If we pay attention and discern the messages in our emotions—joy and sadness, anger and fear—we can use what we learn from this inner experience to guard our wellbeing. However, this very thought rang alarm bells for both my colleague Kelsey and my wife Burna: What keeps us from being paralyzed by our emotions?
Paralysis is the result of misdirecting our energy: holding on to what we need to let go of or avoiding what we need to hold on to. Avoiding paralysis begins with our willingness to be awake and aware, and developing our capacity to observe our inner experience. When we observe our emotions and thoughts, we feel and are aware that we are feeling; we think and are aware that we are thinking. When we are awake and aware in this way, we can choose how we relate to our emotions and thoughts. By observing the ebb and flow of joy and sadness, and the energies that lift us up and settle us down, we can self-consciously choose detachment or attachment. Our observant, active awareness is what allows us to creatively use our emotions and consciously choose the direction of our energy.
Using our emotions and directing our energy requires commitment and skill. Commitment to our relationships—being present, reaching out, and offering ourselves—helps us find the motivation to do the needed letting go or holding on. Skillfully discerning the messages in our emotions helps us to decide how and in what direction to invest our energies.
Imagine a conversation between two people. They could be a couple, business associates, or school friends. A: “I realize I’ve treated you badly.” B: “Yes, and it’s made me angry.” A: “I want to make amends.” B: “And I need to practice letting go of my anger.” Both A and B have been aware of their inner experience. A has discovered a blind spot that hurt his relationship. B was aware of hurt and anger. A chose to let go of a harmful pattern. B chose to let go of painful memories.
These two people have developed an ability to observe their inner experience with an attitude of openness, honesty, and vulnerability. Both needed some letting go and both needed some holding on. They exercise their ability to discern which way their energy needs to be directed to enhance their relationship. We can refine the life skills needed to practice this kind of day-by-day transformation over a lifetime. And day by day, life itself supports our explorations and our discoveries.