Meditation, journaling, and a host of other tools that I often mention are ways to do this. But especially for turbulent emotions and people who are used to wallowing and getting lost in their fears, tears, or anger, it is especially important to feel like you're taking a step back. Disengaging from the emotional story--where there is one--is an important step to bringing awareness to what is going on. Now, emotional stories are a little bit different than mental stories that we run in our heads. Clearly, emotions and thoughts are really intertwined together. They tend to feed each other in really unhealthy loops. However, it's not always a thought that starts the unmerry-go-round of emotional turbulence. You may feel a nameless fear, and then your body closes down. Then, the brain goes into a kind of desperate how-do-I-fix-this mode, and you cycle through your usual thoughts. Depending on your social conditioning, it can make everything seem bleak and impossible turning you into an emotional sobbing wreck. There are just so many unhealthy patterns that we learn to store inside, which is why so many people use work, sex, drugs, relationships, alcohol, entertainment, thrill-seeking, and other things to distract themselves. They aren't living; they're avoiding living because to truly live would mean to feel a whole lot of feelings they don't want to feel.
Breaking Apart the Emotional StoriesSo step one is find a spiritual tool like meditation. Step 2, stick with it. Especially when you aren't used to meditating, this seems like the most arduous thing you could ever do to yourself. But I'd encourage you to look at it differently. I'd encourage you to notice how much of the misery in meditating is just reflecting to you how much you don't like yourself. Now, don't get stuck on this part. You can change this. You created this inner emotional landscape, and you can shift it. That's the power you have, and you alone have it. It's why I am always reminding people that the spiritual path is an inside job.
As you notice your emotional landscape, I encourage people to journal out what is coming up. Don't worry about how upset you are that you got fired at work, your boyfriend left you, you can't find romantic love, or whatever. Look at the deeper themes. That's how you turn your journal from an ongoing set of whiny complaints into a deeper self-introspection. You may notice the deeper themes are lack of validation, loneliness, frustration, hopelessness, fear, and other things. These are much more powerful drivers of the emotional landscape. The mental stories aren't always as powerful as we think they are, and the mind sometimes hides the emotions with the stories almost more than it elicits the emotions. But noticing these emotional drivers isn't enough. It's actually just the beginning to breaking apart the emotional stories, but let's pause before getting in too deep just yet.
Reflecting on Your Recurring StoriesOne of the great ways to notice the lies we live out is to find the different cycles that we go through. Today, I feel like picking on romantic relationships. It's a core issue for many people, especially for women because they've been socially conditioned by our heterosexually-preferenced culture to believe they have to have a man. Even women who are very independent are often still acting out this core idea (as well as many others) when they are looking for romance. So let's make up an example.
Jane is an independent woman who is very successful in her career. But she is always hooking up with "losers." They aren't smart, well-groomed, or much interested in their careers. They do however like to have fun and are great in bed. In general, she feels like she has to do everything in the relationship, and they still end up leaving her, which makes her feel progressively more lonely. Each time she gets dumped, she ends up gaining 15 pounds, crying buckets, and binge watching Sex in the City episodes. Eventually, a friend will talk her into dating a friend or something, and then the cycle begins again as hope gets kindled anew although with increasing cynicism. As a result, she rejects more and more men out of fear of being hurt, which increases her sense of isolation and loneliness. You can see where this is cycling.
Thus, Jane is closing her heart more and more to avoid the emotional turbulence, which she doesn't feel able to handle. She has also put herself in a powerless position through trying to control the external world to meet her demands and make her feel emotionally good. The open heart for her and people like her means being hurt. However, the spiritual path teaches us that the open heart doesn't make us doormats. We learn how to use our discernment to see what is in any given situation. Jane probably needs to see how she needs to open her heart to her own sense of fun instead of waiting for someone else to make life fun. This is one of many things she should reflect on. If you need an exercise to practice with, use the above example in your journal to analyze more about what is going on for Jane. Then, do the same for yourself.
Going Down DeeperWhen we get stuck in the ups and downs of emotional cycles, we feel very much victimized by the world. But the more we drop anchor in stillness and love, the more we see how we are co-creating situations and take responsibility for it. Quite simply, we have a choice in the emotions we feel. It doesn't seem like that when we've never really owned our emotional space. However, this isn't controlling emotions. Because quite paradoxically, the more we choose our emotions, we may also find emotions that arise unbidden. This is part of tuning into different subtle levels of our psyche and our heart. We start to find other emotional currents that were habituated deeply into us. (As I continue write this year, I'll talk about how the emotional body and the physical body are intertwined as well because we have taught the body to hold itself and our energy body in certain shapes and with certain tensions. Emotional releases are often the stickiest and most upset when they come out of the physical body.)
Each level of us has something to teach us, and the are multiple layers within a level such as the heart. Peeling away assumptions, healing old emotional wounds, and so forth naturally brings forth a greater inner peace and stillness that has been masked by emotional pain and disturbances.
Dropping Anchor in the Turbulent SeaLife will still throw unexpected things your way. We are emotional beings, so our emotions won't stop. But we do learn to not feed into unhealthy stories. The story of the ex-boyfriend/ex-girlfriend is just one of many stories that cause people big emotional triggers. The loss of a loved one is another, and grief is most certainly expected when someone dies. But how the grief is cleanly expressed and not wallowed in is important. Especially for those deaths (people who die young or in accidents) that don't agree with our ideas about how long people should live or how they should die, we can get truly lost in our emotions of grief and despair. This can be especially true for parents losing a child. In this instance, we absolutely have to let go of our idea about when and how someone should pass on. To do otherwise is to invite levels of inner suffering that are horrendous.
Our spiritual practice is aimed to help us heal and clear these unhealthy emotional patterns and the connected thought patterns that feed them. We have so much room for expressing love and joy, and as we take ownership of this space, many of us find that love and joy is simply what arises on its own. Love's expression is always changing, however, so how my love expresses itself as I type this now is different than how I am kissing someone I love which is different than how I mindfully do taxes (which is still quite a practice for me). But nonetheless, I can notice when emotional stories are getting triggered and when they are trying to drown me in old emotional stories that have no real basis in reality past the energy and attention I am giving them.
Gradually De-Energizing Emotional PatternsYou may be quite surprised that even as you develop and expand your awareness of your emotions and your thought patterns that emotional patterns may still go around and around. Jane may come to understand how she's set up the situations in her romantic life, but when she goes through a break-up, the same emotional turbulence may take hold even as she now conceptually understands what is going on and isn't as actively feeding into those feelings. I call this momentum. Her inner momentum and patterning is still there, and it hasn't fully dissolved yet. Many of you have probably already experienced this strange reality. It is also why I talk about how each level of us has to heal in its own way. As you've healed the mind and expanded your awareness, now the heart's awareness and strength must grow too (or vice versa, this path is not linear). The less energy and attention you put into the upset emotions, the more their residual energy and momentum gradually burns up.
Eventually, the same old break up or situation may arise, and you may not feel much of anything. You may pass into the neutral phase because you can see that a situation is not about you at all. If someone doesn't want to be with you, fires you from a job, and so forth, it often shows more about them than you. Obviously, you continue to do your own self-introspection to know how you've created the situation, but gradually, you move more and more into deeper places of inner love that know that life is always changing. From your heart space, you can watch emotional upsets come and then let them go. The heart appreciates our humanness, so it doesn't judge the upset emotions as they arise. And it has no need to hold onto them. In this way, you melt more deeply within you and calm the seas of upset emotions.