The Energy of Emotions

The election polls closed less than 24 hours ago, and as elections often do, they unleashed a tsunami of emotions: fear, anger, vindication, triumph. I wish I could have escaped, but I was swept away just like everyone else. The current still feels pretty strong, but I’ve also done myself a favor by taking some time to sit still and ask myself, “what is all this really?”

Many of our most vital emotions come from deep inside our bodies. Before there is ever a thought rattling through our minds, there is a deep-seated desire to be safe from threats, to be cared for, to feel like we belong, to be loved. We easily lose sight of our emotions’ deep origins when we get swept away by them because we instantly layer thought upon thought on top of our emotions. What was fundamentally energy in our bodies becomes, instead, a reaction: “I am right and they are wrong. I will make them suffer.”

This is the point where meditation can help. Meditation is not a tool for distracting us from our feelings, nor a tool for suppressing difficult emotions. Instead, we sit still and do nothing but pay attention. Can I distinguish my thoughts from the underlying emotional energy in my body? If I have done this before, I know that thoughts come and go, and so do emotions, so I can just notice them. Distinguishing between thoughts and feelings, “that’s a plan, that’s a tightness in my stomach,” can bring relief because it begins to weaken the feedback loop where feelings trigger thoughts, and thoughts trigger stronger feelings.

And, to the extent that find ourselves directing negative thoughts towards others, we might also find value in recalling these aspirations from The People’s Peace Treaty (Transforming Our Terror: A Spiritual Approach to Making Sense of Senseless Tragedy, © 2002 by Christopher Titmuss, abridged version in Tricycle, Spring 2003):

  • I vow to see people rather than the labels attached to people, and to be aware of our common humanity.
  • I vow to work to end anger, aggression, or fear within myself as an expression of duty to humanity.

More on working with difficult emotions: