“Our feelings are not there to be cast out or conquered. They’re there to be engaged and expressed with imagination and intelligence.”
The other night, my wife Kate and I tried to have a romantic dinner out. The dinner was delicious, but it came with a challenging accompaniment. We were sitting within earshot of another diner who was likely carrying a lot of pain and a litany of angry loud complaints soon surrounded us. It was hard not to tune into the broadcast.
Kate and I gripped each other’s hands across the table, reading the emotional struggle unfolding on each other’s faces. Annoyance and frustration wrestled with our longing to respond to the person’s pain with loving-kindness and compassion. It was difficult not to judge the person for being rude in a public space, and when I found myself making such judgments, I also felt shame about my own self-righteousness. Disappointment blossomed on Kate’s face as she realized that our romantic night out would not be the pleasant experience we had both been fondly anticipating.
Looking back on the experience, I marvel at how all this emotional complexity could arise out of a relatively ordinary situation. Our human capacity to feel and track emotions is somewhat ridiculous in its scope and power. It’s all part of our nature as intensely social creatures. The social world is our habitat, and emotion is the intelligence of social existence.
When I teach about practicing mindfulness of emotions, I emphasize the importance of developing mindful awareness and loving accepting emotions rather than trying to control them or shutting them down. That’s not to say we’re being passive. Awareness and acceptance are not the same as just going with the flow of our usual emotional habits (unless you’re already an enlightened Buddha!). Practices that help us to see emotions with more perspective can serve to reduce our melodrama and restore proportion to our inner world. Practices that bring compassion and acceptance to our emotions help us get unstuck and allow feelings to resolve themselves into healthier patterns.
This month at CEC we’ll be diving into the thicket of emotion. Come explore the depths in a safe, fun space through innovative meditation and social practices.