Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice

 

Inner Work


For the week of March 4, 2013

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Am I My Feelings?

(Who Am I?: Part 3)

Our emotions seduce us. This is how I feel. I am worried. I am angry. I am sad. I am envious. I am jealous. I am resentful. I. I. I.

A strong feeling invades us. Our thoughts follow in its train. The thought I feel this comes naturally and we believe it. Our thoughts and feelings conspire, as further thoughts and images accord with the feeling and strengthen it. It leaves us thoroughly convinced that we are this feeling, that this is how I feel, that this is who I am in this moment. And indeed it is who we are in that moment, because we have allowed ourselves to identify with the emotion, to collapse into it, to abdicate our self to the emotion. The emotion takes us and takes control of our inner world.

Yet if we look again, we see conflicting emotions. We are angry, but at the same we do not want to be angry. We are sad, but do not want to be sad. Are we both sides of this? Surely not.

Emotions are our reactions to particular situations. They are perceptions and responses to life. An impression comes to us, either from outside or from inside. The impression triggers a particular emotional circuit in our brain. The emotion gathers steam. Our thoughts add to the flame. Then an inner reaction against the emotion may arise. A battle ensues. All this goes on in us automatically. At best we are spectators. But typically we do not even realize what is happening. It happens right in front of us and still it grabs us before we can see it for what it is, before we can see the contradictions, before we can see how it invades us, how we acquiesce to it. These emotions are not our choice, not our doing. They happen to us by masquerading as our self.

We do not exercise our emotions. We are not taught to exert control over them, except for moderating our acting out on the more extreme emotions. Control over our emotions sounds like it would make us robotic, when in fact it is the lack of control, the lack of seeing our emotions as emotions and as nothing more than that, the lack of seeing that our emotions speak for themselves and not for us, it is this passivity in the face of our emotions that makes us robotic, puts us at the mercy of whatever happens to trigger some emotional circuit in us. We are taught to think intentionally, rationally, at times. We are taught to develop skills with our body. But we are not taught to feel happy or sad or at peace, when we wish to feel one of those ways. That implicitly suggests that we are our emotions. If our emotions get out of hand we are taught that we have to settle down, not that we have to settle our emotions down.

Yet by watching from a quiet place in ourselves, we can notice our emotions arise. We can notice what they mean and the sometimes valuable information they carry. We can notice how the emotion colors our thoughts, how it affects our body, creates muscular tensions, changes our breathing, our heart rate, our blood pressure, our facial expressions and posture. If we set ourselves to do so, we can notice our emotions as emotions. We have our body, we have our thoughts, and we have our emotions. And our core, our I, the one who sees what we see, is not any those things. The emotion wanes and we are still here after itís gone. I am not my emotions.

Even in the grip of a strong, destructive emotion, there is a part of us that is free, namely our real self, our I. But that self is weak, or rather our contact with it is weak. Thus our I is unable to deflect the destructive emotion. So it runs its course through us. The more we reside in our real self, in our I, in the one who sees what we see and chooses what we choose, the larger the zone of inner peace grows in us, the zone which our I inhabits.

So our work with emotions is not about controlling all of them. It is about being our self, our real self, the one who perceives our emotions, the one who can expand our zone of peace and awareness and presence to embrace our whole life, including our emotions. Our emotions are a central part of the richness of life. We honor and welcome them. We accept them and do not reject them. Yet we stay ourselves. We do not identify with our emotions, any more than we would identify with our thoughts or our body.

For this week, notice your emotions. See them as emotions. See how they affect your body and thoughts in the moment. See whether your emotions are who you are.


     

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