Acceptance, Appreciation and Improvement.
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 psych. 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 society 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 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 suppression, which turns us in to 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 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. (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 we are 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 to 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 off being on guard constantly. 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 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 comes from the same place, depending upon whether you believe you are safe or not. The truth however, is we are all a living organism with an expiry date, and if we do not kill each other before that date, our need for safety is irrelevant. 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 inner most 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 tool box, 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.