meditation or psychotherapy generally increase sensitivity (hopeful safely) and therefore aim to help us to reconnect with our emotional selves. Of course we want to do this from new and safe perspectives, or from a place of witnessing them rather being overwhelmed over by them, but still the aim is to feel rather than avoid emotion. But in short, it actually healthy to feel our emotion and to connect with who we really are.
So you could say that spiritual practice is likely to intensify emotion at first. Opening our hearts often results in feeling deep anger, fear or sadness before we feel the love. It’s like breaking through the ice on the surface before finding fluid water running in the stream underneath. To stand in our power, courage and truth requires that we overcome fear and inadequacy caught up in the solar plexus. We often hold a great deal of hurt in our bodies and there are real emotional processes that need to be honoured to release that pain. Clearing the energy of these wounds through alternative and intuitive modalities can definitely help the release process along but our emotions do not become superfluous.
Another important aspect of the spiritual journey is as we change our energy, patterns and our gain clarity and strength, our life often changes around us. These inner shifts can result in changes in our relationships, employment and goals in life. And yes, these changes tend to cause emotional pain, even if we feel the inevitability of these changes deep down.
So as we embark on the spiritual journey we do not avoid the emotional pain. It is rather that we gain wisdom to better understand that pain and we develop techniques such as mindfulness to dis-identify from the pain. But it is still there, we just learn to make better choices. Our emotions are here to guide us but if we think we can override the tangible world and our emotional selves we have another thing coming! We don’t just “rise above it” when our partner leaves us, we lose our job and our parent dies. These real emotional processes have to be honoured, even when we are aware of Spirit!
Have your say on the Law of Attraction and contribute to the greater consciousnesses of humanity ….
The fifth point I mentioned in my blog “The Law of Attraction… Are My Beliefs Ruining My Life?” was that we are not meant to supress or eliminate our ego. However, how we understand the term “ego” is essential if we are going to know what best to do with it.
Defining the Ego
The ego can be defined in a range of different ways. Freud was the first to use the term ego in his psychosexual theory of neurosis. He was referring an aspect of the self that was somewhere in between the id and the superego. For Freud, the ego was a kind of balanced self between the child-like, impulsive id and the overly rigid, moralistic super-ego.When people are talking about the ego in new age circles, I ‘m sure they are not referring to its original meaning!
Another version of ego that I have heard in new age movement is what Eckhart Tolle speaks about in his “Power of Now” and a range of other books and CDs. When Eckhart talks about “ego” he is referring to thought and emotional processes in the mind. So for him, the ego is equated to the human mind.
Yet another version I hear about in the “spiritual community” and general community at large, sounds more like the term “egotism”. Ego is seen as a bad thing to get rid of. So here we have three very different concepts of ego. There are more definitions however, I’m going to focus on the last two.
The Ego is Our Friend
Eckhart Tolle’ definition of the ego makes a lot of sense to me when talking about the psychospiritual. The ego is all mental and emotional activity of the mind. It includes our personality, values, likes and dis-likes and interpretation of the world. It is our self-identity, conscious beliefs and memories, and the associated emotions attached to those beliefs. Based on this idea of the ego, we are not meant to get rid of our ego, we are simply meant to dis-identify from it.
As living human beings we have a human mind. We are meant to become conditioned and hold psychological patterns in our minds and bodies. The Taoist states that we need to be carved before we can be uncarved… this is the process of gaining wisdom! Our ego has a real role to play in our lives. Without the mind we could not think. We could not interact socially or believe in anything. We could not create technology or society. We would not have unique personalities or be able to day dream. The mind is truly amazing! Yes… the ego is amazing!!!
The problem is not about having an ego, but rather the problem emerges when the egoic mind has control rather than what I will call “our presence”. When the mind drives things, as opposed to being utilised for the creative expressive vehicle that it is, then chaos prevails.
How to Dis-Identify from the Ego
The trick is not to eradicate the ego but rather to master it! Mindfulness, for example, teaches us how to witness psychological reactions consisting of thoughts, emotions and actions, such as what Eckhart Tolle calls the “pain body”. This is process is about dis-identifying from the thoughts and emotional attachments, and simply watch them play out. We then cease to believe that we are the patterns. We take our power back from them and they cease ruling our lives. Only then can we begin to make more conscious choices.
When we witness our thoughts and emotions with space and curiosity we learn to release the attachment to these beliefs and emotions. This kind of disrupts the automatic nature of the pattern. Mindfulness is beautiful! It produces a gap between the observer and the ego (the observed). It allows us to aster the mind rather than being ruled by it.
So in a nut shell, we were never meant to surpass or get rid of our ego. We may be able to witness the mind or master it, but we cannot escape it! We have a living human mind that thinks and identifies as a “self”. This is the ego and it is a blessing!
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