Understanding Emotions


There are two kinds of emotions. Reactionary and Patterned.

Reactionary , emotions are the ones that are generated in response to our environmental challenges. These are spontaneous, naturally forming responses. Every time we encounter something that is not routine, our bodies react to it pleasantly or unpleasantly. These emotions are very essence of humanity. They are true, honest and they cannot be forged. There is no pretence in them. Someone has praised you without expectation a smile comes to your face. Someone has criticized you, your back straightens and your face gets tensed. You see a new born baby and feel love and protection razing in your heart. You go on a rollercoaster and feel excitement etc. All these are a range of reactionary emotions that we come across.

Then there are patterned emotions that our minds generate out of a habit. Most emotions, reactionary or patterned have a corresponding chemical (hormones) release in our body, and these chemicals or hormones can be addictive. These chemicals can give us an unconscious habit that is very similar to substance abuse. These chemical releases lead us to a dependency on them, and forms a pattern that becomes very difficult to break no matter how much suffering we go through due to them.

Imagine an alcoholic going through a massive hangover after a night of heavy drinking. He resolves not to touch alcohol again and does everything to get rid of the adverse effects of the hangover, but as the evening approaches and his hangover has subsided. He drinks again, as the urge is too strong and his brain is not the same as it was in the morning. Now he is responding to the addiction and to the habit. Same thing happens with patterned emotions, specially with the negative ones. We feel remorseful after every angry outburst and promise ourselves not to be angry again, and not to hurt people around us, but when the patterned time comes and our brain is demanding the chemical release. We generate the same emotion again with the help of any excuse. Another very obvious example is defined by the term ‘Adrenaline junkie’. Every time we do something exciting and adventurous our body produces Adrenaline which is an addictive substance and its dependency can force us to repeat the behaviour that produces Adrenaline despite the risks that it comes with. Dopamine is another such hormone. Some people get addicted to a ‘happy high’ that is achieved by the production of dopamine in our brain. Patterned emotions can cause a lots of suffering that can be avoided with little mind training and by achieving some mind control.

Patterned emotions should be enjoyed responsibly and should be kept under check. You can drink alcohol until you passout or you can have a drink or two to enjoy the evening. Patterned emotions are to be approached in the same way. They should be kept under control with conscious effort.

First step to achieve this is to identify the pattern. These emotions repeat themselves after a fixed time. Patterned emotions run in a cycle. Their frequency can be daily, weekly or monthly. Once you have identified the pattern it’s easy to work on the intensity of the emotion. If you are grumpy at a specific time of the day, be conscious of the real reason behind it and make your ‘own self’ responsible for being grumpy, rather than putting that responsibility on people around you.

It’s not the people around you or the bad weather that is making you angry or sad, it’s your brain’s demand for a specific chemical that is making you angry or sad. Because your brain got hooked on these hormones it is now finding excuses to generate an emotion that can give it, its chemical ‘fix’. Reverting the responsibility will help you with the observation of your own emotional behavior which will lead to gaining control over the level of its intensity. If you can ascertain that your own ‘habit’ is responsible for you being angry or sad rather than your environment, it immediately becomes possible to do something about them as now the only person you have to fix is yourself, which is much easier than fixing your environment and other people around you.

With some conscious watching of the emotions (BSW meditation – breathing, scanning and watching) it becomes easy to control patterned emotions. Once you can learn to control these emotions, you can also choose which ones to stop completely and which ones to enjoy in small quantities. There are some positive patterned emotions like excitement, happiness, love etc. that you can enjoy, but the key is quantity. If you touch one extreme it leaves you drained and is followed by an opposite extreme. If you have an emotional ‘high’ beyond control it soon will be replaced by emotional low beyond control as soon as the chemical that is causing the ‘high’ runs out. So it’s important to be in control of your emotional high to avoid a hangover later.

You can obviously also, choose to go teetotaller and not to indulge in any kind of patterned emotion at all and keep your addictive tendencies under strict control, but even if you indulge a little bit and stay in control it’s a good way to a balanced living. Any meditation that trains your mind to live consciously can help break the ‘emotional addictions’ and will eliminate the sufferings that are caused by such addictions and habits.

Stress Management through Emotional Control

The first thing to understand is, that we cannot fight a negative emotion. What we can do, however, is to accept it as an integral part of ourselves, appreciate it by understanding why it is here? And where does it come from? And then improve upon our selection of emotions in dealing with the challenges of life. We can consciously replace a negative emotion with a positive one. We cannot get rid of an emotion (positive or negative) altogether from our psyche. If we try to fight our natural reactions, the best we can do is to suppress them for some time, and suppression only makes them stronger and more destructive.
A not so good side effect of our social conditioning is, that we learn to dislike some parts of ourselves. A lot of emotions that we generate are socially unacceptable, and their expression is discouraged by the society. Which is not entirely unreasonable, as the society must follow certain rules to function as a successful system. What causes conflict, however, is our desire to be accepted by the people around us in our entirety, without any reservation. We are emotionally so deeply involved in our social interactions, that we tend to forget that the society, like traffic rules, is an arrangement for everyone’s mutual benefit and should be dealt with as such. We try to test every emotion that we produce on a social scale and learn to suppress the ones that are not beneficial in furthering our position in the society. What we could do instead is learn to appreciate every emotion that we generate and although use only the positive ones while interacting with other people, but also appreciate the ones that are not so useful for the social purpose. They are also an important part of us, whether socially beneficial or not. Condemning them creates an internal conflict and causes a lot of emotional stress, which turns us into a coiled spring, ready to explode in a weak moment. Internal conflict cripples us and creates complexes of inadequacy. Stress, anger, aggression, fear are all emotions that are not beneficial to a social cause, and although these are commonplace, they are discouraged in social interactions. They come from the same place as the positive and acceptable emotions do but are not conducive to social harmony and can disrupt peace among the members of society.
These not so useful emotions are born out of the survival instincts that we inherit from our ancestors and their collective experiences, through our genes. The survival instinct helped them to stay alive when they were surrounded by an unfavourable environment. They used a lot of aggression and violence to ward off predators that were higher than them in the food chain. However, our situation has changed since then, we are now at the pole position in the food chain and we do not need the service of these instincts anymore. But evolution is a continuous process, we can not get rid of old instincts at will. What we can do however is, understand and appreciate the reason of their existence and with this understanding make a conscious choice to stop using them, because they are not suitable for us and our environment anymore. We can slowly update our mind’s choice of emotions to deal with our environment. Just suppressing them or condemning them will not help, by doing so they become stronger and seek an exit. (See my blog Understanding ‘Self’)
This ‘updating’ can be done by retraining our mind. Meditation can help us with this. We need to bring our attention to ourselves consciously and learn about how we interact with our environment. We need to understand what our default behaviour is when we face a challenge? What knowledge are we born with? We need to learn about our social conditioning, and we need to learn about our mind’s limitation when faced with an information overload. We need to know how all these things influence our behaviour, and whether it’s the most efficient, positive and beneficial behaviour? We need to identify the negative emotions that we generate when things don’t go as planned, and we need to associate all these emotions to their root cause. By doing so we become conscious of the functioning of our inner self and become self-aware. Self-awareness is what makes emotional control possible. You can not decide whether something is harmful or beneficial for you, until you can see things with unbiased objectivity.
The first step towards achieving this is to try to observe your emotions and their roots. If you are feeling stressed one day, try to find out the real reason behind it. Do you feel threatened that someone is undermining your position in your group or are you feeling the need to do something that you know will strengthen your position in your group. If you are feeling sad and depressed one day, is it that someone has criticised you in some way or rejected your idea about something and by doing so, they have pushed you to the periphery of your group and made you vulnerable. If you feel angry, are you using anger as a mean to dominate the person you are competing with to move up in the hierarchy or do you feel threatened because you are getting tired and weaker because you are constantly on guard. If you feel the need to manipulate somebody or gossip about someone, are you trying to pull them down from their strong position and replace them with yourself as soon as you can. If you are feeling happy one day, is it because you believe that you are strong and dominating and placed in the centre of your group, people around you admire you and appreciate you. Do you feel that you are safe from harm because you are surrounded by a strong group that is willing to sacrifice itself for you?
Once you start seeing the real roots of your emotions, the first thing you realise is that you are investing yourself into a mechanism that might be unnecessary for your survival in the present day. You start to see that the pain and pleasure come from the same place, depending on whether you believe you are safe or not. The truth, however, is we are all a living organism with an inherent expiry date, and if we do not kill each other before that date, our need for safety is irrelevant, as we do not have any predators anymore. This group system that helped us survive once, is pushing us to extinction now. With no real danger or predators around we have turned into predators ourselves to fight each other off, to serve the instinct our ancestors have developed.
We need to update our instincts, to keep us from harming each other. We need to update our goals. Happiness is a mark of individuality and emotional self-sufficiency. We do not need to indulge in a group mechanism to attain happiness. Happiness is a state of mind that comes from inside us, and when we break free from our dependency on the group system, it happens quite easily. When we become emotionally self-sufficient and do not need others to feel cared for and safe, when we understand, appreciate and improve upon our inheritance, that is when we are truly free.
Sitting meditation (Understanding ‘Meditation’ )can be used as a starting point to develop self-awareness, to see our innermost self and to see why we want, what we want and if it is not for our inherited instincts, would we still want the same things? Once we have achieved self-awareness during sitting meditation we can extend it to the rest of the day, aiming at living consciously all the time eventually. Once we have achieved living consciously we can slowly start controlling our emotions and thoughts at will. Then our happiness is in our hands irrespective of our environment and external conditions. We can choose the emotions that are good for us and keep the ones that are not so good on a mental shelf, as artefacts from our past. All emotions become a tool in our toolbox, ready to serve us. We can achieve mastery over ourselves and over our mind if we turn our attention towards ourselves. Our inherited fears and phobias do not torment us anymore. We can decide when to shut up our minds and go to sleep. We can decide not to get stressed in a difficult situation. We can decide not to be affected by negativity and competition around us.
This takes lots of hard work and commitment but with patience, it is achievable and is worth investing your time and energy into.

Understanding ‘Meditation’

Meditation is to ‘focus upon something over a period’. We can literally meditate upon anything: working in a office, driving a car, eating food, walking, sitting. Wherever and whenever we are using focused thinking over a period, we are meditating. We can meditate consciously or unconsciously. It’s a function of our mind that helps us to get by through everyday life situations and demands. We can meditate on positive and negative aspects of life. Stress is also a kind of meditation that helps us to resolve ongoing issues with focused thinking. The only problem with stress though is that it has a very negative effect on our body and mind and it is very addictive in nature. Other than that, it is also not a very efficient way to deal with life’s challenges. It impairs our judgment and keeps us from looking at the big picture. It’s a very negative and destructive habit that has long-lasting adverse effects on us.
The meditation that we are discussing today is ‘focused self-observation’. To focus on observing our body, thoughts, and emotions followed by focusing on the observation itself. First, we need to bring our focus from outside world to inside our body, and then with practice and some patience, we can learn to maintain that focus over a period. Just to clarify, we are not only focusing on our body, thoughts, and emotions but also focusing on observing our body, thoughts, and emotions without being involved with them: Like a spectator. By doing this we are hoping to see ourselves in an unbiased and rational light. To clearly see what is right and beneficial for us and what is not, we must become our own unbiased and non-judgemental audience. Once you can see what is harming you (and stress is definitely harming you), it becomes easy to take the right decisions and not to use stress as our mind’s automatic ‘go to’ mechanism to deal with a difficult situation. It becomes easy, to break the vicious cycle of wrong choices. Once we can achieve unbiased self-observation, we can use it to help generate positive thoughts and emotions. We can learn to be watchful of stress, negativity, and depression. We can stop the chain of negative emotions and replace them with positive ones at will. For once we can truly be in control of ourselves. Being in control of oneself really is the only kind of viable and real control. Anything that depends on someone else or on an external situation can never be truly in your control. Any amount of investment in ‘other’ can never guarantee to yield a good return. Control of ourselves, and of our reactions to our environment is the only learned behaviour that can guarantee the outcome of a happy, stress-free life. Becoming emotionally self-sufficient is what we achieve through ‘Meditation’. If we are incharge of our own happiness irrespective of our environment no one can ever take it away. People can only take away what they give to us. They can’t take away what we have created ourself.
Inner happiness can be cultivated by choosing the right emotional state of mind, and the right emotional state of mind can be achieved by choosing the right emotions with the help of self-observation and self-awareness.
To develop self-awareness, one needs consistent effort and hard work.

First, we need to identify the bad mental habits. Then with the help of meditation, we can replace them with the good ones. For example, just going to a gym and working out is not enough to develop good health and strong muscles. We also need to change our food habits and ensure quality recovery time for the muscles to get bigger and stronger. It’s an all-inclusive lifestyle. There is no magical shortcut to improve our mental wellbeing either. It’s a process that changes and affects all areas of our life. Our mind is the centre of everything and the smallest change here, will have a much wider impact than we can anticipate.

We are hoping to make really big changes at the very fundamental level of our being, including a conscious update of our epigenetic inheritance. It’s a big overhaul. It will need a huge amount of consistent effort and some serious commitment.
Physical meditation will only take about 50 minutes a day: 25 minutes in the morning and 25 minutes in the evening. Contemplation, however, fills rest of the day. Associating all our thoughts and emotions to their epigenetic roots, to our learned behaviour, and to our social conditioning. Realising the limitations of our mind through self-observation and self-awareness and putting it in practice is an ongoing process. It needs to be done consciously and repeatedly to develop an ‘understanding’ of why we do what we do. Consistent contemplation will help us make effects of physical meditation permanent. We have acquired the bad habit of ‘Stress’ through years of practice, and it has now become a part of our automatically generated response system. It will take, at least a few months to give up this bad habit through conscious decision making and to re-train our mind to acquire a good habit of generating positive emotions in response to the environmental challenges. Living consciously and being self-aware is a full-time job.
If this bothers you, and you feel unprepared to invest so much time and effort towards this, stress probably is not such a big issue for you after all. You can carry on as you were, but with the knowledge that although stress is a bad habit, it’s a choice you have made, and you can live with it. It’s a bit like smoking, we all know it’s not good for us, but people who smoke make a choice to keep doing it and expect to bear the ill effects it may have on their health at some point of time. Whichever course we take we should bear one thing in mind that: we are responsible for our own habits, good or bad and to make a change we must work on ourselves. No amount of outside help can change what is coming from inside.
If you still think that stress is an issue for you, and it is affecting your potential to achieve happiness and keeping you from living a healthy and content life, then read on.

Meditation that I recommend has two main parts:
1. Sitting Meditation
2. Contemplation
Sitting meditation: What comes to mind when we think about this kind of meditation is the Buddha, sitting in the lotus pose with his eyes half shut, and with an expression of eternal peace on his face, expressing something from beyond.
Most religions have a few images that depict this kind of ideal. What we are learning, however, has nothing to do with any religion or any religious practice or imagery. It is just to go on an inward journey, to find ourselves, and be able to move in a positive direction to deal with stress.
The first thing to understand about sitting meditation is, that we need to induce, a ‘Calm and Alert’ state of mind. This, although sounds very easy but is not something that comes to us naturally. Normally we are either ‘calm and relaxed’ or ‘anxious and alert’. ‘Calm and alert’ is not a combination that our social conditioning teaches us, or we learn as we grow up. Our mind is not familiar with ‘Calm and Alert’. We need to teach this to ourselves, through regular practice, and this is where ‘Yoga’ comes to our rescue. One of the eight branches of Ashtanga Yoga is ‘Pranayama’. which in simple English means ‘Breath Control’. Yogis have realised this very early on, that our ‘state of mind’ at any given time influences our breathing. When we are calm we breathe in a certain way, when we are angry we breathe in a different way. Most emotions have a corresponding breathing pattern. What’s more interesting is that vice-versa is also true. If we can control our breathing, and breathe in a certain way, we can generate the corresponding emotion. Yoga has experimented with different breathing exercises and used these exercises to create certain states of mind that are helpful in achieving certain goals.
One of these pranayamas is called ‘Anulom-Vilom’ or alternate nostril breathing. Which is extremely effective in generating a ‘Calm-Alert’ state of mind. This is the first step towards the meditation that I recommend and teach. This is a preparatory step. With the help of Anulom-Vilom, we can induce a calm and alert state of mind which is very helpful in self-observation and self-awareness training.

Anulom-Vilom: There are many videos on ‘How to do Anulom-Vilom’ or ‘Alternative nostril breathing’ on YouTube, and there are many variations of this breathing exercise. In simple words, it’s breathing in, through one nostril while blocking the other nostril with a finger or a thumb, holding your breath for a few seconds and breathing out through the nostril that was blocked so far by realising the finger/thumb. Next is, breathing in through the nostril we just breathed out from while blocking the other nostril, holding your breath for few seconds and breathing out from the blocked nostril by releasing finger/thumb. This is one cycle. There are recommended ratios of time periods for breathing in, holding the breath and breathing out. The easiest and most effective one for this purpose is 2:4:3. That is breathe in, to the count of 4 seconds, hold your breath for 8 seconds and breathe out to the count of 6 seconds. Doing this for 10 minutes while trying to keep your focus on breathing calms the mind without making it sleepy or lazy. One requirement for Anulom-Vilom, however, is a good sitting posture with a straight back. Purists swear by a full-lotus pose, most Yogis are happy with a half lotus pose. But for those of us who find it difficult to sit on the floor, we can do it sitting on a chair as well. If the back is straight, and we can hold this posture for 25 minutes, it works quite well. The routine should include 10 minutes of breathing exercise, followed by 10 minutes of ‘Body-Scans’ exercise and 5 minutes of self-observation.

Body Scans: ‘Vipassana’ or ‘Insight Meditation’ (Burmese Buddhism) is a process in which you direct your focus through your body in a certain sequence. This is mostly a guided meditation but can also be done with self-guidance. It includes scanning your body from inside by moving your focus from the head to the stomach and then back to head. This is done in a sequence i.e. focusing inside your head followed by moving your focus to the jaws then shoulders, then chest and ending at your tummy. Relaxing each part as we move further and further down towards tummy. Then we repeat this process in reverse. (A detailed explanation is done later).With practice, this scanning can be turned into an automatic movement that can be observed consciously. For most people, this happens within a few weeks but can take longer. Once you can observe your focus moving up and down your body without effort, you have split your consciousness into two, and one part is observing the other. This observation process can then be extended to observing your thoughts and emotions. By observing our thoughts and emotions we are hoping to reach a thought-emotion neutral state to re-set our mind’s thought-emotion function. Once we have achieved that, the next thing to learn is to train our mind to generate positive emotions and by repetition learn a new ‘good’ habit so that the next time we face a difficult situation, we try to resolve it without getting stressed, and even if we do get stressed we can observe ourselves without getting involved with the emotion.

The process of body scan follows straight after Anulom-Vilom and starts with moving your focus to the inside of your head. Then you suggest yourself to relax your head and ease out any stress or tension that you feel in this area. For example, to ease a creased forehead or tensed eyebrows, etc. Then you move your attention to your jaws and suggest yourself to relax your jaws. Follow the same procedure for shoulders, chest, and stomach and then do this in the reverse order- from the stomach to the head.
After a few weeks of doing this, you can skip the ‘suggestion of relaxation’ part, as relaxing becomes automatic and happens on its own. In addition to this, the movement of focus needs to be one continuous movement without any breaks. Once this is achieved, you can then take a jump from being a part of the process to being an observer of the process as the ‘Movement of the Focus’ doesn’t require any effort and starts to happen on its own. So, you can sit back and watch it like a spectator. You then extend the ‘watching’ or ‘observation’ to your thoughts and emotions. Once you get used to watching your body, thoughts, and emotions as one unit in their entirety, you can extend this practice from sitting meditation to the rest of the day as well.
It’s a long process and becomes a little easier when done under the guidance of a teacher but can be successfully achieved on your own too. For example, we get faster and better results if we follow a fitness instructor in a gym, but it’s not mandatory.
Just to recap, the sitting meditation involves performing Anulom-Vilom (alternate nostril breathing) for 10 minutes, followed by Body Scans for 10 minutes and observing your thoughts and emotions without being involved in them for 5 minutes. It’s a 25 minutes routine that is done twice a day. Once in the morning and once in the evening (at least 2 hours before bedtime).
In my next post ‘Understanding Self-awareness’ I will write about the second part of meditation that is contemplation.

Understanding ‘Self awareness’

The mind has a very important function, called observation, and this function is mostly used for external objects and experiences. However, this function can be turned towards ‘Self’ and with right training and practice, this can help us to develop self-awareness. The concept of self-awareness we are talking about is not to be confused with being aware of one’s behaviour towards others or how we see ourselves in relation to our environment. This is not a psychological concept but a physical reality. This is being aware of your own body, its minutest sensations, your thoughts and emotions without being involved with them. This is being able to watch oneself objectively. Being one’s own spectator. This self-awareness is not developed through mind’s ‘thinking’ function, it’s being aware of the thinking itself. It’s not developed through feelings either, it’s watching our feelings and emotions objectively without being involved. It’s watching our self as if we are watching someone else, only a bit deeper and from inside.
Developing self-awareness/ self-observation is what all meditations teach. Whether you call it mindfulness or emptying the mind, thoughtlessness or watching your thoughts, the end-point is same. Which is developing control over your thoughts and emotions by being an uninvolved watcher of your mind. It not only gives your mind a break and a huge relief from incessant thinking but it also allows you to control and alter your reactions to your environment without any mental or emotional strain. Although when a meditation is successful, being able to slow down or completely stop the thinking process at will is the first thing that happens, and it’s a very joyful experience but this is not the end goal (you can achieve this state temporarily with the help of alcohol and drugs, that are followed by very harmful side effects), goal here, is to learn to be in control of your thoughts and emotions and alter them at will to get a positive and life-supporting outcome. This can be achieved by distancing your mind’s awareness function from the rest of it and watching yourself through the ‘distanced’ part objectively, without being involved.
It’s impossible to see reason or behave rationally when you, yourself are the person who is generating irrational behaviour. Trying to deal with stress by attempting to control external factors through negative behaviour i.e. anger, anxiety, depression, etc. is like sleepwalking and trying to pass through a wall, banging your head against it and hurting yourself in the process. Although it’s possible to find the door even with your eyes closed occasionally, by pure chance and coincidence, but to do it every single time you have to wake up and open your eyes. You must learn to be aware of yourself, then only you can develop an unbiased insight into what is right for you and what is not. Then only, you can decide how to deal with your problems without getting stressed. You can learn to replace the negative emotions generated (because of our social conditioning, epigenetic inheritance and mind’s limitations) to deal with stress, with the positive ones. It is possible to re-train oneself to deal with life situations without being stressed and without any external help. We can learn to behave in a way that is not destructive for us when we are faced with a difficult situation.
There are many ways to develop self-awareness/ self-observation through meditation. I will write about an example that has worked for me and a few others in my next post. (Understanding ‘Meditation’)

Understanding ‘Mind’

The mind is our tool for survival. Its sole purpose is to keep us alive. The mind is where information about good and bad is stored, this is where lifesaving information is collated, analysed and processed. This is where decisions about life and death are made. This is where all kind of memories are stored, and this is also where the emotions and stress are generated. Human evolution happened through a lot of struggles, threats, and dangers. Where we are today, we have reached through a long road paved with predatory threats and destructive natural forces that were completely out of our control. Humanity has seen so much hardship and death that our collective psyche is filled with fear and distrust towards anything that is unknown. A desire to have absolute control over our surroundings has always inspired our mind to work hard towards attaining it. Lack of control is directly associated with danger to life for us and members of our group. To attain control over our surroundings The Mind uses two main functions:
1. Being alert, to be on guard constantly.
2. To collect information about our surroundings to use it in our favour against potential danger.

Being alert: The Mind has always been at the service of survival. It has always been on guard against everything and anything that could present a danger to us, real or imaginary. It keeps working even when we sleep, half of our brain keeps awake and enable us to jump and flee at a moment notice in case we are under attack when we are in a new environment. Generally, the degree of mind’s alertness depends on our position in our group’s hierarchy. That is if we are on the periphery or low down in the social hierarchy, and unsure of our status in our relationship with our group members. We feel more insecure and remain on a constant high alert, because at periphery we are more vulnerable to outside attacks. If we are at the centre of our group, and higher up in the social hierarchy, and well established in our relations with our group, we feel more secure and need to be a little less alert. The only danger we feel in such case is from the inter-group competition, which is minimal and is regulated by social rules i.e. A queue system (older you get, higher your position will be). It is mind’s inherent desire to be alert constantly regardless of what our position in our group is. Either to guard against inter-group competition or to guard against intra-group threats. This constant guarding tires us and every once in a while the mind takes a break from it’s guarding function. It is this time of the break when people around us get their chance to be in-charge and replace or overtake us to acquire a higher position. When we recover from our fatigue, we wait for them to get tired so we can regain our position. This process keeps repeating, and causes a lot of stress to our sub-conscious.

Information gathering: From very early on, the human mind has realised that knowledge of our surroundings is very important for a successful survival. Our ancestors, living in small tribes in big forests needed to know which direction the predators come from, where can they find food and water, which fruits are poisonous, which parts of the river are dangerous, where lies the danger of floods and fire etc.
The more we knew, the better our chances of survival were. Knowledge literally meant life. And the unknown was the cause of fear. Learning from this experience, mind was on a constant lookout for more and more information about our surrounding. If there was information available, the mind would get anxious and not rest until it had that information. We still carry and subconsciously use this function of the mind. However, the amount of information that is available now a day is beyond mind’s capability to store. This information overload causes anxiety. To keep us safe mind keeps working until we possess all the information that is available, but with the internet at our fingertips, the amount of information available is almost limitless. Our mind can never match up the memory requirement to store everything that is out there, neither does it have the analytical ability to process it all. Hence, a never-ending anxiety born out of insecurity of not knowing our environment fully is created. Our ‘epigenetic inheritance’ motivates us to collect more and more information of our surroundings, but our mind has limited storage and cannot cope with the amount of information that technology has provided us, and this causes a non-stop anxiety and stress.

These two mental functions, although they helped us survive and kept us safe in the past, but also were responsible to make us anxious and insecure.
We have to re-train our mind to limit the amount of information incoming, without feeling anxious about the information that is available, and also update our inheritance to reduce the unnecessary competition that wears us out. We have to rethink our survival strategy or may be rethink our need to have a survival strategy at all. May be it’s our primitive survival instinct that is pushing us to extinction now.

Understanding ‘Happiness’

So what does ‘understanding happiness’ has anything to do with stress management? Well! The way it works with the human mind is that you can not just take one emotion out and leave a blank space behind. That blank space has to be filled by another counteracting and hopefully a positive emotion. That is how Stress and Happiness are connected. They are two sides of the same coin, so it’s important to acquaint with both the sides before choosing one.
What we normally believe to be happiness, is in reality not happiness but ‘Fun’. Fun and happiness are two different kinds of emotions, although they are mostly confused to be same and are closely related they are not the same and it’s very important to understand the difference very clearly. For most people ‘Fun’ is happiness and their whole journey is to achieve and maintain a state of ‘fun’, which not only is very tiring but also virtually impossible to maintain.
Fun is an extreme, a bright and short-lived hyper state of mind. It is full of excitement, joy, and laughter. However, It is always short lived and is a ‘mental high’ that is always followed by a ‘mental low’.
Happiness, on the other hand, is a calm contentment. It’s a positive, life-supporting and self-enhancing state of mind, and It can be long-lasting. There isn’t much excitement in happiness but there is an inner assurance that radiates through one’s actions and speech.
Fun is always very addictive in nature, as it is born out of a chemical release in our brains (i.e. adrenaline, serotonin, dopamine etc.). It’s also mostly generated by external factors. For example, going on a roller-coaster can be ‘fun’, a party or night out with friends can be fun. Getting drunk and doing silly things for laughter can also be fun. Fun can be achieved by means of money and some organisation or just by creating a situation with a possibility of ‘fun’ as an outcome. The downside, however, is, since fun is generated out of a chemical release it also runs out soon as those chemicals in our brain run out, and a side effect of this is that it is followed by a mild depression and leaves us emotionally (and sometimes physically) exhausted.
Happiness, on the other hand, is non-addictive, there are no peaks or turfs and it cannot be generated by external factors. It’s always cultivated from an inner assurance i.e. contented survival instinct (more on this later). It is a very stable state of being. There are no extremes in happiness. It truly is the ‘middle path’ as Buddha once said.
Fun though is there to be enjoyed, should not be made a goal. It can happen spontaneously when conditions are right.
Happiness, however, is to be developed with the right training and understanding and should be made a goal. It should be the background of everything we do in life. It should be our stable point of reference. The deciding force behind all our actions. It is worth investing our time and effort to achieve this calm and contented state of being as it is ‘the emotion’ that we need to cultivate to replace ‘Stress’ with.
In my next blog, I will write about ‘Understanding Mind’. As the mind is the tool that we will use to help us achieve and maintain ‘happiness’. However, before we could do that, it was important to know, what happiness ‘is not’, and it certainly is not ‘fun’.

Understanding ‘Self’

In my last post I wrote about stress and the fact that although it is triggered by external factors, it is always generated inside us. Hence, if we need to do something about it (deal with it or control it), we need to go inside ourselves and make a few changes there. Once it reaches the mind’s thought process, it turns into a self-feeding, vicious thought cycle and manifests into dark and negative emotions. Depression, anxiety, fears and phobias, melancholy or simply being sad and bitter, are some of the emotions born out of stress. In its inflated state, it’s very difficult to deal with stress or calm yourself down to control it. It’s a bit like a viral infection, once your immunity is low and you are infected, the infection completes its cycle and takes its time to pass. Once stress has overtaken your thoughts and emotions there isn’t much you can do about it. It takes its own time to pass. This time is different for different people. For some it takes hours for others it takes days. What we can do, however, is train and prepare our mind in calmer times. When we are not stressed, we can improve our mental immunity to fight against stress when it comes. Our emotions are cyclic in nature, they follow a pattern. We start this cycle full of energy and good, life-supporting emotions followed by a lull of boredom; and then dipping down to negative and life-negating emotions, further followed by recovery time, and this cycle repeats itself again. This goes on and on, with us sleepwalking through life.
The only window of opportunity we have to break this cycle is during the first stage, when we are relatively calm and happy We can make use of this time to prepare for the upcoming turmoil. We can break this cycle and avoid reaching the emotional inflammation with the right training and practice. This can be done with a conscious effort and hard work at the deepest level of our being, at the very source where stress is generated. I call it a mental workout. It’s very similar to working out in a gym for physical well-being; it requires the same kind of effort and consistency, and you get the benefits as long as you keep doing the workout, once you stop going to the gym your fitness levels fall.
The first step towards achieving this mental fitness is to develop a deep understanding of ‘Self’ so that we can make an inward journey to reach the source.
Our inner self mainly consists of four parts:
Epigenetic inheritance
Acquired knowledge
Body’s own intelligence
Consciousness / Awareness
Epigenetic inheritance is the knowledge we get from the collective experiences of our ancestors, through our DNA. This is primarily what helped them with their survival in a hostile environment. It was their fears and phobias that kept them alive and their knowledge of various sources of nourishment. Humans realised at a very early stage in their evolution process that they have a better chance of survival if they lived in groups and even better chances if they are at the centre of their group. Rejection from their group meant certain death as they were quite low down in the food chain and susceptible to predatory attacks. Acceptance by the group led them to safety and survival. The bigger the group, the better the chances of survival were, but that also meant tougher competition to reach the centre of the group and maintain that position. There are certain rules every group followed to keep its members in harmony and make the competition for the pole position bearable. This was the origin of society.
We also considered the other groups a threat and dealt with them in the same way as we dealt with the predators. We still follow this one rule. In the absence of a real predator, we fight off other groups around us with same intensity and emotion. Some examples of modern-day groups are family and friends, football clubs, countries, religions etc. We become part of these groups and fight against real or imaginary enemies. The real threats our ancestors faced are either gone extinct or locked up in zoos now a day. However, the instincts we developed over thousands of years are still here and in the absence of real threats, we have developed imaginary ones to feed our instincts. It is these instincts that demand to cause violence in order to attain safety and further our chance of survival. For our early ancestor violence was a mean to either obtain food or to obtain safety. They needed to hunt and kill to nourish themselves or fight and kill to keep themselves safe. Now a day we do not need to hunt or kill something or someone to feed ourselves or to stay alive, but our deepest self still carries these instincts through epigenetic inheritance.
Acquired knowledge is what we learn from our social conditioning, and from our interaction, with the environment, we live in. This includes the environmental challenges we face as we grow up. Everything we learn from our parents, friends, and family; Our name, food habits, cultural influences, social biases, religious beliefs etc. Most things that give us an identity come from acquired knowledge, and since we do not choose where we are born (That happens by pure chance) the identity we assume with the help of the acquired knowledge from that particular gene pool, is also not of our choosing. This identity is not who we truly are. This identity that we get so attached to is just some personality traits, some cultural habits and some social/intellectual biases that we have developed with the help of our parents and the society around us. This identity is given to us by the environment we are born in. However, it’s our’ responsibility to develop further, upon what we are given by default. It’s our responsibility to explore and find out our true nature, and our true identity.
We are a species that had been very successful in climbing up the food chain so far, with years of struggle and hard work, we have reached the top position in the natural order. The next stage in our evolution should see us grow out of our basic instincts. We need to learn, not to see each other in the same light as we saw predators from other species. Otherwise, there is a strong chance that eventually we will go extinct at the hands of each other.
Body’s own intelligence is body’s physical functions and processes: voluntary and involuntary. Blood flow in and out of our heart, muscle movements, sensory messages traveling down the nerves, autoimmune response etc. There is a huge amount of works going on inside us. We are nature’s finest, like all other creatures big and small. We should learn to love and respect the body we have and be grateful that life has expressed itself through this beautiful form. Stress is a mental disease that occupies so much of our time and attention that we forget to stay in touch with the rest of our body. We abuse our body with all kind of unhealthy substances and habits on daily basis, to deal with our mental stresses. It’s not a good bargain, that we hurt our body to distract our mind from going insane. What we should be doing is; deal with our mind’s challenges with the help of a happy and healthy body.
Awareness or consciousness is our mind’s function that allows us to observe our surroundings and make everyday decisions based on the information we get from this observation. This function guides us through what is good for us and what is not. This is where our moral values come from, awareness is what makes us empathetic to our surroundings. This function also has a potential to be aware of itself and to be conscious of not only outside world but also what is happening inside us. This function can be used (with the right training and effort) to gain control over our thoughts and emotions and most of the work to deal with stress happens with the help of this function.
The most important thing to contemplate from this post is the idea of our epigenetic inheritance and how it influences our thinking process and generates stress in us to help us have a better chance of survival.