Sometimes our emotions are misunderstood, and we can get into a pattern of thinking of some emotions as ‘good’ and others as ‘bad’. This means that we only ‘allow’ ourselves to express certain emotions, others we try to fight and suppress because they are bad, or even worse make us a bad person. If this is how you think about emotions, then I have some important news for you. ALL emotions are good. They are the stuff of life that give meaning and richness to our experience here in mortality. Emotions that might weigh you down, disturb you, or throw you out of balance and off course can be a source of great energy and power when you understand them, embrace them, and use them to energize you and drive you forwards towards the life and way of being that you desire.
Chinese philosophy has some really useful concepts to help us understand our emotions better and to transmute them into a powerful and useful force in our lives. It comes from five element theory and helps us to understand how our emotional patterns fit together. It is a bit like the quote from Yoda (everyone repeat after me in your best Yoda voice – well, at least in your own head as you read): “Fear is the path to the dark side, fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering”
The Chinese system is a little bit more sophisticated, as it includes five elements instead of just three as in Yoda’s quote. But it works in pretty much the same way. (You know where they got the inspiration for in Star Wars right? You can think of yourself as a modern ‘Jedi’ when you’re practicing qigong if you like, no force pushing unsuspecting strangers as the pass by though!).
The five elements are Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal. Each element helps to generate the next in the cycle as in you water plants to help them grow and produce wood, wood burns to feed fire, and so on.
The primary emotions associated with each of the elements are:
So again, repeat after me in your best Yoda voice:
“Fear leads to anger” (that’s familiar, exactly the same as the original quote).
“Anger leads to joy”… … … hmmm, that doesn’t sound quite right, maybe we need to explore this one a bit further. So what is ‘Joy’? well it is feeling good about something, maybe pleased with something you have achieved, or something good in your life. I wonder if there is a way that we could make that sound a bit more negative? Well if you feel really good about something and start to show off about it… that starts to sound more like ‘Pride’. When we are proud we can start to think of ourselves in relationship to other people, and specifically as being better than other people. This is a kind of ‘Hate’ as we are looking on people as less than ourselves, and therefore less than they are.
Ok, so I think that has us back on track.
Yoda voices again: “Fear leads to anger, anger leads to pride, pride leads to worry (because we want to maintain our position of being ‘better’), worry leads to grief”.
Hmmm… grief sounds a lot like suffering. So Yoda was on the right track, he just skipped a few steps, or maybe the edited down for simplicity in the film…
But wait a minute, wasn’t I suggesting that emotions could be a powerful force for good within our lives? What I’ve just described sounds more like a rapid descent into grief and misery. Well remember how quickly we turned Joy into Pride just a few paragraphs ago? We can do that with the other emotions too. Joy is actually the SAME EMOTION as Pride, just applied differently. Joy is feeling good about things, when we feel joyful we in no way need to compare ourselves to others and in fact when good things happen to others this can lead to us feeling even more joyful as we are happy for them as well. Joy turns into Pride when we start to compare ourselves with others and our happiness becomes dependent on how well we think we are doing in relationship to others. Others doing poorly can make us feel more prideful… This is deeply limiting.
When we understand that emotions are neither good nor bad, that it is simply their application that becomes positive or negative in our lives we can start to intentionally transmute our emotions into a powerful positive force in our lives that helps us to live and feel the way we want to be.
So lets take another look at those other emotions.
Fear. Fear comes when there is something difficult for us to deal with in our lives. When we are fearful we release adrenalin into our bloodstream to make us more alert and ready to deal with the challenge. When we succeed in overcoming the challenge we become Confident, when faced with similar challenges in the future we can reinterpret the release of adrenalin as Excitement instead of Fear as we know we can face up to and deal with the challenge.
Anger. When we are Angry, our liver releases glycogen (our bodies form of sugar storage) into the bloodstream to give us more energy to deal with whatever the situation is that has made us Angry. There is something that we feel so strongly about that we really want to do something about it and out body supports us in that by giving us a burst of energy. We can reinterpret this burst of energy as Enthusiasm and Passion as we now have the energy to make positive changes in our lives and the lives of people around us. Often we can achieve a lot when we ‘Get Passionate’ (as opposed to ‘get angry’) about things to such a degree that we get in and do something about them.
Worry. Worry comes when we fuss over all the details of things that may or may not happen. There are too many details for us to possibly control all of them, so there are always loose ends for us to be thinking about and trying to sort out or prepare for. When we go through and edit our list of details we are concerned about we can figure out which ones we can actually do something about, and which ones REALLY matter. You will often find that this list is much shorter than the list of things you could possibly worry about. Sorting out the details that you do have control over and then setting aside the others because there is nothing you can do about them anyway leaves you feeling Calm and Peaceful because you have done what you can to prepare and have accepted that you cannot control everything, but what you can.
Grief. Grief comes when there are major changes in our life to adjust to. Something we are familiar and comfortable with changes. It could be the passing of a loved one, or it could be a change of situation, loss of a job, moving from somewhere you know well to living somewhere else. Major changes usually require major adjustment within ourselves as we need to work out how the change affects us and how it changes our view of the world around us. How we may need to act differently and expect different things in the wake of the change. In essence negative grief is holding on to something that has passed, so we don’t fully adapt to the new present situation. This can be something good OR something bad. Positive grief is processing the change, coming to terms with it, and accepting it. We often call this Letting Go, and it leads to a sense of Freedom as we are no longer held back by something that has now gone.
So lets take another look at our cycle of emotions:
Facing challenges leads to Confidence and Excitement, Confidence and Excitement leads to Enthusiasm and Passion, Enthusiasm and Passion leads to Action, Success and Joy, Action, Success and Joy lead to Calm and Peace, Calm and Peace lead to Letting Go and Freedom!
Does that sound more like a cycle of emotions that will empower you and lead you to the way of life and being that you desire? When we understand our emotions we can embrace them and turn them into positive and powerful forces in our lives that move us forward and clear blockages that may get in our way and hold us back.
Chinese philosophy and Qigong contain many such gems of wisdom and knowledge that can help us to live happy, energetic, vibrant and fulfilling lives. They also contain practical tools for helping us to implement that wisdom into our lives so that it becomes part of our natural way of being.
I hope you have enjoyed this article, and that maybe something in it is helpful to you. I don’t often get the time to write longer articles like this, but I have a long layover in an airport at the moment as I travel from place to place for some more Qigong workshops. You could look at this as an example of me transmuting what could have been emotions of boredom and frustration, into enjoyment and a sense of accomplishment at having done something worthwhile.
Til next time…
John Munro – Long White Cloud