Thinking on Emotion
Let me start by asking you a simple question: Are you your emotions?
This seems like kind of a silly question, but when you consider what you actually are, what exactly is it that comes to mind? I derive this line of questioning from a technique of self-discovery called the Neti Neti method, which in Sanskrit roughly translates to “Not this, Not that.”
If you are interested in the mystical mode of inquiry behind the Neti Neti method, I recommend doing some digging on Advaita Vedanta, which is an ancient Eastern philosophical tradition that is quite interesting and useful, in my opinion.
The goal of this post is not to be a lesson in mysticism, but to open the mind to the concept that emotions are like objects. Let’s investigate.
Consider the following scenario: You are playing baseball with some friends on a hot summer afternoon. You’re a fast runner and you have a strong throwing arm, so you are a great fit for the short stop position. On multiple occasions during the game, you field hard-hit ground balls and make amazing plays at short stop; your friends are impressed and really glad to have you on the team! Certainly not to detract from your skill, you know that a short stop must have a really nice baseball glove that is broken in and made to suit your needs. Because of this, your glove is a very important object in your life.
After your fantastic performance leads your team to victory, your friends want to go out for some ice cream; it’s a wonderful summer day, indeed! As you step into your car after the game, now with going out for ice cream on your mind, you toss your beloved baseball glove into the passenger’s seat and it disappears from your awareness. You enjoy laughing with your friends while eating ice cream and not once does your mind return to your baseball glove until you return home that evening when you make sure to bring your glove into your house and place it in its special hook just inside the front door.
Tying It All Together
There are two very important points that I have attempted to make in this illustration.
1) The baseball glove is important to you, and
2) Despite its importance, you are able to completely forget about it when you aren’t playing baseball.
In much the same way, we have the ability to recognize that, indeed, we are NOT our emotions, but rather, we HAVE emotions. And because emotions are something that we have (just like baseball gloves are objects that we have) we are able to recognize that in the proper context, emotions are very important, but outside of the proper context, emotions can be set aside just as easily as other objects. This takes practice and by no means am I perfect in this regard, but it is something important for all of us to consider.
I recently listened to a speaker who defined an unethical behavior as one that causes suffering to another person. It’s a simple definition and it really got me thinking. How many times do we allow emotions from one area of life carry over into other areas of life and negatively affect someone else? I know this happens far too often. Maybe we get frustrated with a piece of technology that won’t cooperate and the next thing we know, we’ve said something hurtful to a friend or loved one. This in turn causes suffering within ourselves, too.
I don’t suppose there is much practical advice in this post, but I do hope you will consider the suggestion that emotions are like objects. They are important in their proper context and they can be regulated so they don’t cause undue suffering.
If you can agree with these ideas, then you’re well on your way to mastering your emotions by learning to extract their full value in a moment, and then in a moment later, tuck them away so you can fully and completely move on to your life’s next event.