Emotions are a tricky thing. They can change from moment to moment, float by like a whisper, or possess the screaming force of a category five hurricane! I think one of the most challenging things about emotions for many, is to accurately identify what they are feeling. There is a stereotype that women are more in touch with their emotions than men, but I think this is a complete myth! In my experience, regardless of gender, when you ask someone how they feel, the typical response is what they think. I remember a hand-out in graduate school used by some in therapy sessions to help clients identify their emotions. The hand-out was filled with illustrations of a variety of faces, each with a different expression and corresponding feeling underneath, for example: sad, happy, angry, fearful, and so on. At first glance, the page seemed a bit juvenile, but as many of us learned, adults struggled with the same confusions as children when it came to their emotional states. Understanding ourselves requires training and education, and identifying emotional states is no exception. Often, I think many assume they know what they’re feeling without realizing that they have no idea what is really driving their state and way of being. It’s not surprising. For my generation and older, there was a strong cultural influence that frequently devalued and even frowned upon emotional expression. In addition, the study of psychology is really not that old. Especially, given that the early days that birthed examination of our psyches were so off base; not unusual with new theories of exploration.
Even with the growing acceptance and support for psychological awareness, it still seems like there’s an underlying assumption that most people know what they are feeling. This assumption can foster denial and defensiveness. Instead of opening and facing what we are feeling, if we assume “I feel” this or that, we can easily dismiss the layers of what is really going on. Emotions are fraught with misunderstandings. Sometimes, we are too uncomfortable to face, observe, and open to what we are feeling. Other times, there is a subconscious reaction that attempts to push away the discomfort of feelings which creates defensive behaviors. My point is that emotions are so frequently misunderstood that I think that it is important to educate ourselves in order to wake up. In order to genuinely be mindful and present, we need to drag ourselves out of our stupor of denials and suppression of emotional awareness. It’s not just the unpleasant feelings that we avoid. Joy and happiness can be equally terrifying. Opening to pleasant states can open us to unpleasant feelings as well, so both can trigger fear, panic, and terror. As humans, we cannot simply pick and choose how we want to feel. Suppression will repress regardless of our desires and intentions.
Emotional awareness can start with tracking energy. Instead of assuming that we know what we are feeling, we can remain open to discovery. We can educate ourselves to learn and understand more about feelings and thoughts; using the information we gain to pay attention to the energy of what is really going on without judging, denying, or promoting any particular state. We can learn to observe and honestly evaluate energies we are experiencing. We can embark on a process of discovery by breaking the cycle of assumption, ignorance, and suppression. Then, we can track the emotional energy by unearthing root causes of our states of being. We begin to gain clarity and expansiveness of mind. We start to make the unconscious conscious. Why bother? Because the more our state of being is determined by subconscious drives, the more we are living in a reactive state determined by history and illusion. Emotions are not something to conquer or overcome. They cannot be pushed away regardless of the desires one has. The more we genuinely face our feelings, the more choices we have regarding how we respond to our selves, our lives, and one another. The less we are driven by neurotic needs to avoid, the greater the space for equanimity, peace, and freedom to be authentic. Ironically, it is precisely by facing our feelings that we diminish our creation of emotional reactivity to begin with.
Another motivation to opening to emotional awareness relates to energetic intrusion. If we are unaware of what we are feeling, then it is unlikely we will succeed at clearing, grounding, and centering in our authentic selves. Emotions can be an excellent sign post. Not just as a map to our genuine selves, but to recognizing sources of energy. Emotions triggered by the energy of another can assist us with gaining clarity through observation and association. Our mood can be clouded with a variety of energies whether internal or external. Sometimes, I can determine the source of energy based on the message carried with it. Even something as simple as what music I am in the mood to listen to can help me clarify the source of what I am sensing energetically.
An important aspect of learning and integration is putting into practice what we learn. Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes practice, so it takes patience and perseverance. Focusing time and effort on our internal world is a necessary aspect for transformation, genuine healing, and well-being. For most of us, awareness is not something that just happens. Being mindful requires education and teaching ourselves to explore, expand, and let go. Learning about our emotional landscape is a vital foundation and excellent stepping board to take flight into authentic being.