Emotions are a huge part of our lives, yet most of us haven't been taught how to handle them. Our educational system is mostly focused on teaching us subjects that develop our logical intelligence. I was lucky enough to spend my primary school years in a Steiner school were I had the chance to develop and express my creativity. As I transitioned to highschool, these artistic classes gradually had to make way for logically inclined topics. While our artistic intelligence is at least partially addressed in our schools, I haven't met anyone who feels that their education taught them how to develop emotional intelligence and address their emotional wellbeing.
Many of us are so screwed-up emotionally that when we discover spiritual teachings, we think we've found an answer. For me, spirituality and its concepts was something I connected with immediately. It both made sense intellectually and reinforced my personal experience of life with its subtle invisible realm that I felt intimately connected to.
Unfortunately, spirituality in its pure and classical sense does not teach us anything about emotions except to witness them. The emphasis of all spiritual teachings is on guiding people to discover that aspect in themselves that lies beyond all of the turmoil of life - including emotions. This is why spiritual teachers attract a large audience that doesn't know how to deal with their emotions and seeks for a way to get around feeling them.
Spiritual communities attract people like me, who through childhood trauma and emotional wounds have learnt to dissociate themselves. Who become increasingly skilled at leaving their physical bodies. Dissociation isn't anything extraordinary. It's a natural protective mechanism in which one distances himself from the physical world and the physical body due to physical or emotional suffering.
People who have learnt to dissociate often develop a special ability to enter into altered states of consciousness. They identify less with the body - sometimes not at all - which makes them appear more adept for spiritual practice. They tend to be sensitive people who feel a lot, are emphatic and in touch with the more subtle realms in this universe. They feel more home and safe there. It took me many years before I realized how dissociated I had lived my life.
I have distinct memories of living inside my head and daydreaming rather than connecting with the outside world. I remember going to school, but never really being there. I don't have many childhood memories - because I often was somewhere else with my attention. The more I came into my body, the more I saw glimpses of how disconnected I had been.
I started practicing yoga at the age of 16 and at the end of my twenties began to practice styles of yoga that involved more energetic work. After 4 years of intense practice that included traditional kundalini mudras, I started falling apart emotionally. Unfortunately the sensitivity of my nervous system combined with unresolved psychological trauma made a dangerous cocktail. Our traumas have a strong connection with the nervous system. The already present dissociation can be amplified by spirituality that focuses on out-of-body experiences. When the nervous system collapses, this can bring to the surface and amplify our wounds, leaving us with a nervous breakdown. This is what happened to me. Life forced me to change gears and look at the building blocks of human experience.
We can only live as whole and integrated human beings if we allow all our faculties to flourish. We can represent the 4 faculties of the human being according to the 4 elements. The earth represents our physical body, the air element is the mind, the water element corresponds to our emotions and the fire to the soul.If we try to live a life without emotions because we find them difficult and confusing then we don't allow our water element to flow. This creates tremendous imbalance and causes an internal split.
Learning about our emotions and how to handle them is an essential building block in living as whole and integrated human beings with integrity, dignity and respect. It's something we learn through trial and error, through experience, or if we're lucky, through a guide.
When we experience an emotion, many of us aren't sure what to do with it. Should we express it? Repress it? Transform it? Just observe it?
They are so vital to our human experience, yet so misunderstood, unacknowledged an feared.Perhaps we can find an answer to this question by exploring what emotions are. While there is an increasing amount of scientific research on emotions, it's remarkable that there are still so many things that we don't know about them. Emotions, in their natural state, flow through us. Some emotions are cross-culturally present which indicates a biological basis. That's why certain theorists call them primary emotions. They are inborn natural responses that gear us for survival. If we wouldn't have any fear, we probably wouldn't survive very long on this planet. The fear response is tied-in with the autonomous nervous system. When we face a dangerous situation, the sympathetic nervous system shoots into action and creates the feeling of fear. This fear sharpens our senses and allows the mind to focus. It creates a state of heightened awareness, sharpness and vigilance. Therefor fear is a valuable emotion that protects us and allows us to function optimally.
It's baffling that so many people categorize some emotions as positive and others as negative. How people focus their energy on ridding themselves of feelings such as jealousy. How teachers encourage us to only think happy thoughts. All these approaches embody a fear of the unpleasant. It is an ignorance born from the misunderstanding of emotions or not being in touch with them. Emotions arise for a reason. Understanding their messages allows us to gain insight into our own psyche, our wants and needs and to live as whole, integrated human beings.
Every emotion has a specific function and carries a powerful message. Sadness is another often unwelcome visitor. When we are experiencing a streak of happiness we tend to feel expansive, in flow and radiant. Sadness directs our energy and awareness inward. Just like seasons come and go, so also our inner states move through cycles. Sadness turns us inward to reflect and let go of what isn't serving us. Moments of sadness bring deep release and cleansing. They are necessary to finish one cycle and enter into a new one. Every new beginning requires us to connect with ourselves and let go of the old. That's the function of sadness.
Anger is perhaps the most feared. When anger is in flow, it shows us where our boundaries lie. It helps the broken psyche to reestablish itself and create a healthy boundary. The problem with anger - and all our emotions - is that we don't know how to handle them in a healthy and balanced way. If we repress anger, it turns inward, gets stuck and can transform into resentment and depression. If we express it in an uncontrolled manner, it can create damage to ourselves and others.
The key lies in fully allowing the energy of an emotion to flow through us. Without amplifying it or repressing it. Amplifying our emotions as well as repressing them creates damage to our psyche. When we allow our feelings to flow naturally and harmoniously in response to the various stimuli of daily life, they add the wisdom of the water element to the other faculties and the whole human ecosystem is in harmony.So how do we integrate emotions into our lives? Emotions arise out of the subconscious in response to situations we face and triggers we experience.
When our feeling states are simply felt and acknowledged, their energy can move through us without creating damage inside or outside ourselves. Fully allowing ourselves to feel an emotion and listening to its message is one of the most empowering things we can do.
Emotions show us where our boundaries are, what needs to be released, what our needs are, where we feel threatened, what is healthy for us and whether something is or isn't right for us. Our emotions are an integral part of a deep intuition directly linked to our soul's purpose in this life.
Our spirit receives glimpses of our soul's purpose. Our emotions move the vision of spirit into our bodies. Through the agency of our emotions, the wisdom of the spirit acts through the agency of our bodies who walk us towards our soul's purpose. Our mind helps us to collect data and plot a logical course for our journey.
In an unbalanced psyche, our mind might over-think and eventually crush our spirit's visions. The mind then only serves as yet another defense mechanism. On the other hand, our dishonored emotions might overreact and scare us away from our spirit's visions. They won't transmit the information to the body, nor engage our mental intelligence to move towards our vision.
Spirit, mind, emotions and body form an inseparable team in transmitting intelligence and manifesting our soul's purpose in life. Suppressing either one of our elements impairs our personal growth and spiritual evolution.
Emotions are incredibly powerful. They can become dangerous if we handle them carelessly. Suppressing our sadness, rather than bringing release and rejuvenation, drags us further down until we feel stuck and paralyzed. I have a close friend who has been feeling stuck in his life for years now. I always wonder how much grief he's holding. For so many people who suffer from depression, the root problem is not sadness, but repressed anger. It's clear that suppressing our emotions does not lead to a healthy psyche.
When we suppress our emotions, we often re-live the events related to them obsessively. The emotion branches-out into the mind. Rather than discharging the energy of powerful emotions, they are further fueled by thoughts and concepts. When the tension becomes too big, we feel like we need to finally express what we feel. By that time, the emotion has become charged with all the consequences of repression.
For me, one of the most valuable meditation practices for gaining insight into my emotions has been Mindfulness. One of the practices of Mindfulness meditation consists of witnessing and labeling emotions. It's a practice of bringing the mental concepts to the emotion. Mindfulness is an extremely valuable practice that on the one hand increases our self-awareness and on the other hand facilitates the discovery of the witness inside ourselves. Connecting with our witnessing capacity opens the doors to the experience of who we are at our innermost center.
However, Mindfulness doesn't necessarily lead to understanding what our emotions are trying to teach us. Mindfulness increases awareness and develops insight beyond our emotions. It doesn't automatically give us insight into the messages of emotions.
As a very intellectual person, the axiom "emotions need to be felt, not analyzed" also added great value to my experience of emotions. From this perspective we are to just allow the raw emotion move through us and fully feel and acknowledge it. As it moves through us, the energy releases and the emotion subsides. So when we feel an overpowering emotion, we can acknowledge it, welcome it, allow it to move through us and understand its message.
By allowing emotions to flow through us naturally, they become powerful messengers that can bring us a lot of insight. Together with the wisdom of our other elements and faculties, they guide us to the fulfillment of our soul's purpose.
Nothing in the human being is a mistake. The water of our emotions can be felt in the body. They can be conceptualized by the mind. And together they create the intuition that guides our soul.
For me, coming into my body and learning to feel and understand my emotions has been a long and gradual journey that continues to unfold. It has been a fascinating journey that has brought me in touch with how I really feel. It healed the parts in myself that I had abandoned, and connected the parts that had been dissociated.
In a fully integrated psyche, the light shines even where darkness resides.
Deniz Aydoslu is a Yoga Therapist, Criminologist and author of the bestselling book Depression Decoded.