Ajahn Chah, a renowned Buddhist master from Thailand, frequently pushed the buttons of his students to the point of infuriating them. One student visited Ajahn Chah and proclaimed that he had reached the first stage of enlightenment. Hearing this, Ajahn Chah replied, “That’s a little better than being a dog, I guess.” This was quite the insult, particularly in Thailand, and the so-called ‘enlightened one’ stormed off angrily.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a Buddhist monk, the Pope or Arnold Schwarzenegger. At times, we’re all going to feel happy, sad, angry, disgusted, frustrated, or surprised. We aim to optimize our lives to experience certain (pleasurable) feelings and reduce the negative (painful) ones. However, we can never fully control the flow of emotions, no matter how calm, focused or “unemotional” we may think we are. Life will always test us.
A stressful situation at work or relationship troubles can cause you to go through the week in a pissy mood. The negative lens tints the rest of your world, inadvertently making things worse. While there is no silver bullet to “conquer” emotions, but there are two simple things we can do to be more aware of them, and in turn reduce their control over us.
First, the simple act of recognizing and articulating the emotion (verbally, or writing it down) even for a split second – before, during, or after it arises – can help us be more aware of it next time it comes up. When you’re waiting ages in a long line and annoyance creeps up, rather than cursing the source of your frustration, take a deep breathe, and then state your emotion: “I’m feeling annoyed because of x,” rather than “I am annoyed.” This recognition, while seemingly trite, slowly helps detach yourself from the emotion, as something that happens to you, rather than something that you are.
Second, if you pay close attention to when an emotion arises, you’ll notice that there is always an accompanying physical sensation. For me, when I’m feeling anger my back hurts, when I’m nervous my stomach feels queasy, and worry translates to shortness of breath. Now, take a second to watch the physical sensation (it could be sweating, pulsating, heat, pain, tension anywhere on your body). If you’re sitting in a quiet place, keep a close eye on this feeling. Eventually, it will go away. The more you can sit and observe these sensations without reacting to them, the greater control you can wage over them.
You won’t get rid of anger, but the more you practice these two techniques of awareness, the less it will feel like a suffocating chokehold. The ability to recognize an emotion, identify its accompanying physical sensation, and simply watch it, is at the heart of many meditation practices. You don’t need to sit for hours with eyes shut to do this. Just try it next time you’re feeling a strong sensation or emotion.
Now, we can’t always put our feelings into words, yet there are hundreds of them along our daily spectrum of memories, thoughts and actions. Here are a small list of a few words that you can use to better describe how you feel, and in doing so, perhaps foster a greater sense of awareness! (most of us feel dozens of these a day)
Today, I feel….
“Acceptance, adoration, affection, Aggravated, agitated, aggressive, alert, amazed, ambitious, amused, anger, anger, animosity, annoyed, anticipation,, anxiousness, appreciative, apprehensive, ardent, aroused, ashamed, astonished, attraction (sexual), attraction (intellectual), attraction (spiritual), awe, betrayed, bewildered, bitter, bliss, blue, boastful, bored, breathless, bubbly, calamitous, calm, camaraderie, cautious, cheerful, cocky, cold, collected, comfortable, compassionate, concerned, confident, confused, contempt, content, courageous, cowardly, crafty, cranky, crazy, cruel, crummy, crushed, curious, cynic, dark, dejected, delighted, delirious, denial, depression, desire, despair, determined, devastated, disappointed, discouraged, disgusted, disheartened, dismal, dispirited, distracted, distressed, dopey, down, dreadful, dreary, eager, ecstatic, embarrassed, emotional-detest, empathic, emptiness, enchanted, enigmatic, enlightened, enraged, enthralled, enthusiastic, envy, euphoric, excited, exhausted, expectation, exuberance, fascinated, fear, flabbergasted, fight-or-flight, foolish, frazzled, frustrated, fulfillment, furious, giddy, gleeful, gloomy, goofy, grateful, gratified, greedy, grief, grouchy, grudging, guilty, happy, heartbroken, homesick, hopeful, hopeless, horrified, hostile, humiliated, humored, hurt, hyper, hysterical, indignation, infatuation, infuriated, inner-peace, innocent, insanity, insecure, insecure, inspired, poem, interest, intimidated, invidious, irate, irritated, jaded, jealous, joyful, jubilant, kind, lazy, left-out, liberated, lively, loathsome, lonely, longing, love, lovesick, loyal, lust, mad, mean, melancholic, mellow, merciful, merry, mildness, miserable, morbid, mourning, needed, needy, nervous, obscene, obsessed, offended, optimistic, outraged, overwhelmed, pacified, pain, panicky, paranoid, passionate, pathetic, peaceful, peeved, perturbed, pessimistic, petrified, pity, playful, pleased, pleasure, possessive, pride, provoked, proud, puzzled, rage, regretful, relief, remorseful, resentment, resignation, resolved, sadness, satisfied, scared, Schadenfreude, scorn, selfish, sensual, sensitive, sexy, shame, sheepish, shocked, shy, sincerity, solemn, somber, sorrow, sorry, spirited, stressed, strong, submissive, superior, surprised, sweet, sympathetic, temperamental, tense, terrified, threatened, thrilled, tired, tranquil, troubled, trust, tormented, uncertain, uneasiness, unhappy, upset, vengeful, vicious, warm, weary, worn-out, worried, worthless, wrathful, yearning, zesty.”