Do you sometimes wish you could take a feather duster to your brain?
Of all the work we do to simplify our lives as we grow older, perhaps the trickiest is emotional and mental simplicity. And that can give us the greatest reward. Our lives can take on a richness and depth that isn’t otherwise possible.
It’s a fine balance. Some of us are tempted to deny emotions* such as sadness and anger rather than experience them. Some of us dive down into our emotions and swim in them until we can experience nothing else.
The same with our thoughts. That nagging anxiety about something that probably won’t ever happen or that compulsive re-living of past unpleasantness means we can’t enjoy the present.
What is your essence?
We are not our thoughts; we are not our emotions.
You can step back and observe your thoughts and your emotions. They cannot, therefore, be part of your essence. They are, to some extent, not you. They are however very helpful signposts to what is going on.
When we become addicted to our thoughts and emotions, we are barred from our essence. But if we disrespect our thoughts and bottle up our emotions, that’s equally destructive.
A third way
We need a third way.
There’s an expression in martial arts called Mind Like Water. It refers to the action of throwing a pebble into a calm still pool. The water will part for the pebble and form ripples, then become calm again. The reaction of the water is precisely appropriate to the size of the pebble and the force with which it is thrown, no more, no less.
So we aim to acknowledge and express our emotions fully and constructively, then let them go. The same with our anxieties and fears.
Here are some suggestions:
- Buddhists have something here that can help us. It’s called the loving kindness meditation and you can find out about it here.
- Physical exercise like yoga or brisk walking focuses us on our bodies, not our minds or emotions. It can heal us.
- Get all that negativity out of your head and onto paper. Don’t censor. This is in essence what Julia Cameron’s practice of writing morning pages is about.
- Be brave: express your hurt, sadness, anger to the person who triggered it.
When we meditate, or exercise, or express ourselves in writing or in loving communication, we begin to cleanse our minds and hearts. It isn’t immediate. But the process has begun.
What practices would you suggest?
*I’ve implied here that we’re talking about the so-called ‘negative’ emotions. In fact emotion is simply emotion, it has no inherent weight. Happiness and sadness are both emotions.