You’ve probably noticed that life offers up an excess of opportunities to get angry, hateful, envious, excited, depressed, sad – and so on. Generally speaking people don’t understand why they are experiencing a certain emotion or how to deal with it. The root of all emotional states is the diminishing or enhancement of our survival prospects. Diminished survival prospects – poor health, getting fired, losing a loved one, will create the so called negative emotions of depression, anger, grief. Enhanced survival prospects – a pay rise, good food, new friends, will result in the so called positive emotions of cheerfulness, love, excitement. It’s all quite mechanical and is simply a state of being hostage to fortune. If life smiles on you there may be no inner reflection at all, and a person will just skip along until they reach old age and eventually die. However for most of us it isn’t such a rosy picture and we may have plenty of opportunity to question whether the whole venture is worth the effort.
Since we have no, or very little control over events it might be useful to have a strategy that helps us deal with the ups and downs of life. Having such a strategy can deliver two benefits. The first is the ability to deal more adequately with adverse circumstances, and the second is the development of the ability to stand back a little. At this point however it is important to point out that we never, ever make any attempt to change our emotional state. If we are angry then we are angry. In fact this ability to be honest about our emotional states is quite an achievement in itself since most people are hopelessly out of touch with their emotions. It is quite common for someone to play at being happy when in reality they are sad or angry. So, the starting point is inner honesty, and that isn’t always an easy thing to practice.
One of the main obstacles to dealing with emotional states is the fact that they often engulf us – we become the emotional state. As such there is nothing within us that can even see the emotion. In addition to inner honesty we need to have the presence to remember to see our emotional state instead of being wholly consumed by it. This does not mean trying to change the state, but simply seeing it. If we can manage to do this then we can perform a simple act of understanding – negative emotions will come about because someone or something has worked against you and in some way, no matter how indirectly, have challenged your survival prospects. Positive emotions present the opposite scenario – something or someone has enhanced your survival prospects. And that is all there is to it.
This simple understanding will moderate the effect of many emotions and allow us to stand back from them to some extent. The difficulty is in remembering to do it and being honest enough to see our real inner state. It falls into the category of simple but difficult – as the most effective things usually are.