Emotions are compelling. Some of them, like anger and love, compel us to saddle them and ride. Others, like anxiety and insecurity, compel us to think even more and develop worst-case scenarios, what-ifs, and possible solutions.
Emotions awaken us to our bodies, bringing us present to the life pulsing through our limbs and heart and skin. Emotions often feel good too. Even some of the “bad” ones like self-righteousness, anger, and even fear at times can bring pleasure, satisfaction, and that good feeling of being right.
A turned on emotion sometimes feels like spirit itself speaking through us. I just open my mouth and the emotion says everything I need to say, or I don't say anything at all because the emotion is holding my mouth shut… Except that our emotions aren’t necessarily special messages from our true selves telling us how we should respond or react.
Emotions are more like indicator lights on the dashboard of our awareness. And like most indicator lights on our car dashboard, emotions are nearly always pointing to something internal to our system, something in here and not out there. This bears repeating: nearly always, emotions are pointing to the internal status of our thinking and well-being and not to external conditions.
1. Emotions point to the internal status of our thinking: Our experience of the world out there is always and inevitably filtered through our thinking. This may not always be our conscious thinking that we can immediately see or hear in our minds, but it’s thinking nonetheless.
Ever see a stick while hiking, mistake it for a snake, and have a moment of freak-out? You freaked out because you thought it was a snake. Ever tense up when someone you’re not fond of stepped into the room? Thoughts about the person led to that. Ever get angry when your 12-year-old leaves something out on the floor despite your having told him repeatedly to put it away, and then you kick it and nearly break your foot? The pain itself didn’t cause the anger; thinking did. (And yes, my foot hurt for a couple days after…)
2. Emotions point to a shift in our well-being: our natural state is relaxed, aware, engaged, and healthy. When we move away from that state, our emotions prickle and eventually flare to indicate that something’s off. We usually look outside ourselves and react through our emotions to some perceived external threat.
While there are external threats sometimes, nearly always the threat is actually internal: we’ve stopped listening to the wisdom of our relaxed, inner sage, and have instead begun following our conditioned thinking.
We have a choice in how we respond to emotions. Rather than being compulsions to act, our emotions are indicator lights warning us of a deviation from our natural state of relaxed engagement. From this natural state, we are much better able to hear our always-present inner wisdom.
Emotions are quite a gift. Ride them as much as you'd like, but don't forget that they're really pointing to something within yourself, not something out there in the world around you.
Thanks so much for reading. ❤️
Thanks to Joe Bailey for the dashboard indicator analogy in his book The Serenity Principle.