In my continued exploration of habitual anxiety – specifically, mine – I have also noticed a far more disturbing habit at work within me.
I have become addicted TO emotion itself.
I am also starting to suspect I am not alone in this.
Everything in our culture, in society itself, is set up to foster a continual seeking out of emotion – its highs, its lows, its sheer adrenaline rush of unpredictability – from television to movies, books to casual conversation, relationships and more, we seem to rely on emotion for meaning, motivation, direction, and relaxation the way cars rely on gas or other fuels.
This does not feel okay to me.
As I have begun to work on this emotional dependency within myself, I look at the example of the great beings for guidance – for instance, the Dalai Lama. In the post, “Less Emotion” earlier this month, I shared how the Dalai Lama believes that emotion gets us into all kinds of avoidable trouble. He shares very candidly about both how and why he practices the art of less emotion, and he exhorts those he meets to, if they must seek out emotion, to at least seek out emotions that are more uplifting, such as peacefulness, kindness, a welcoming nature, acceptance, joy, and humor.
I really think he is on to something.
Furthermore, I am beginning to realize that my characterizations of people close to me say a lot about which range of emotions they tend to spend more time and energy experiencing. If I say someone is “negative”, “angry”, “always happy”, “loving”, or another description, this says a lot about where they are spending their emotional time and energy – and when I turn this contemplation towards myself, I can find a lot to ponder in where I invest myself emotionally as well.
Perhaps even more fascinatingly, I have begun to perceive that when I am feeling “bored”, if I can remind myself to dig a bit deeper into what I am really feeling (ie, like “fat”, I am realizing now that “bored” is not a feeling), I realize that often what I am really feeling is peaceful or contented. In other words, I am emotionally undisturbed. I am not in search of anything within or without to move or motivate me. My mentor once shared with me that the very first time she felt an extended period of peace, she mistakenly assumed she was bored, and only after a confused phone call to her mentor was she able to understand that she wasn’t feeling bored. Rather, she was feeling peaceful.
I love this story!
This does not mean it is easy to acquire or maintain the “boredom” of peace and contentment, however. Serenity itself is not really in the nature of an at-root biological being that is programmed to sense and seek out danger and change, with an eye towards prolonging its own survival.
The Twelve Step program thus offers up the famous “serenity prayer” for guidance. In the serenity prayer, practitioners are instructed to seek out serenity wherever possible – aka wherever they cannot effect positive change – and to work for change wherever their words and actions may have the potential make a positive difference.
A similar analogy might be the many hours, days, and years the Dalai Lama does his personal rigorous spiritual practices, so as to maintain an open, welcoming, joyful heart when negotiating with the Chinese for the surcease of conflicts against Buddhists and the Tibetan people.
From recovery programs such as the Twelve Steps we also learn that, before we change a problematic thought or behavior, we first must perceive that a) it exists and b) that it is, in fact, problematic.
A good example here would be my own rather gradual unfolding awareness that I have tended to be rather too over-dependent upon emotions to experience meaning and movement in my life. If I am not crying over a tearjerker movie, gasping while reading a thriller novel, listening in rapt attention to a friend’s gossip, or worrying over the state of the world or my personal problems, am I alive?
Am I here?
The answer is (of course) “yes”, whether I am feeling especially “alive” in that particular moment or not. Just as I am not my body, my thoughts, my bank account balance, my possessions, my work, my relationships, my gender, my age, my ethnicity, or other singular aspects that make up a concrete definition of the entity commonly referred to as “me”, so too I am not my emotions.
They are an aspect of me, but I am able to live quite well, healthily, and at times rather more happily in their absence than in their presence.
Today’s Takeaway: Where (if applicable) do you see that you may have become rather too dependent upon emotions in general, or a certain set range of emotions in particular, to find a sense of meaning, movement, “aliveness” in your days? Are you happy with this state of affairs? If your answer is “no”, what might you be able to do to shift your focus to a more stable sense of yourself?
Surprised man photo available from Shutterstock
Cutts, S. (2012). Emotional Addiction. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 29, 2016, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/mentoring-recovery/2012/11/emotional-addiction/