“You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
- Jon Kabat Zinn
We are taught in schools about intelligence and knowledge. But we are rarely taught about the type of intelligence that we need to develop to navigate through life and connect with other human beings in the most effective manner- emotional intelligence. This is an extremely important skill that is often overlooked.
Take the time to increase your emotional self awareness and build emotional self regulation. I find that mothers (and others) who have this skill and remain grounded in the midst of an emotional storm and can share their calm with their children when they get swept away. This is an invaluable skill that we can teach our children so that they can learn to navigate their emotional world and make better life decisions.
This post is about learning the skill of emotional intelligence and build emotional resiliency so that we can deal with difficult emotions like anger, fear, grief, worry, disappointment, frustration in a more effective manner. It is not that these emotions are inherently destructive or “wrong” in some way. Difficult emotions are simply a part of everyone’s life and we all need to learn how to deal with them. Some emotions are shortlived and go away on their own. But others like grief, anger usually need to be dealt with so that we do not remain fugitive to them throughout our life.
Stop being so emotional!
Has anyone ever said this to you?
Did this really help?
Suppressing and ignoring our emotions do not work, it simply makes them stronger. The longer we fight them, the stronger they become and it can often result in a feeling that “I am bad”.
Dealing with difficult emotions is not about facing them to make our lives miserable, it is about cultivating emotional self awareness so that we can become better at emotional regulation. We can do this at a slow and gentle pace so that we do not get overwhelmed by them.
Emotions are like the weather
The thing for you to understand about emotions is that they are not constant but changing constantly, just like the weather. Just like a stormy cloud, a set of emotions come and then after a while the clouds clear away and eventually, they transform into another emotion. Emotional self awareness helps us to remain aware of this shift and deal with it in a more constructive manner.
Practising mindfulness of emotions combined with self compassion is an effective way of building emotional intelligence. Feeling your emotions in real time and practising this time and again can help you regulate your emotions.
Emotions in your body
Emotions combine with thoughts (He is a nasty person) with feelings (hurt, fear) and cause a physical reaction in your body (clenched jaw, tight fist). This happens very fast and can quickly pick up momentum and overwhelm you unless you can catch your emotion “upstream”. Once again, this takes care and practice.
Emotions are always part mind and part body and express themselves in your physical body. Since your body is grounded in the present moment and is tangible, creating body awareness is very effective in developing emotional self awareness. Mindfulness thus helps you to notice and observe emotions as it is happening but without any kind of judgement.
(I have shared with you a guided meditation in this week’s podcast episode which will help you to locate and anchor emotions in your body and face them with mindful awareness- link shared at the end of this post)
“Name it and you tame it.”
Labelling emotions is another effective way of taking back the reins from difficult emotions, even if it is only for a brief moment. Naming emotions “loneliness”, “sadness”, “fear” makes it easier for us to be with them. This practice helps you to see emotions as just “emotions” and helps loosen their control over you.
Try this yourself: Say to yourself, out loud whatever negative emotion you are experiencing in order to get some distance from it and avoid getting swept away. For eg, when a strong emotion arises, you can label it out loud by saying “anger” or simply say it silently within your mind. The key here is to respond to the emotion without drowning in it.
However, adopting a gentle and accepting tone when dealing with difficult emotions is important. Otherwise, the whole process can be counterproductive. Showing yourself some compassion is especially important when dealing with difficult emotions.
(In my latest podcast episode, I have taken you through a guided meditation which will help you do that- link shared at the end of this post)
Riding the waves
When you learn to stay long enough with an emotion, even a difficult one, you notice how it feels and where. But you don’t try and change it. You just observe and let it be. Going deeper, you may even start to see the layers. Beneath the anger there is sadness. When you strip away the damaging and corrosive layer, what remains can often be beneficial and even powerful. Learning how to ride the waves of our emotions help us to get a grip on them without getting swept away.
When we learn how to greet our emotions (and ourselves) with mindfulness and self compassion, healing can truly begin.
In the beautiful words of the poet Rumi
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.