Self-Awareness: Know Your Emotions to Know Yourself
In this practice, you are trying to notice, observe, and pay attention to emotions and the processes of your emotional life.
In this course, when you study both mental health and physical health, via body and mind awareness practices, you are also on a discovery process to locate and observe emotions and how experiencing emotions is distinct from experiencing thoughts and physical sensations but intricately related to both. I talk about emotions as “separate” only to disentangle them from mind and body, but they are not.
In the book, The Righteous Mind, the author Jon Haidt, refers to the elephant and its rider analogy which describes the body(the elephant) and the mind (the rider) and their relationship. The bottom line is that we make loads of decisions based on emotions, despite thinking we have such important and powerful minds that “know” everything. It behooves you to understand your emotionality to know yourself more accurately.
Emotions are never right or wrong in and of themselves—they just ARE.
If we look carefully and spend time noticing and observing our thoughts & sensations in our mind-body, on our inner landscape journey, we will very likely also discover our emotions– we will BE EMOTIONAL. The thing about emotions, and perhaps why we struggle with them so, is that they aren’t logical or reasonable, and so it is difficult to “think” clearly about emotions (or anything else for that matter) when you are emotional or experiencing your emotions!
Usually, what we find when we observe emotions closely, slowly, deliberately, carefully, and with compassion, that they are each only what they are, let’s call them NEUTRAL, and not what we very often THINK or DESIRE them to be (positive or negative). Our perceptions about them and reactions to experiencing them are where the positivity and negativity come in to play.
Emotions are never right or wrong in and of themselves—they just ARE. For example, anger is what it is—what you believe about anger, what you desire about anger, your opinions about anger, your experiences with anger, don’t make anger right or wrong in and of itself. (And “knowing” in your mind what anger is as a concept is very different than being angry, yes??? Knowing the meaning of the term anger is one thing and BEING angry is quite another. I would love for you to sit with that for a bit.) Anger is experienced and labelled slightly differently within each organism; it is also reacted to and responded to in a variety of ways by a variety of individuals. For instance, anger motivates people to do good or bad deeds. That’s what we DO with anger (Actions can come from a conscious decision to act on one’s interpretation of an emotion or the behavior can be rooted in the autonomic nervous system’s ‘natural’ reaction to what it senses in the environment as organismic-protective / self-preserving).
Your goal here in this practice is to get to know yourself as the emotional being YOU are. Who cares what everyone else thinks, interprets or understands about their own emotions! Put other people’s experiences and understanding aside for now and focus on YOU. Who YOU are as an emotional being is all that matters in this practice. (That does not imply what others have learned cannot also offer you insight, it’s just that in these courses, we focus on developing self-knowledge).
Noticing and Resistance
The human organism expresses its nature and we need to pay attention to ourselves to cope and manage for wellness. If we don’t pay enough attention to our nature, we could become an additional obstacle in addition to the suffering we may experience that comes from beyond our control. (Again, I will remind you about balance rather than all or nothing thinking. There’s an inner and outer landscape, there’s an individual and social YOU, but for now, we are turning our attention to the inner landscapes for learning more).
What might you discover about yourself by paying attention to your emotional being?
You may catch yourself labeling a sensation in your body inaccurately or acting on a faulty mental conclusion about an emotion. You may immediately resist particular sensations when you feel them simply out of unconscious habit. Your body remembers previous experiences and automatically responds, usually out of what was once a protective habit. You may also resist ideas or thoughts out of the same sort of habit—consciously or not. Resistance is part of the human condition! It’s wise to try to study your body, mind, and emotions to better locate and understand your versions or kinds of resistance.
Consider this: Have you ever said “I am not good at X” because you feel afraid of doing or being X? This is a common example of how our minds too automatically and inaccurately conclude, at times, in reaction to feeling an emotion– like fear. We label the emotion as “bad” or negatively because it makes us uncomfortable. What if you could actually be great at X, but you won’t allow yourself to find out because your mind told you, “NO!” Don’t go there!? What if your potential could be further expressed and actualized with more insight into who you are?
Allowing Emotions to Be
It’s possible to tell ourselves, in language, more about who we are.
It is also possible to allow our bodies to tell us who we are by listening to it, which we did in the previous body-based practices.
When it comes to emotions, it can seem confusing, since emotions combine both physical sensation in the body and are in the thinking mind, too, in order to label them— to “say” what they are (your interpretation). It’s okay and important that we notice this. It’s actually the point! Just notice and let your emotions be what they are. This will be challenge enough because many people push their emotions away or avoid them and don’t want to feel them at all. I am challenging you to approach feeling your feelings and to attempt to do this with a prepared sense of curiosity, playfulness, and open-mindedness—- to be willing to just simply observe what unfolds about you, in the emotional realm. This is asking you to be vulnerable– exposed, open, and to ALLOW your emotions to HAPPEN. And, as in all the other practices, it’s nonjudgmental data collection.
Emotions are not problematic. Rather, a reason why emotions become problematic is our relationship to them. SO– watch yourself experience emotions (best you can– you MAY become carried away etc…because emotions do this) and reflect on how you relate to them. Try to do this WITHOUT negative, critical judgment. This is a tricky process, so laugh at yourself when you fail and tell yourself, “well, duh, of course I got emotional trying to be emotional!! LOL” Don’t forget to write about your experiences playing with yourself as an emotional being!
BE WITH YOUR EMOTIONS
Give yourself the time, space, and attention and simply allow your emotions to be what they are – let them flow and unfold in your experience and be curious about them to learn about them. It’s a process anyone can access, if you slow down and pay attention to what’s happening without trying to change any of it or push it away—just like we learned in the attention course in the attention and judgment unit.
Just noticing and “being with” what’s occurring—in this case––an emotion, and then also noticing how we immediately label it quickly with words, develop an opinion about it, create a story about what it means, search for its cause etc… or rush in to change it. All of this is how being human goes! It’s all okay. Life is an ongoing process, and life is learning. Just keep studying yourself for wellness.
If you notice after a particular episode where your emotions were strong or you “got emotional”, reflect on it, in writing, as an opportunity to learn more and write about it.
Oh, and did I already mention this?
Write about your emotional experiences.
When you write about your experiences, you are no longer IN the experience but reflecting on it. Try to be honest in your interpretations. Essentially, you are writing about how you relate to your emotions just to know more about this aspect of yourself. Be sure to pay attention to discerning the differences between physical sensations, thoughts/language and labeling, and emotions.
A FINAL NOTE
Later, when you engage with the Course on Choice, you will be able to come back to your notes about your emotional being and see how it relates to the choices you make. You will see the role of emotion insofar as it plays a role in your intuitions, especially your moral intuitions (what’s right, wrong, bad or good) and your “gut feelings” when making choices.