Thursday, July 28, 2011

Six Questions About Emotions

In the midst of a pleasant walk through the park, something my friend said changed my mood from sweet to unpleasantly hot. I had the presence of mind to acknowledge the anger rising, and its disastrous effect on my happiness. Not good, I thought. No need to linger in this state. Quick, wise mind traced back the chain of causes and effects, down to the real culprit, inside. I had been down that road with him many, many times before, and the options were clear. To feed the anger some more with unwise thoughts, or to cool it with what would do me good. I chose the latter, with great difficulties, I must admit . . . 

When dealing with emotions, U Tejaniya suggests that we ask ourselves the following questions:

"When I am having this emotion, does it make my body and mind feel good or bad? "
In this case, bad. Nothing pleasant about having this anger.

"What is the emotion about, what is it directed towards?"
Anger had to do with expectations I had about how my friend should behave towards me. 

"Why am I having this emotion?"
'Shoulds' have a bad rap in cognitive therapy, and for a good reason. Expectations are a sure recipe for unhappiness, and its cohort of miserable emotions. Here, anger.

"Is having this emotion necessary or unnecessary?"
Unnecessary. I often think of, what if this was the moment of my last breath, would I want to spend it that way. 

"Who is angry?"
This idea of me as a person with a whole lot of baggage. Mind burdened with expectations (see above), cravings, clinging, insecurities, foolishness . . . 

"What is anger?"
A creation of the mind. Mind turning on itself, and taking the body along with a host of unpleasant sensations - shallow breath, hotness and aches in the head, tight throat, knots in stomach . . . 

If too much to remember at once, start with just the first one. It will take you far in the investigation of emotions. Nothing like finding out for ourselves what works, and what doesn't, to make the right choice.

Anger = unpleasantness = not worth clinging to.


  1. Good advice. I like your thought about what if this is my last breath? Brings to mind the saying, "It takes cancer survivors a long time before they start complaining about the weather again."

  2. Anger is not a simple arising but a complex one that directly involves the working of many unconscious processes, unfoldings and networks of the brain. To say that you traced back the cause and effect is simply a self-serving and simplistic story you tell yourself but which carries little resemblance with what is really happening (mindfulness will never give any proper and clear view/insight of the workings of the amygdala for instance) , and consequently simply add to your current expectations.

    Our power to expect and anticipate has arise from more basic ambiguities of the mind, and as result, both and simultaneously helps and foils our search for happiness. You still wish you could have the former without the latter, expectations without the inherent trade-offs they involve ... eat the cake but without the calories ... that is an expectation from which you suffer.

    wish you the best,

  3. Yes, David. Such a waste when we forget that truth!

  4. Anonymous, thank you for your point of view. And I respectfully beg to differ :) Of course, I speak only from my own very limited experience . . . I also rest on some of the many Dharma teachings on the topic, as I am sure you also do.

  5. Anger is an ego-based reaction to perceived threat. So it is all about perception, so I have to remind myself I created this, so I can Uncreate it..the faster the better or it multiplies.

  6. Yes, well said! Not letting the mind go crazy, and not being deceived by its 'clever' ways. One I have to watch out for is thought that the anger is justified.

    Which is not to say that there are not situations that call for action! In the case of trespassed boundaries or abusive circumstances, anger does have a role to play as mobilizer and alarm signal. Once it has played its role however, no need to hang on to it.

  7. I have to disagree that emotions are bad. Acting on emotions can be bad, but the more we recognize and identify emotions the more in touch we become with ourselves> Emotions = good feedback from our body. The mind must correctly interpret emotions and make wise decisions based on this essential input. Stuffing emotions over time perhaps leads to depression (my theory only)

  8. Tim, the idea here is not that emotions are bad, but that we are not to cling to them, particularly emotions such as anger or fear. And it is certainly not about denying or stuffing emotions.

  9. Hi,
    Thanks for sharing this question and answer .. Really I was also having this questions in my mind..