The Key to living with our emotions. Having them, just not reacting to them

Joe Luca

Photo by Absolut Vision - Pixabay

“Do you imagine the universe is agitated? Go into the desert at night and look at the stars. This practice should answer the question.”
Lao Tzu

What are emotions?

Where do they come from and why do we write endlessly about them? In poems of love and stories filled with anger and retribution. The world seems to revolve around emotions; actually, fueled by them as we go spinning about in search of more of them or less of them, depending on the exact emotion being sought.

We bristle with emotion. Lie languidly in pools with them as we contemplate the world and our role within it. Are chastened by them; or taught lovingly because of them and never seem to be far from having one influence our lives in some way or take them in a direction we were not expecting.


We slam doors, slash paintings or topple statues because emotions get the better of us. Or is it because the act itself is a valid form of emotional expression. Something we simply had to do.

But why?

Will emotions ever be something that we can simply think about, consider and only then, allow them to create the intended effect? Or are we destined to be the effect of our emotions; forever scrambling to keep up, clean up and repair what damage they may have done once they escaped?

Trying to separate emotions from human nature, is like trying to separate hardness from a rock. We see and experience what is around us. We hear words that define what others are thinking or telling us how we should think. We ponder the complexities of existence or the subtleties of love and all of this churns inside of us and either manifests itself as eloquent poetry or a crashing foot through a sliding door.

But the one thing in common between hate and love, anger and compassion, is that all of these things come from within. And if they belong to us and are a manifestation of how we are feeling at that exact moment in time – then how can any of it be bad?


"When a man is prey to his emotions, he is not his own master.”
Benedict de Spinoza

Those emotions normally associated with violence, domestic abuse, civil abuse and other aggressive acts are usually considered to be bad emotions. Ones that should be avoided, or at best, corralled and used under close supervision only.

But what of the good emotions? Those that nurture and accept. That allow us to care for others and see their discomfort as our own. Are they actually related to the darker emotions that hurt and destroy? Do they come from the same place, born of the same person? Is it okay to permit one and deny the other?

"This is what Zen means by being detached—not being without emotion or feeling, but being one in whom feeling is not sticky or blocked, and through whom the experiences of the world pass like the reflections of birds flying over water." Alan Watts

Emotions are to be claimed as our own, allowed to exist within us and as swiftly as they appear, they should be allowed to depart. With as little residue left behind as is possible.

By accepting them and not trying to hide or suppress them, we can allow them to come into existence and just as quickly leave, without us having to slavishly obey what they might be telling us to do.

“Anger ... it's a paralyzing emotion ... you can't get anything done. People sort of think it's an interesting, passionate, and igniting feeling — I don't think it's any of that — it's helpless ... it's absence of control — and I need all of my skills, all of the control, all of my powers ... and anger doesn't provide any of that — I have no use for it whatsoever."
Toni Morrison

Anger may create the desire within to lash out, but does that mean we have to? Fear may darken our view of life momentarily, but it need not dictate how we live our lives.

Emotions may come forth from us like lava from a volcano. It’s a natural byproduct of the turmoil and upheaval taking place within as various parts of nature collide and become something new. And while a volcano may not be sentient nor see a need to provide a warning to those around it, beyond the rumbling and hissing, we are not a volcano. We are aware of what is happening within. The elevation of hormones, the rising blood pressure, all happening in advance of the final “explosion.”

This is telling us we have a choice.


But is this a realistic expectation, considering how we talk about our emotions and how we dramatize them on television and in the movies? Explosive devices that can go off at any time, leaving behind remnants of our lives in artistic pieces scattered across the landscape. Even in our portrayal of love affairs, the action is often seismic and the broken hearts plentiful. We seem to imbue out emotions with a life of their own. Capable of taking control of our actual lives without notice and often steering them into places we would never consciously go.

Have we become captive to the “high” that comes about through the release of our emotions? To the feeling that something so visceral and powerful can be unleashed and do our biding, even if in the end, we have to sweep up the broken pieces and make amends for breaking something dear to us.

“It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.”
Jonathan Swift


We see something, a car, a house, a woman we’d like to meet in Accounting, and we formulate a plan to achieve that result. We look and listen and return to past decisions and ideas and bring them all together in a new objective based on reason and need. Then we start the plan and with a little diligent effort and hopefully a bit of humility, we arrive at our destination.

Sounds a little clinical perhaps, but this process is played out millions of times every day. It’s what humans are most proud of; our ability to think things through and innovate.

But what about emotions? Don’t they come from the same place, our minds? Aren’t they at least partly composed of thoughts and ideas or are they simply the energy from deep within or from deep within our past, that dictates how we will act, even if there is no thinking involved at all?

When we think of the higher profile emotions like love and compassion and empathy, we always equate these with thinkingness. We write poetry when in love. We plead eloquently before a court when compassion is coursing through us because of an Injustice committed. We take off our own coat and drape it around the shoulders of a child that is cold. Plenty of clear thinking happening with these emotions. But when discussion comes around to the darker cousins: anger, hatred, bias, fear and others, thoughtlessness is often associated with these. As if they come out of us, void of any sentient power, simply possessing the ability to bash about, wreaking havoc wherever possible.

But is that always the case?

“I recently read in the book My Stroke of Insight by brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor that the natural life span of an emotion—the average time it takes for it to move through the nervous system and body—is only a minute and a half. After that we need thoughts to keep the emotion rolling. So, if we wonder why we lock into painful emotional states like anxiety, depression, or rage, we need look no further than our own endless stream of inner dialogue.”
Tara Brach

It seems to be that the more we look at emotions as being a part of who we are and at best an emotional accompaniment to the way we are viewing life at that moment, and at worst, an outlet for excess energy leaving the body, the greater the level of control we will eventually have over them.

"Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it." Kahlil Gibran

We all experience frustration. Reach out our hand and have it slapped away. Reach out for an answer and receive silence instead. Love and expect love in return and receive only indifference. For all these efforts we are trying to exert as much control over our lives and environments as we possible can. And when we fail or fall short; when our efforts leave us too late or with too little, we become angry or sad and carry these emotions with us to the next time we try to do the same.

And like interest compounding in our bank, our emotional ledger grows without our consent and awkwardly exerts control over us when we least expect it.

Perhaps it is best to own our emotions completely and fully and then let them go. Listen but not obey. Understand but not condone. Eventually both our minds and our emotions will get on the same page and instead of being often in conflict, we’ll end up being in accord. Mind and heart acting as one to get us safely through life on our own terms.

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To inform, entertain, enlighten and otherwise engage in the age-old practice of storytelling. To be part of the process of keeping all of us informed on what is happening in the world around us and perhaps, if I do my job well enough, bring about change in the way we control our own lives and make the decisions that will impact our future and those of the people we care about.

Los Angeles, CA

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