For frequent readers, they’ve likely recognized that the recent theme behind a lot of my blog posts is about impermanence, mindfulness and how sensations aren’t necessarily good or bad – they just are. Today might seem a little contradictory then, as I’ll be writing about how there is such a thing as a negative emotional state, just not in the sense that the emotion itself is bad.
Careful explanation of this is necessary because it’s easy to mix up what I mean by this. Emotions are sensations that arise in response to something. Person A says X to Person B, and Person B feels Y. So in direct terms, if I call you an idiot, you respond to it in a certain way based on your judgement of the situation.
Judgement here is important. Someone calling you an idiot usually results in you feeling a certain way – that being maybe anger or hurt. For the most part, that’s pretty normal, so there’s nothing wrong with you. Idiot essentially refers to you being incapable, and that’s a pretty unpleasant thing to say to someone.
But have you also noticed that it largely depends on who says it to you, and how? A random person on the street may call you an idiot, but you may react by laughing it off – that’s silly, the person doesn’t even know me! But when your partner says it to you and you can hear it in their tone that they really mean it, it hits you in a different way. Suddenly, that word is as sharp as a knife and hits the exact spot where it hurts the most.
Words and events impact you depending on your relationship to the person saying it or whether you are closely connected to whatever event transpires. That’s why heart break is a thing – losing someone you valued deeply hurts a lot!
But here’s the thing: how we deal with these situations, whether it’s an easy brush off or a deep cut, all depends on how we react to it. The initial sensation of hurt or sorrow is well and truly fine – it is what it is and there’s a reason why you reacted that way. That’s where emotions just exist as is and are a normal reaction to something. But where the problem lies is how we react to that emotional reaction.
Seeing the difference? You can be angry at something, but reacting to the anger by saying poisonous words back or holding onto it, is a bad idea.
To elaborate, when a lot of people get angry, they hold onto that anger and repeat the event in their head in some way or another. “I can’t believe X called me an idiot! How can he say that to me! I’m not an idiot!” You then get angrier. It’s basically remembering an event and instead of allowing it to sting you that once, you’re letting it sting you again by repeating it in your head.
Then after that, you get angry at the fact that you’re still angry about the sting. So you repeat the sting again. By the next week, you’re angry about the fact that you’re angry about being angry about something that happened two weeks ago which you can’t even remember anymore, and now that sting is a gaping, painful wound that infects everything you do!
That is what I mean by reaction. If you laughed at or related to what I wrote, that emotion brought forth is no longer present. It is in the past. You can look back and laugh again, and layer up on that laughter, but pay attention to the fact that every emotional reaction you have is an immediate thing. It is only ever in the now and can never be elsewhere. So why do we hold onto things that happened a long time ago and let it affect us right now by repeating it in our minds again and again?
There’s a reason these emotions, ie. anger, hatred, jealousy, envy, rage, etc – are considered “negative”. As immediate sensations, they just are, but they turn into negative states when we allow them to fester, instead of processing them in a way that allows you to let them go.
When you’re told to “let it go”, it doesn’t mean destroy the emotion. It means to process it and “let it go” through you. Allow it in and recognize that resisting it will lead to a layer up of more negative states of mind. You’re having a feeling of anger after your partner called you something mean – accept it, be silent and process that. Once you’ve processed it, you’ll have clarity. With clarity, you can see your partner with the right view and you’ll know what the right thing to say is. In other words, be mindful of your reactions, and don’t let whatever it is that you feel to poison your actions. Let it go.
Consider what holding onto anger and all these other negative emotional states does, too. Someone makes you mad, and because you weren’t mindful of it, you snapped at someone else because you had a “bad day”. That leads to that person being upset if they’re not mindful, and the cycle continues until we have a whole bunch of angry, resentful people in the world. How do you think evil, destructive ideas that hurt others spread? It’s all in how we react to our initial reactions.
By being mindful and stopping to notice, you’re stopping the cycle of negative states of mind. Holding onto your emotions is a bad idea because they’re so fleeting. Learn to process them and appreciate their qualities in the present, then be kind to yourself and let it pass. Through that, you’ll find the right words, actions and thoughts to continue living your life in a fruitful and peaceful way.
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