Many people who get involved or embrace this work have the misunderstanding that we shouldn't feel or express emotions, so I wanted to spend a little time and reframe this understanding.
At no point when we experience a sudden loss, shock, setback, trauma, and so forth have I ever said to suppress the corresponding emotions associated with those life events. What I have said is that the stronger the emotion we feel from some event in our outer world, the more altered we feel from our normal resting state of emotional chemical continuity in our inner world. In other words, the more powerful the emotion we experience in our internal environment, the more we pay attention to what is causing it in our external environment. As a result of this person, upset, event, encounter, or experience, it’s so powerful it captures all of our attention, and as it does so, our brain takes a snapshot of that image. That snapshot is called a long-term memory, and so the memory becomes branded as a holographic image in the neural architecture of the brain.
As an example, when someone experiences the sudden death of a family member, it’s normal that a person will feel pain and sadness. To move through or beyond the death, they are going to have to pass through the different stages of grieving. The grieving process and its associated feelings of loss, sadness, and grief is normal and natural. Never have I said to not experience those emotions.
Where problems do arise, however, is when a person gets stuck in a tumble dryer of the grieving process. What I mean by this is that instead of processing that grief, which requires them to pass through the eye of its needle by feeling the necessary emotions—rather than continuously circumventing or avoiding them—they just keep recycling those familiar memories and emotions throughout various experiences and interactions in their present life. If they continue living within the restricted emotional box of that past experience, then every time they experience an event that produces those same emotions to varying degrees, the trigger of those emotions places them right back in the grieving box of the past. From a biological standpoint, every time this person remembers the event, they are producing the same chemistry in their brain and body as if the event was occurring in the present moment.
Because the body is so objective—essentially it’s the unconscious mind—it therefore believes it's in the real-life event. In this context, the body believes the event is happening over and over again. As a result, the person starts circulating the stress hormones throughout their body, when in truth, they are perfectly safe in the present moment. The continuous recycling of the event, combined with the related emotions, causes the person’s mind and body to become anchored in the past—in the present moment. In this context, we could say the emotion keeps terrorizing them.
Through the combination of a thought and a feeling, a memory and an emotion, or a stimulus and a response, the body becomes subconsciously programmed and conditioned to be the mind. Then all you need is a thought, feeling, memory, emotion, image, or a real life event—essentially a stimulus—to trigger a response. Now you've started the conditioning process all over again. When a similar event happens in our life, it elicits the same automatic emotional response. As a result, we act out of a very predictable set of habits and automatic behaviors that are causing us to feel and biologically look like we are the same person from the past.
So it's not that you shouldn't feel emotions. Watch a child when they experience disappointment, fear, frustration, or angry. They emote completely…and then they're finished. All of this is to say—to react is normal. The question is, how long are you going to allow yourself to live in the emotions of that reaction?
If you begin to understand how you respond to certain external stimuli in your normal waking day—and if you can then learn how to demonstrate a certain level of emotional intelligence that allows you to catch yourself from feeling sadness, pain, anger, fear, disappointment, and so on—then you can reclaim your power simply by changing your state of being. If you can change your state of being in these instances, then you are on your way to creating a new future where you are no longer defined by the past. You are moving from the familiar past—the known—into a new future—the unknown.
Now, because you are free to start feeling the emotions of your future before it happens, you can begin creating a new future because the emotions of your past are no longer in alignment with your new destiny. As a consequence of this process of combining a clear intention of a new future with an elevated emotion, you can condition your brain and body into a new future, the same way people get stuck conditioning the brain and body into the familiar past.
In Part II, I’ll connect how we can use our meditation practice to move beyond these emotions that keep us stuck in the past. For now, as you overcome your past, I’ll see you in your future.