This article explores…
- What emotions are,
- Where they come from, and
- How we can learn to use them to make our life better, not worse.
I’ve never had a clue about #3, so for that we’ll call upon the expertise of Karla McLaren and John Gray at the end of the article. Here’s a preview of their work:
Karla McLaren has compiled a comprehensive, downloadable list of emotions that include anger, sadness, fear, happiness, shame, guilt, jealousy, and envy, and she provides practical techniques to work with them, instead of struggling against them… to regard all of our emotions as partners in life, not adversaries.
Regina (the emotional expert in our family) loved the audio version of Karla’s work and shared it with several of her women friends, who also loved it. I read through the resources on Karla’s website and in various articles about her work, and I agree that it’s tremendously useful information… especially for women.
Some men might prefer another approach to handling emotions. After all, many couples have had lively conversations like this:
Wife: “You never listen to me!”
- (Meaning: I have all of these feelings inside that I need to express, and it’s obvious that you don’t like to hear them. You have no compassion. No empathy!)
Husband: “I’m listening to you now!”
- (Meaning: Jeez, I’m sitting here listening to you vent for five minutes, ten minutes…. Whenever I offer an idea to try to resolve things, it just sets you off again. I don’t know what to do, or when’s it’s all going to end.)
John Gray is author of the 1990s self-help blockbuster Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, which describes inherent differences between the two genders, especially the way they handle their emotions. Essentially, men generally like to solve problems; women prefer to share feelings. (Read more… )
From the summary of Chapter 2:
A typical man…
A typical woman…
Loves to have his abilities recognized and appreciated, and hates them to be scorned or ignored.
Loves to have her feelings recognized and appreciated, and hates to have them scorned or ignored.
Doesn’t rate feelings highly because they can result in hotly impassioned, wildly unstable behavior.
Doesn’t rate abilities highly because they can result in cold, dispassionate, aggressive, competitive behavior.
Likes to work on his own and exercise his abilities by solving problems quickly and singlehandedly.
Likes to cooperate and exercise her feelings through interactive communication with others.
Values solutions, and views unsolicited assistance as undermining his effort to solve problems alone.
Values assistance, and views unsolicited solutions as undermining her effort to proceed interactively.
Desires that his solutions will be appreciated.
Desires that her assistance will be appreciated.
Whew! Emotions seem to pull together all of the complexity and challenge of living on Earth.
So maybe if we can figure out what emotions really are and where they come from, then we’ll be able to chart a course to greater peace during a lifetime.
Here’s how I see it:
The Root of Emotions
The omniverse is rich with life-energy from the source, which creates and nourishes everything with vitality, purpose, cohesion, and truth… and that life-energy feels good as it flows through us from finer realms closer to the source. We think of those good feelings as pleasant and sweet and noble, and we give them names such as…
- Pleasure, and
That free-flow of life-energy is how it’s supposed to work everywhere in the omniverse (I suspect)… but here in our little world there’s a bottleneck. The brutal, predatory nature of the planet blocks some of the life-energy, casting a sort of invisible, spiritual shadow around the Earth that contains pockets of weariness, confusion, chaos, and deception.
The dark, spiritual residue from the shadow makes us feels bad as it affects our lives, and we’ve come to call our bitter, unpleasant, savage emotions such things as:
- Anger, and
I regard pleasant emotions as a “birthright” for everyone and everything existing in the omniverse. Everything is nourished by life-energy and inspired by grace.
I regard unpleasant emotions as symptoms of living on Earth. To be born on Earth is to be subjected to its bitter shadow.
To live on Earth is to be influenced everyday by both life-energy (with its pleasure) and the shadow (with its pain).
So this article explores ways 1) to welcome life-energy and its pleasures, and 2) to deal patiently and effectively with the shadow and its pain.
Welcoming Life-Energy by Acknowledging the Source
The first and biggest and easiest step to welcoming life-energy and its pleasant emotions into our life is simply to acknowledge the source… what religions call God, Allah, Brahman, Jahweh, nirvana, and the tao. The underlying purpose of all life everywhere is to feel a oneness with the source.
Regardless of whether we think of the source as an entity or a principle or a state of consciousness, it’s the living force at the center of everything that creates and nourishes the entire omniverse. It contains infinite knowledge and power, and its primary purpose is to ensure the very best for everything everywhere… including you and me.
Once we acknowledge the presence of the source, turn our life over to that highest of powers, and trust that its purpose-for-the-very-best will always be the driving force in our life, then we can relax amid the many dramas that are stirred up by Earth’s shadow.
From that intimate moment of acknowledgement, pleasant emotions begin to rule more and more of our life.
Then there are various practices and habits we can use to boost our intimate sense of oneness:
- Eat wholesome foods,
- Beware of alcohol and drugs,
- Grasp the omniverse,
- Process emotions,
- Serve and support the less fortunate,
- Focus on the noble,
- Exercise, and
- Collaborate with other noble-minded people.
Meanwhile, there are good practices that can help us deal especially well with our emotions.
Treating Shadow Emotions with Dignity and Forethought
Karla McLaren describes effective techniques to work with emotions, for example, using empathy to embrace anxiety in order to turn its disruptive qualities into forces we can use to improve our life.
As Karla says:
Your emotions are a vital part of everything you think, every decision you make, and everything you do. Emotions hold a tremendous amount of energy, and we’ve all seen what happens when we repress or carelessly express them. However, there is a powerful alternative.
(You can) learn to meet your emotions and engage with them to safely move toward resolution and equilibrium. Through experiential exercises covering a full spectrum of feelings from anger, fear, and shame… to jealousy, grief, joy, and more, you (can) discover how to work with your own and others’ emotions with fluency and expertise.
When we relate to our emotions with respect and authenticity, we can directly access our innermost wisdom, unfold the deepest parts of ourselves, and heal our most painful wounds.
Practical insights and guided exercises for partnering with your emotions for wisdom and healing (can reveal how to):
- overcome addictions, distractions, and unresolved trauma—the three primary impediments to emotional ease,
- use the energy of anger to protect and restore personal boundaries,
- master the five skills of the empath (someone skilled in reading emotions),
- balance your “quaternity,” a metaphor for the interplay of mind, body, spirit, and emotions,
- honor sadness as a source of release and rejuvenation,
- take full advantage of joy, the natural response to beauty and communion.
(For example,) most of us have been taught to feel ashamed about or afraid of our anxiety, or to treat it as a sign of weakness or trouble. Some people even talk about anxiety as an epidemic, as if it’s a serious disease that’s also contagious. This is a shame, because anxiety has an important job to do: it helps you look ahead, organize yourself, and gather the energy you need to get things done.
Your anxiety helps you identify problems and opportunities, and it brings you the energy and focus you need to face them. Anxiety also helps you complete your tasks and projects, and it gives you the push you need to meet your deadlines. Yes, you need skills to work well with your anxiety, but your anxiety is a valuable and brilliant emotion that’s essential to pretty much everything you do.
John Gray explains the differences in the way men and women emote.
From the introduction to his book, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus:
A week after our daughter Lauren was born, my wife Bonnie and I were completely exhausted. Each night Lauren kept waking us. Bonnie had been torn in the delivery and was taking painkillers. She could barely walk. After five days of staying home to help, I went back to work. She seemed to be getting better.
While I was away she ran out of pain pills. Instead of calling me at the office, she asked one of my brothers, who was visiting, to purchase more. My brother, however, did not return with the pills. Consequently, she spent the whole day in pain, taking care of a newborn.
I had no idea that her day had been so awful. When I returned home she was very upset. I misinterpreted the cause of her distress and thought she was blaming me.
She said, “I’ve been in pain all day…. I ran out of pills. I’ve been stranded in bed and nobody cares!”
I said defensively, “Why didn’t you call me?”
She said, “I asked your brother, but he forgot! I’ve been waiting for him to return all day. What am I supposed to do? I can barely walk. I feel so deserted!”
At this point I exploded. My fuse was also very short that day. I was angry that she hadn’t called me. I was furious that she was blaming me when I didn’t even know she was in pain. After exchanging a few harsh words, I headed for the door. I was tired, irritable, and had heard enough. We had both reached our limits.
Then something started to happen that would change my life.
Bonnie said, “Stop, please don’t leave. This is when I need you the most. I’m in pain. I haven’t slept in days. Please listen to me.”
I stopped for a moment to listen.
She said, “John Gray, you’re a fair-weather friend! As long as I’m sweet, loving Bonnie you are here for me, but as soon as I’m not, you walk right out that door.”
Then she paused, and her eyes filled up with tears. As her tone shifted she said, “Right now I’m in pain. I have nothing to give, this is when I need you the most. Please, come over here and hold me. You don’t have to say anything. I just need to feel your arms around me. Please don’t go.”
I walked over and silently held her. She wept in my arms. After a few minutes, she thanked me for not leaving. She told me that she just needed to feel me holding her.
At that moment I started to realize the real meaning of unconditional love. I had always thought of myself as a loving person. But she was right. I had been a fair-weather friend. As long as she was happy and nice, I loved back. But if she was unhappy or upset, I would feel blamed and then argue or distance myself.
That day, for the first time, I didn’t leave her. I stayed, and it felt great. I succeeded in giving to her when she really needed me. This felt like real love. Caring for another person. Trusting in our love. Being there at her hour of need. I marvelled at how easy it was for me to support her when I was shown the way.
How had I missed this? She just needed me to go over and hold her. Another woman would have instinctively known what Bonnie needed. But as a man, I didn’t know that touching, holding, and listening were so important to her. By recognizing these differences I began to learn a new way of relating to my wife. I would have never believed we could resolve conflict so easily.
In my previous relationships, I had become indifferent and unloving at difficult times, simply because I didn’t know what else to do. As a result, my first marriage had been very painful and difficult.
This incident with Bonnie revealed to me how I could change this pattern.
It inspired my seven years of research to help develop and refine the insights about men and women in this book. By learning in very practical and specific terms about how men and women are different, I suddenly began to realize that my marriage did not need to be such a struggle. With this new awareness of our differences Bonnie and I were able to improve dramatically our communication and enjoy each other more….
(Read more… )
Incidentally, that baby daughter (the one who cried a lot and helped inspire her dad to write that book) grew up immersed in the Mars-Venus idea… and today Lauren helps spread the word.
So a couple of conclusions can be drawn:
- To live on Earth is to be subject to source emotions that are pleasant, and to shadow emotions that are unpleasant. If we acknowledge the source and make efforts toward oneness, then pleasant emotions will become more prominent in our life.
- (And as Regina has reminded me,) a man and woman can be happier together when they become more aware of their different emotional needs. Awareness of the differences, coupled with acceptance of the differences, and action to address each other’s needs, together can help to ensure a stable relationship. Communication and a willingness to learn and to love can make that happen.