Working with emotions might just be the most important life skill we can cultivate.
I recently attended a powerful retreat with Tsognyi Rinpoche here in Crestone. During one of his guided meditations he offered: no matter how we conceive of a problem situation, the root of our troubles is always emotional.
We may have financial difficulties, or health issues, or challenges with relationships. Obstacles may plague us and prevent us from achieving our goals. But the only problem we have with any of these circumstances is that they make us feel bad. Even when confronting death, there is no problem unless we have fears about dying.
Even positive emotions can inhibit us from being fully present. Living in a future fantasy can sap the life out of the present if we let ourselves get carried away.
What ultimately makes us suffer is not what happens to us, but how we feel about it.
If every problem is an emotional one, then it would make sense for us to figure out how to deal with those pesky things. Whether we acknowledge our emotions and how we deal with them sets the tone for our entire lives.
Ready for the good news?
We don’t have to do anything. The training is simply become aware of our thoughts, to listen to our hearts, and acknowledge what we hear.
The key to working with emotions is to recognize them as they arise.
In order to do this, you must have a working relationship with your body, so you can actually feel the sensations that manifest, and that we then label as “emotion.” Unacknowledged emotions get stored in the body as residue. This unprocessed material (called granthis, or karmic knots in the subtle energy channels) will then manifest at some point and try to express itself in a variety of obscure ways.
Yoga practice can release these knots, as can a dedicated meditation practice. Even before emotions become knots, we can learn to be present and process them as they arise. Regular practice keeps the system clean and clear. This is why yoga can be such an important tool: it is a fantastic way to subvert the thinking mind and work directly with the emotional body.
Emotions are part of life, and not in themselves a problem.
They only create problems when we don’t relate to them cleanly. A daily yoga or meditation practice is like subtle body maintenance, like taking care of your physical health. Just like brushing your teeth every day so you don’t need a complicated visit to the dentist.
Another helpful tool for working with emotions is journaling practice.
I found Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s teaching such inspiring news. Just because we feel badly about something, doesn’t make it wrong. While a hurricaine may churn the surface of the ocean, the depths are always calm. We can learn to live beyond the roller-coaster of emotions and ally with a deep contentment that lies underneath.