It’s not so much emotions, but reactions to emotions that make all the difference.

Emotion is a powerful experience, and a physical experience.  What our thoughts say is fear, sadness, joy, hope, regret, anxiety, love…is really a translation by our brain of the signals carried to it by the nerves that travel all over the body.  We’ll often say casually things like “I have a pit in my gut” or “My heart filled with joy” but we usually short change a true understanding of the communication of body sensation to brain.  If you spend time noticing a feeling and exploring your physical experience, you’ll become more and more aware that our emotional world is entirely made up of transmission of signals from the body to the brain by nerves.  This means that often we react to an emotional pain the same way we would to a physical pain, like touching a hot stove.  When our hand touches something hot, the nerves tell the brain there is pain and danger and to pull away.  The brain then directs the muscles to do so, in a chain of reactions so fast it feels instantaneous.  It’s only natural that we would have this reaction to our emotional sensation.  When we experience something strong, often negative emotion but sometimes positive ones too, we can instantly have a reaction to get away from it, to damp it down, drown it out, do something else.  Sometimes this urge is so powerful we can do things that in the long run cause great harm- using alcohol and drugs, spending money, gambling, or even cutting or injuring the body.  But if we start to realize that emotions are a physcial sensation informing the brain about experience, we gain more choice points for reacting to it.  We can start by noticing an urge to do something uncharacteristic, or that we “know better” than to do, and then come into the body with awareness and curiosity and feel the feeling as a localized sensation, rather than a global emotion that engulfs everything.  At first it is scary to watch emotion like this.  People say to me, “what if I break down?”  Well, maybe you’ll break down.  Cry, yell, lie on the floor in anguish.  And then it will change, and you’ll do something else, like make a cup of tea and curl up in a blanket and rest.  People say “what if I get really anxious, or panicky?”  And I say, just notice it, like a startle you get when the wind slams a door.  It will come in, spike up, peak, and recede.  When we move away from emotion, it’s like refusing to look under the bed for fear of a monster being under there.  It gets bigger and stronger in our thinking about it and in our refusal to think about it.  But if we can just sit for a moment and have the feeling, not adding to it with self criticism or fear of feeling it, and not getting away from it with actions that create more harm and more bad feeling, we might find that we can do just that.  Have the feeling.  And then do whatever comes next.



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