Emotions are just energy in motion, or at least they are meant to be. They are designed to flow from one to the other and they balance each other with a propensity to move us towards joy, our most natural state. They are intimately linked into our primary drive towards pleasure and away from pain. We are wired for pleasure, so why is it that we experience so much pain?
Emotions are just energy in motion, or at least they are meant to be. They flow from one to the other and they balance each other with a propensity to return to joy, our most natural state. They are intimately linked into our primary drive towards pleasure and away from pain. We are wired for pleasure, so why is it that we experience so much pain?
The emotions vibrate at different frequencies and are experienced in different ways and often felt in different parts of the body. Some move through us quicker than others and they all have an important physiological role to play in the bodymind. The emotional system is not only an early warning system to get our attention, that all is not well in our world, but also part of the body’s healing system.
Our emotions respond to and reflect the underlying beliefs that we have about the world. They are felt by the heart and interpreted by the mind. It is in the interpretation that problems arise, not the emotions themselves.
There is no such thing as a negative emotion but that sure was not the way I was raised!
The basic emotions I am listing here are taken from the Chinese Five Element System, but of course we have many variations of these five.
Joy is our natural state, sorrow allows us to reflect, worry keeps us thinking and creative, grief helps us deal with loss and release the active emotional charge out of a relationship that is now passive, fear keeps us alive and anger helps us keep going and move around obstacles that get in our way.
Because of misunderstanding and ignorance, we have imposed a hierarchical value to our emotions, favoring some over others, which leads to imbalance, ill health and unhappiness. The Chinese Five Element Theory describes this so perfectly and is such a valuable system to help us gain more understanding. Everything is dependent on everything else and nothing is more important than anything else – life is about balance and flow and this goes for the emotions too.
…is the emotion associated with the FIRE element. It is expansive, warm, alive and is experienced in the present tense. The Chinese character for joy means both joy and music. Other qualities associated with joy are contentment, peace and neutrality.
The presence of joy immediately gives rise to its opposite, sorrow. Our struggle to hold on to and/or our inability to fully express our joy affects the Fire element and all those aspects of the bodymind that correspond with the fire element most strongly – the heart and small intestine, our sense of touch, our ability for speech and our peace of mind.
When joy is present it is reflected in the healthy relationships we have with our self (self-love, self-image, self-esteem, self-worth), our family, our friends, our colleagues and ultimately the world as we see it. And because the small intestine is part of the Fire element, the presence of joy also supports healthy digestion and assimilation of our food and drink. “A twinkie eaten in joy is often less harmful than the best macrobiotic diet eaten in anger and resentment!”
When we become involved with our experience of joy, this leads us to struggle to maintain or hold onto it. With some awareness we soon realize that now our mind is either living in the past or the future and we are no longer in the present, which is where joy is experienced. Ironically, when the mind gets involved with naming the emotion, it has separated itself from the moment and then the joy of the past (a mere second ago) becomes the melancholy of the present!
Sorrow or sadness is felt as depressed heart energy. Rather than the expansion and openness of joy, sorrow or sadness is felt as more of a contraction or closing heart space. We are pulled inside and our physical body mirrors this. Over time, our reaction to past sorrows or sadness leads us to keep our hearts closed for fear of being hurt or disappointed again. A perfect future protection policy and unfortunately an insurance policy to be miserable.
Depressed heart energy (lack of joy) closes us off not only from ourselves but also from those around us. It takes courage and vulnerability to keep our hearts open and joy is the natural expression of an open heart, living in the moment with appreciation and gratitude.
However the hedonistic pursuit of pleasure/joy weakens the heart and brings false joy, leaving us more hollow than before and always wanting more. The pursuit of happiness is found only in the contentment of the present moment whatever that is. Our healthy experience of intimacy is based on knowing what lies deep in our own heart – in to me see. And the most important person to discover this is you.
One of the main functions of the heart is to acknowledge momentary reality as it occurs, assisted by the mind’s interpretation of the events. Everything in the body is built on ‘negative’ feedback loops to find balance and this is true for the emotions as well. That is why feelings are so important to acknowledge uncensored. They have an important role to play. Getting stuck for too long in any one of them is an indication of the mind’s misinterpretation or misunderstanding of reality, and can also lead to imbalance in other parts of the bodymind.
A well functioning heart empowers us to respond freely and spontaneously to each new situation in life. This freedom and spontaneity takes practice however, as we must make our way through the mind’s negative interpretations of the vast
array of emotions we can feel at any given moment.
Most of us have been taught to see all the emotions other than joy (fear, anger, grief, worry etc.) as either bad or less than optimal but this is not because they are, it is due to what we learnt or thought we learnt about them. And for many of us, joy was also to be curtailed and feared – “don’t get so excited,” “stop it I like it,” “this is too good to be true,” “this can’t last,” “you don’t deserve this,” “you must earn it,” “it will be taken away.”
… is the emotion associated with the Earth element and its respective organs of the stomach, spleen and pancreas. Worry is an energy that corresponds to the mind and our thinking. When we are worried about something or someone we find our mind constantly thinking about it or them. Our thoughts attach to the worry or concern we have and keeps churning until we can digest it.
This churning process is mirrored in the physical body by the stomach, whose job it is to convert the plate of food you just ate into liquid so it can than be digested. Hence the common axiom that eating late at night can keep you awake stands to good reason. As your stomach tries to digest the food, it keeps the mind awake too.
As we know, many times our thoughts are as indigestible as our food and both can lead to sickness.
Worry is synonymous with thinking and thinking in and of itself is natural and useful. It is only when we become obsessed with our thoughts or cannot turn them off that this creates a problem. Excessive thinking or involved thinking about a certain topic, event or person quickly leads to confusion and distortion of perspective.
The ability of the mind to think and imagine can be both a wonderful and awful thing – we can strive to unravel the mysteries of the universe and we can literally worry ourselves sick. And all the while we are driven to find meaning in and of our lives. Who am I, what am I and why am I?
Thinking, the mental aspect of the bodymind, has the ability to divide the concept of time into past, present and future. We can remember the past, we can imagine the future and we can bring awareness to the present. However, the irony is that even as we bring the present moment into our thinking it is now in the past!
The mind and our thinking have two positions – on and off. When it is on it can further be turned inwards to focus on ourselves or outwards to focus on the world. With our cultural obsession towards the external world and the plethora of things technology brings, our senses are constantly being drawn outwards and our thinking follows. This puts great stress on us and those aspects of the bodymind that relate to the Earth element.
The Earth element is also associated with the qualities of stillness, pause and rest which provide the optimum state for our best thinking. It is often during times of quiet, whilst in meditation, sitting, day dreaming, absorbed in something else or when waking from a restful sleep that we do our best thinking: get the answer to a problem, perceive the next step in our relationship, business, or career or conceive the next million-dollar idea.
But so often we are too busy worrying to actually think! Or our thinking has got stuck on the same hamster wheel of thought and we keep creating the same scenario over and over again.
This workshop is designed to help us use our thinking mind in a more creative way, to help our mind ask questions of itself to find answers that can lead to greater peace and understanding.
… is the emotion associated with the Metal element and the organs of the lungs and large intestine. Grief is the natural expression for our feelings of loss and mourning. It allows us to disperse feelings of active attachments that we have to certain people, projects and things when they are no longer in our lives.
We grieve the death of a loved one, the ending of a job or business, the loss of our childhood, a child leaving home, our health, our independence, etc. When we lose something or someone we value, we grieve. Grief allows us to let go of the active relationship we had with them, be it a person, animal or job and move towards a passive relationship or memory with them.
If we are allowed to fully express this loss, this grief, we can move through this phase relatively quickly. However, so often the grief is held onto because of underlying beliefs that prevent us from expressing it fully. These beliefs can be personal, familial, cultural and very often a mixture of all. We have beliefs that tell us that is not okay to cry, scream, wail or mourn deeply. Or if we do that there are limits or expectations and codes of behavior we should follow whilst grieving. When, for whatever reason, we are unable to let go and experience our grief fully, our grief can continue on for years.
Grief is felt as a contraction in the body, an energy that pulls us inside towards our heart that is hurting, that taps deep into our well to release tears, cries and sobs that aid in releasing the active component of the lost active relationship. This letting go can be experienced through the lungs as in crying or wailing and/or by the large intestine as in increased bowel movements.
If we have been trained to hold onto our grief, “Big boys don’t cry – Young ladies don’t shout – That’s enough now – Suck it up – Grin and bear it – It’s time to move on…,” then the body’s natural reaction to disperse the energy outwards gets thwarted and the grief is held inside. It is stored somewhere in the body, concordant with the Metal element, for example the lungs or large intestine, to be released later or manifest as illness – grief stored in the lungs often leads to pneumonia.
It is important therefore to give ourselves permission to grieve fully so we can move on. And for us to know that grief is deeply personal even though there may be cultural tendencies, and that no one can tell us how to do it. What we can do is offer the space for either our self or those around us to grieve in their own way.
Trust in your deeper wisdom to guide you, knowing that you cannot avoid it without a price to pay in the physical body. Allow yourself to feel it and give yourself time to express it.
When we experience our grief fully it paves the way for joy to flow back in to our hearts and offer new perspective and hope, light and warmth. Grief is an essential element that allows us to integrate the memory of our loss from an active state in to a passive state that allows us to open again to what life has to offer.
…is the emotion of the Water element and is associated with the kidneys and the urinary bladder. Fear is natural and is the driving force that keeps us alive, it is the impulse for survival both of our self and our species. Hence it is deeply embedded in our sexuality and the biological drive to procreate.
If anything threatens our survival, we are biologically designed to either fight or flee, freeze or faint and the reaction is governed by our amygdala system in the brain. So what are the things that threaten our survival? Our basic needs are for food, protection and warmth. Therefore, anything that threatens any of those things is deemed life threatening.
For 98% of our evolution this search for getting our basic needs met was a day to day endeavor. Finding, killing or growing our own food, finding or building shelter to protect us from the elements and anyone or thing that might want to take it from us.
It is only in recent history that those of us living in a first world country do not have this threat on a daily basis, or at least that is how it appears. However, now the proverbial ‘tiger in the shadows’ is found in the form of our fears of …having enough money to buy food and clothing, to pay our monthly rent or mortgage check, to find or keep a job, to find or keep a partner, to have the latest i phone etc.
We are also threatened from the inside by our mind’s self-judgment which is fuelled by our poor self-image, low self-esteem, low-self worth and self-doubt. It seems we are still living in the ‘jungle’ but now it is a concrete and technological one.
Even if we are fortunate enough to have our basic needs met then the mind becomes preoccupied in finding a better job, a bigger house, nicer clothes, more things, faster technology, etc. The relentless wheel of the pursuit of more pleasure and less pain.
These personal or cultural fears are now compounded by our ever increasing global awareness of our planet’s vulnerability and possible collapse. The threat of the survival of our planet. Our collective fear is high and it is continually fed by our minds, the government and the media. Fear creates either activity or collapse with the possibility of paralysis as well. There is a small window between denial (our coping tools) and despair (depression) and it is the place of action.
The work of ‘Intimate Communication with Self’ is designed to support action and to face our fears. If the outer world is a reflection of our inner world, then there is much to be gained from this work, for us and for those around us.
Fear feeds anger and pent-up anger breeds violence either externally or internally. So it seems to me that addressing my fears is a great place to start and that is what I am doing one tiny step at a time. The beauty is that when I address conflict within myself it guides me along the path to greater freedom. Ironic as many of us learn to avoid conflict at all costs!!
…is the emotion of the Wood element and is associated with the liver and the gall bladder. Anger gets us moving and is expansive. It is a call to action. It is the force that helps us overcome the inertia of stillness or stuckness or unfairness. The energy of anger is a fast-moving emotion that can rise and fall quickly.
We see this best displayed in small children and animals. Children can be fighting over a toy one minute and then the best of friends the next, or an animal being chased as potential ‘lunch’ and when aware the chase/danger is over goes back to grazing. The difference between us and animals is that the animals and very young children don’t think – Why me? What did I do? Life isn’t fair – they live in the present moment and now the moment is peaceful. Now that doesn’t mean the small children don’t scream, shout or cry or that the animals don’t take a moment to shake off the tension because they do, but then it is done and life goes on.
Our human capacity to use the thinking mind to recreate the story over and over again becomes our living nightmare that continually pulls us from the present moment and has us living permanently in the past and afraid of the future. Why me? What did I do to deserve this? How can I make sure this never happens again? …
This is compounded by the fact that we don’t feel safe anymore to express our emotions fully at the time of the perceived or real insult or attack. This in part is due to our socialization and the learned acceptable codes of behavior of our family and culture and in part because our early cries for help went unheard or unanswered so we learnt to internalize the emotions. This then becomes the habit and in time can present as dis-ease or the build up of suppressed emotion eventually becomes too much and we start to explode.
By this time the explosion is always out of proportion to the trigger but, because of our investment in our side of the story, this is never clear for us to see. To the recipient of our outburst it will always feel unjustified because it is – our behavior is an over-reaction fuelled by years of misunderstanding and hurt. As the recipient of the emotional outburst or explosion, it takes great practice to be able to listen to this tirade and not take it personally, and this ability only comes with truly understanding our own emotional reactions.
Of all the emotions, anger probably gets the worst rap and is the least understood. The continuum of expression ranges from committing murder to total suppression and cover-up. There are both direct and indirect expressions of anger and anger covers a range of feelings from mild irritation to outright rage. Anger is often triggered by unmet expectations of either oneself or others. As soon as we become capable of having expectations, we also become capable of protesting at not having them met!
Think of a two-year-olds temper tantrum. As adults, it is often easier to admit we are upset rather than angry, particularly if we were raised to think that anger was bad. And because of the volatile nature of anger it is also imperative that we learn safe ways to express this strong moving energy and not let it build up to either an internal (violence towards self: breaking a bone, depression, suicide) or external (violence towards another) destructive force. Learning how to express our anger in a way that is not harmful to self or others is essential. Expressing our anger is not bad, however not questioning the “trigger” of our anger is where we all lose out.
Fear and hurt feed anger and anger feeds joy which brings us full circle back to our natural state. But if we are not able to express our anger and gain deeper understanding of its role, we can never experience the fullness of unbounded joy. Anger is necessary to help us move forward and overcome obstacles that are in our way, it is a call to action. It is a natural expression of built up energy and has a very practical role to play in our health and well being.
Joy is more than a deep form of happiness. It is more than an emotion that results from an event or circumstance. It is more than the opposite of sadness or the absence of depression. Joy is the natural state of one who has learned to take delight in Reality.
Try to think of joy as having no cause. Try to think of joy as being always present and available. Imagine that you don’t have to do anything to cause it and that you can’t create it because it exists already. This thinking puts you in the best frame of mind to serve and be generous, because everything you see and everyone you encounter is an opportunity to experience the natural joy of being.
from “Practice the Presence – A Daily Journal” by E. Viljoen and C. Michaels