Emotions cannot change themselves. Neither can they be coerced to change. So how do we approach emotional turbulence and create a sound calm and stability for ourselves? Neuroscience has shown that stilling the body and mind in meditative practice has a profound healing influence on the brain; generating improved aﬀect regulation, enabling you to better ride emotional waves as opposed to being flooded by them.
A cousin of mine, clocked many hours sitting on the cushion as a Zen Buddhist monk, at Shasta Abbey, CA. After 7 years steeped in contemplative practice with the sangha of monks and nuns, he emerged with a recognition that flawed me. His declaration, that many of the exceptional meditators that he came to know, ” … were also horrible people”, hit me as a ludicrous oxymoron. But, it does speak to the tendency towards, unwittingly using spiritual practice to side step the genuine need to shed light on one’s psychological history and flaws.
There is no doubt that dedicated time spent Sitting, can indeed lead to empowered concentration, calm equanimity and deep insight. Meditation alone, however, may not be able to penetrate the underpinnings of a malnourished psyche, that is in a mental slump and under the influence of compulsive reactivity. One’s karmic creation does not just evaporate into thin air, but requires a deliberate eﬀort towards self-seeing and accountability, for there to be any chance of reconciling with an organic well-being.
In order to avoid lop-sided growth, our emotional immaturity must be brought into full view; blanketing the spheres of both an over and under-developed ego structure. Such Self-Inquiry becomes a necessity, requiring a rigourous self-honesty that needs to stem from kindness. This is where guidance from another, whose knowledge and experiential journey enable them to ‘point the way’, is of value. Talking out one’s problems, aligns with the need to be heard and witnessed by another. This stepping stone, towards meeting one’s own faults and vulnerabilities can be the gateway to one’s true strength. Through talk therapy we can shift from a dualist view of good or bad and black or white; relinquishing the split that such judgement brings, for the inclusive clarity of discernment that comes with genuine self-understanding.
However, talk therapy has it’s own downfall if it is steered by rational analysis alone, relying on the personal intellect to master what is beyond it’s scope. This can be borne out in years of such therapy, where the recycling of one’s traumatic history leads to a static armouring against life rather than an enlivened participation in procuring agency.
Emotions are both inherently cognitive and somatic. While our culture gives credence to mental agility in the belief that intellectual prowess can fix all problems, this is proven time and again to have limited eﬀectiveness. Using the thinking mind to muscle through emotions, just doesn’t work. Approaches that awaken feeling awareness and ground you in your body, do give access to a tolerance for and acceptance of the spectrum of emotions that we encounter. As the nervous system builds resilience through contemplative practice, breath work and mindful movement, and as self-understanding awakens, emotional growth becomes possible.
These inner practices release discordant energy and give access to insight. Paired with a mindful approach to dialoguing, we can deliberately look into our emotional history, and gradually give up old, conditioned imprints.
The purpose of our lives is to mature emotionally so as to grow in consciousness. Whatever the outer issues or symptoms, there is an inner component that must be addressed. Movement of emotional energy or it’s suppression, orchestrates within the body-mind. So, it is the full scope of the body and mind that must be integrated, for emotional maturity to be realized. Learning to lean into the felt sense of your body, witnessing the preoccupation and space of mind and speaking from your heart, can redirect your life from a victim existence to an attuned aliveness.
Written by Ann-Marie Ahye
Mindful Yoga & Meditation Teacher
Inner Life Coach