Metabolizing Emotion



What is emotion?


We all know emotions exist and are a rich part of our experience of being human but it is rare to actually focus upon them in any great detail, yet a deeper understanding can help us tremendously. In a way emotions sit between the functioning of our minds and bodies existing primarily of bio-chemical messengers such as neuro-peptides which flood the body; usually when they are experienced each cell membrane allows these messengers to enter the cells to be processed by the cell's enzymes etc. known as the pithara agni, the cell nucleus. However ayurveda recognizes that if we are unwilling or unable to experience the emotions then the cell membrane, the pilu agni, rejects the messengers and they remain outside the cell in the extra-cellular space around the cells. This is the way in which the extracellular spaces around cells within the connective tissues can become full of blocked energy or mental ama, i.e. undigested thought and emotion. This mental ama leads to feeling of physical and mental tension and in due course it can adversely affect the functioning of the body's systems creating disease. 


In a very real sense then the body contains our subconscious where emotions and their associated thoughts and memories can lie in a latent state. 



How can work with the emotions?


We can begin to work with the emotions by becoming aware of when there is a disproportionate emotional charge to a situation we encounter and allow ourself to fully enter into the experience of the emotions present. This means at first we may not be able to do this at the point at which they are provoked as it may be inappropriate or we may simply be unaware of the the emotions until they have passed, but we can at a later point simply sit comfortably and think of the thought or situation which caused our emotions to rise up. Then we must drop the thought(s) itself and purely focus upon the feeling inside, being prepared to fully experience the emotion. This does take a little courage, especially if we judge the emotions to be ugly or are frightened they may overwhelm us yet if we can willingly stay with the emotion then amazing things can follow!


We may find that the emotion moves to a particular area of the body, there might be deep physical pains revealed, we may find other thoughts arise, we may feel the emotion changes to another emotion or we may find forgotten old memories surface seemingly out of nowhere. Whatever happens simply stay with the experience of the emotions and allow surfacing thoughts and memories to be noted and let them go, always returning to the feeling or experiencing of the emotions. If pain arises however then feel the pain, focusing upon it and it too will reveal deeper layers as you continue. You will find at some point the emotions will dissolve, and indeed any surfacing pain will also eventually dissolve away.



At all times we must be willing to accept the emotions which arise, treating ourselves with compassion as this is a kind of purging which without care can create feeling of self-criticism, yet this is a great opportunity to show ourselves we can wholeheartedly accept what is there! It is also best to work with what life presents rather than to dig deeply for whatever sits latently inside as life will always give us what we need and focusing upon our latent 'issues' can easily become self-abusive if we do not take care.



Another point of note is that it is important to recognize that emotions are experiences yet many of us will say 'I feel this and that' thinking we are referring to an emotion when we are in fact referring to a thought. The distinction between thought and emotion is a very important one because we cannot digest emotion when we are in fact focusing upon a thought. The best way to ensure you are actually working with emotion this is to focus upon the body itself, noticing what is experienced within the body. This is important because some of us are inclined to stay in the head and are rarely actually aware of our emotions, pushing them down until there is a habitual pattern of supression..



This is a very powerful way in which to work with our emotions and clearing mental ama. It is also interesting to note that in sanskrit the word pithara, the cell nucleus, can mean 'parents' pointing to how the ancients knew at the centre of each cell our genetic material was located, but it also can be translated as 'in constant meditation' pointing to the fact each cell in the body possesses consciousness or its own awareness, and whilst each cell is differentiated from all others, each cell is also part of our whole consciousness.



So being aware of our internal responses to our everyday lives we can use all of our experiences as a path to wholeness and a new-found internal freedom. This is because each time we metabolize our emotions the emerging energy is dissipated and any associated stuck emotion will also be released, meaning next time we meet a similar situation which would have usually created an emotional charge it is no longer there and we need not automatically react in the same old way, greeting each situation anew.



Emotions as part of our conditioning


In yoga we are told we all possess conditioning and that this imprisons us. But what does this really mean?


Well from our very beginning we all have to do what we can to ensure our own survival and this sense of needing to survive underpins the formation of our ego. The ego is in the simplest of terms the way in which we either protect ourselves or promote ourselves. Yet whilst these are necessary skills learnt as a child very often these strategies last into adulthood where they are no longer appropriate. As an example if we have encountered early situations when we felt we were not listened to and had to keep silent keeping our resentment inside, then later in life other situations such as someone finishing your sentences or a boss being unwilling to examine your ideas can create a disproportionate emotional reaction meaning we may react unwisely. This forms an important part of our conditioning.


Another part of our basic conditioning arises because as our belief system grows we primarily base this upon that which we learn from others around us and therefore as a consequence some things about ourselves and our actions we can accept and others we wholeheartedly reject. These means our indigestible thoughts and emotions sit deep with our subconscious informing our later thoughts and emotions which sit upon this foundation and can add to it as association sits upon association.


The key to working with these situations is to being aware of our internal reactions and being willing to fully experience them both in the moment or at a later time when we can follow the emotional link deep inside to its roots.



In yoga the kleshas or the obstacles, help us to understand this process where there are five different kleshas or obstacles to freedom: avidya or ignorance where we are ignorant of what we really are and what the nature of reality really is the kleshas underlying all of the others, asmita or the sense of 'I Am' where we identify with our sense of ego, separating ourself from all else, raga or desire where we want things in our life which makes us feel better than, dvesa or avoidance where we reject things is life which make us feel worse than and finally abhinivesha or fear of death where we will do what we think or feel will keep us safe. 



In yogic and ayurvedic terms these habituated thoughts and emotions are called samskaras, meaning 'that which flows together' indicating how they are intricate webs of associative flows which run in defined patterns, much as the wheels of a wagon must run in the ruts of a muddy field. Once they are activated by a particular set or circumstances they are known as vasanas, where the word vasana can be translated as coming from the root 'vas' meaning to 'dwell in', indicating our actions have the 'essence or smell of' impressions left in the mind. 


Working directly with the mind can be very challenging as the mind is fast-moving and rather elusive but a good way of working with the mind is through the emotions where we can start to become more aware of our inner world. In particular this will always help us develop our witnessing ability where gradually we become better able to objectively watch our our internal environment. At first we may find we still react to situations being only able to sit with the emotions which drive us at a later time, but eventually there is a shift where we start to become more conscious of these emotions as they are being experienced giving us more of an opportunity to make choices about how we will respond to a situation. Eventually as the mind becomes more settled it becomes possible to see these strong emotions actually arise within us so we are more fully able to be responsive rather than reactive; it is rather like the mind space or chitta being a deep lake in which the seeds or bijas of our conditioning sit within the sand at the bottom of the lake, usually the water of the lake's surface is churned by thought and it's waters are murky meaning nothing can be seen clearly but slowly as the mind becomes more focused and the waters still we can start to be more aware of thoughts, emotions and past memories arising out of our deepest subconscious.



Working with the emotions can be truly transformative!



It is said that for the yogi there is no black or white. This points to the fact that eventually with the growth of awareness we can eventually shift a gear so we are no longer pushed (dvesa) and pulled (raga) by our emotions, nor are we identified solely with our personality and its particular story (asmita). Put another way our subconscious is becoming more conscious and this is very healing as in the normal way of things most of our consciousness remains unconscious and our thoughts and actions will be coloured by our unconsciousness but when there is less or no colouring i.e. there is vairagya meaning detachment or more literally perception 'without colour' we can see more clearly.  As we become more conscious eventually we become more aligned with the spirit who is experiencing itself through our particular set of experiences; now we are conscious of the state of unity where there is no separation and we experience this as a joy or sense of bliss which is not dependent upon any outer circumstance. Now there is no absolute right or wrong, i.e. we recognize this dualistic world, where all opposites are necessary is not the ultimate truth. Thus in a way we have dispelled avidya, our ignorance of the true nature of reality, and dissolved the cage we have built for ourself; we have found freedom. This is yoga where Life more easily flows through us..