“Emotion from mid 16th century (denoting a public disturbance): from French émotion, from émouvoir ‘excite’, based on Latin emovere, from e- (variant of ex- ) ‘out’ + movere ‘move’. The current sense dates from the early 19th century.”
In some spiritual circles, a lack of emotion, or at least “negative” emotion, is supposed to signify that someone is spiritually advanced or enlightened. However, in the Taoist view, emotions are a natural part of life and the human experience and must be allowed to flow and move to maintain balance and health.
The root of the English word “emotion” is to move OUT. What happens when something wants to move out, and we hold it in? Repression. It does not matter if we hold it in because of our parents, teachers, siblings, friends, boss, social conditioning, or guru.
According to the ancient Taoist and Tantric Yogic teaching, an energy that wants to move out but is blocked will create a kind of energetic “scar.” Modern physics tells us that energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it can change its state.
Emotion is just energy, like everything else. When emotions are blocked, they do not go away, but they move into what we commonly call the unconscious. Once in the unconscious, they influence how we feel, what we desire, and our perspective of ourselves and others. In other words, they create the reality we live in and impact our whole worldview and how we live.
Before you decide that you need to go tell off your boss or divorce your spouse because you feel like it, let me clarify that there are many ways in which emotion can move, not just the most obvious one. Playing music or other forms of creativity is an excellent outlet for emotion. Others are strenuous physical activity, boxing, or even screaming and punching a pillow. And finally, journaling can be another.
Whatever outlet you choose, the key is that the emotion is acknowledged and allowed. “I’m not mad because I’m Buddhist.” Or, “there is no self here to feel guilty.” These are ways to block emotions.
Instead of trying to deny how you feel, do the opposite. Take a moment to acknowledge how you feel completely. See the words in your mind, or say them to yourself silently or aloud. “I am jealous.” Or, “I am pissed.” Let it sink in; feel it.
Sometimes that is enough. If you still feel the energy there, find a safe and healthy way to express it rather than trying to stuff it down or push it away.
Ways in which people stuff or push emotions away are things like overeating, drug, alcohol, and sex abuse, overworking, socializing, entertainment like binge-watching TV, and even blissful spiritual practices like a yoga class or energy work.
While non of these activities on their own are evil or wrong, the question we want to ask ourselves is, are we using these as a form of self-soothing to avoid feeling something else? Self-soothing or self-medicating may also be necessary at times. But it is essential to know that the emotion we are trying to prevent will not go away just because we distract ourselves from feeling it. That energy will remain and exert influence over us until we are willing to meet it wholeheartedly.
The Tantrics teach that there are three things you can do with emotion—repression, expression, and transcendence. One helpful analogy for understanding this is thinking of feeling the same way we think of the three states of water as solid, liquid, and gas.
When an emotion is felt in our bodies, it is like water flowing and moving through us. Like water, it wants to move in the direction of least resistance, which is out in the form of expression. When repressed, it becomes like ice; it is hard, solid, and feels very ‘real.’ In transcendence, emotions become like gas, less dense and quickly dissipating and becoming one with the surrounding air.
Of the three approaches we can take to emotion, repression is the worst because you deny what is, which simply does not work. “I not angry because I’m too spiritual to be angry” does not make the energy disappear. Instead, it can cause that energy to become distorted and take another path.
Expression is great when you can do so safely. If I can tell you how I feel or do what the impulses in my body are telling me to do at the moment, like have sex, this is great. However, human society does not allow this for anyone. No one gets to go around unchecked, simply acting on every animal impulse and desire.
So as I mentioned above, find time to acknowledge and express the feelings you have in safe and healthy ways. Music, creativity, screaming, punching, kicking, and journaling are all avenues you can channel the emotion rather than divert attention from it.
Remember, just because something makes the feeling disappear does not mean you have channeled that emotion. The key is to notice if you are allowing yourself to feel the emotion and pouring it into your activity or using the activity to distract your attention. Distraction is repression.
Finally, there is transcendence. Transcendence is what most people think they are doing when repressing emotion. Transcendence allows the energy to be without agenda, expectation, or judgment. It is not repressing the energy or expressing it but allowing the energy to return to its source.
When emotion is met by awareness without distortion, it is like matter meeting antimatter. That emotion is absorbed back into awareness. Like a missing piece of the awareness puzzle, this emotion/energy takes its proper place in eternity.
In reality, it never left, but the fact that we can believe it to be separate is part of our collective delusion as human beings. I’ve told my students before that all human suffering is caused by our unsuccessful attempts to be unaware. It just does not work.
Trying not to feel or know something is one way I define suffering. We know something is not correct because we deny a part of ourselves. Our true nature is to be aware, and as awareness, we must know and feel everything. Until we understand this, we will try to control what is allowed into awareness based on personal preference or social conditioning.
In true transcendence, the question of getting rid of or changing an emotion simply does not arise. The thought, “I don’t want to feel this,” may appear and is allowed, just like everything else. But nothing needs to change or do anything. Everything just is.
One does not know whether what one is feeling is right or wrong, good or bad. Again, these concepts may arise but are recognized as labels created by the mind. Everything appearing in awareness is just energy, even the strongest emotion in transcendence. The human may be terrified by what arises, and this too is acknowledged and allowed.
In reality, there is no hatred, love, or anger. These are labels and are recognized as such in transcendence. Labels can be helpful at times, but they can also be harmful when we get too attached to them. Humans use words to share their experiences, but when we start to believe the reality of our terms, we can hurt ourselves and others.
There is also no sense of urgency in this presence. Future is seen for what it is, an image or idea appearing in mind, nothing more. The concept “one day I won’t feel this” does not make sense in the eternal now. There is no one day, only this moment, ever.
The past is simply images or words appearing in the present. The present is the only reality. The body may react to what occurs in the mind, which is okay. Presence loves body and mind just as they are. Nothing needs to be fixed or changed.
While the transcendent state is the fundamental ground of all beings, thoughts and feelings can obscure it, so it seems inaccessible to many. If this is true for you, find ways in your life to use healthy means of expressing or pouring your emotion into things and activities. Be mindful that these activities are not simply distractions, however. This way, you will not accumulate more repressed emotions that will need to be dealt with in the future.
If you can access the transcendent, then take the time to allow your human experience fully. Every emotion thought, and experience is embraced and celebrated. Take the time to notice anything you resist and let it into awareness. There is nothing other than yourself as awareness, so there is nothing you need to fear.
Douglas Johnson E-RYT 500, YACEP, OM, Certified KI Facilitator