All living creatures experience emotion. A dog whimpers when his master leaves the house because there is attachment. A man wins the lottery and laughs because there is joy. It is a necessary part of life to regularly experience the full range of anger, pride, elation, jealousy, sorrow, grief, and so on. The number of emotions we experience over the course of a lifetime is absolutely limitless and inspiring. However, there is an important clarification that needs to be made about the human emotional experience. Simply, there are no negative or positive emotions, only emotions. Why is it so important that we not label our emotions? Labeling leads to attachment, grasping, aversion, constriction and eventually suffering
Emotion is energy. That’s all. It’s simply energy manifesting and passing through us in different wavelengths. One of energy’s fundamental characteristics is that it loves to flow. It cannot bear being stuffed down, hidden away, neglected, or stopped. We as humans have a tendency to dislike negative things and like positive things. We avoid the things we dislike and try to remove them from our life. Lets use the story of Joe as an example. Joe’s cat has been sick for years and finally one day passes away. Joe and his family are burying the cat in the backyard when he starts to feel a creeping sadness welling up in his throat and tears forming in his eyes. Joe is a man. Not only a man, but the man of the house. The cat was just a cat and all pets die. Plus, Joe’s father never showed any sadness and Joe never saw him cry once. Real men don’t cry and sadness is for wimps. Joe is a mentally tough man who wont allow himself to cry. Years go by and Joe’s marriage is in a rough patch. His wife is unable to deal with Joe’s ever growing emotional distance from her and the kids. Joe has put up walls over the years to shield himself from having to experience any emotional states he deems uncomfortable or negative. His back hurts, his neck is tight, his shoulders are bound up, and his zest for previous hobbies has disappeared. His energy is constricted in the emotional centers of his upper body and stiffens his movement. Joe does not allow himself to experience sadness therefore he does not experience joy. Joe is suffering. To live fully again Joe needs to surrender and allow himself to fully bask in the emotion of grief.
Let’s take another example from the seemingly opposite end of the emotional spectrum. Maggie loves to party. Maggie needs to go out every night for drinks with friends and if her friends aren't available, Maggie has no qualms about going to the bar alone. She loves good food and chatting with the people that she cares about. However, Maggie has been known to burn the party candle at both ends. After the bar closes at 2, she has to go to the after-hours lounge until 5. After that, she goes home to her seven roommates and watches a movie until finally her body crashes and she falls asleep for the day. Day after day the cycle continues. Like everyone, Maggie loves the positive experience of a rich social life and the good feelings it brings. But, the reality is Maggie clings to it so tightly because she fears being alone with herself. Maggie grew up in a house with no siblings and often found herself home alone for long stretches after school. As a kid she routinely felt sorrow, fear, confusion, and loneliness. She never wants to feel these negative emotions again and avoids them at all costs. She abhors silence and always needs to have a plan ready for her next adventure. In fact, she’ll be planning her next adventure in the middle of her current one! One day Maggie gets the flu and each of her roommates is gone for the week. She can’t go out, she doesn't have the energy to chat on the phone, and there is no one around but the eerie, all too familiar stillness she felt as a child. Without the nonstop barrage of external input, Maggie’s brain fills the void with painful unresolved emotions and she begins to suffer. What is Maggie’s remedy? Maggie’s remedy is to simply be lonely. She can stop resisting and let the energy of loneliness wash over and into her very core until the emotion has lost its charge. Maggie can realize the cyclical nature of life and take solace in the undeniable fact that everything in this universe is temporary. The good times don’t last and the bad times don't last, instead they interweave and commingle in this mysterious dance we call human life on Earth. Maggie’s unskillful behavior is that the instant she saw somethings as good, other things became bad.
What can we do about our emotional situation? I believe the best thing we can do is simply experience emotion. Don’t cling to joy or run from sadness. Simply let emotions come as they please and when it is their time to go, let them. Ironically, the best way to achieve profound happiness is to not try. Simply be. Be you. Do the things that nourish you on the most profound level, flow with ease, deeply enjoy the present moment, speak with the heart, and follow your bliss into the sun.