Some say emotions make us human, without emotions, we are only living processors. Emotions are inevitable, involuntary, powerful and possessive. If left unobserved, they can take over our mind and body. Yet, to put a structure around emotions is only elusive. When asked “what is the best way to understand and handle emotions?”, I think people have to inquire into the art and science of emotions. The concepts I cover in this article will only be brief, and each will be unpacked in future posts.
“Find the silver lining in experiencing each emotion.”
This is one of my favourite poems that artfully captures the existence of emotions. From this poem, I will draw out its relevant scientific discourse.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
— Jellaludin Rumi
1. Emotions are meant to be temporary. Emotions are adaptive temporary experiences that are generated by external/internal stimulus, to help us or to communicate with us. They are to be picked up to be processed, and let go and be given the time to be released.
2. To know emotions, we need mindfulness. The poem is written under the spotlight of emotional awareness. It is only with awareness, can we begin to understand our emotional presence, and how it is influencing our thoughts and behaviours.
3. Emotions bear purpose. Emotions have messages for us. Feeling angry tells us we are first hurt, then seek to protect. Depression tells us we are internal dejected, due to perceived lack of control despite trying. Anxiety tells us we are not prepared, obsessed with control and full certainty.
4. Emotions are contextually functional. Having understood purpose, when placed in context, we see their functions. Anger functions as defence, depression functions as prompts for us to rest cognitively and emotionally, then re-conceptualise and instil personal control, and anxiety functions as energy to react to unexpected changes.
5. Make space and accept them as they are. Emotions are meant to be felt. Make space and create a bubble of acceptance for them. Don’t judge them, we all know the experience of getting more angry for being angry, getting more anxious for being anxious. Understand these emotions at their core and leave it at that level. At the same time, don’t let them consume all of you, for they are only messengers. Commit to valued actions and behaviours, while making space for emotions and use these emotions if they are contextually functional. If not functional at the moment, open your grasp and let them go at their own time.
6. Positive reframe. Find the silver lining in experiencing each emotion. “He may be clearing you out for some new delight.” Most of the time, each message would have a positive meaning for us. We have to look for what is working for us in this experience, and what can we learn from this.
Original writings by The Realist, inspired by encounters in professional work in life coaching, physical therapy and PhD research.