What are Emotions?
Q: What exactly is emotion and from where does it arise? Is it a mental state related only to the individual or does it involve others as well. How is it related to our thoughts?
Gurumaa: In this world duality is concerned only with subject and object. The interaction of these two results in a range of experiences. The entire experiential world consists of an object and a subject. Every individual has a characteristic mind set, a particular background, a certain upbringing, a defined socio-economic structure, and a personalized ability to comprehend life: these differ from other individuals. Hence each individual’s reaction to an object or a situation is different. The mind too works at various levels: conscious, unconscious, sub-conscious and super-conscious. All the inputs received through the five senses – eyes, nose, ears, tongue and skin – are continuously perceived and registered by the mind. The objective world is known by its sight, smell, taste, touch and sound: all these sensory inputs are stored in the sub-conscious mind which can be called the hard disk of our mental computer.
emotions are spontaneous reactions
It is strange that each mind perceives and stores information in a different way. The same thing can be good, bad, wonderful or ugly to different people. Our world is created by our perceptions, therefore I can say that emotions are spontaneous reactions of individuals to objects experienced by the senses.
Emotions are waves that emanate from a conditioned mind. Waves of thoughts keep rising in the mind; the mind reacts impulsively or responds logically to a given situation. When the sub-conscious mind receives information it is passive, but most of the time the conscious mind – dependent on its preconditioning – imparts a certain hue to the input received. At other times the information is analyzed by the mind itself, for we have strong opinions about most things.
Q: How will you define emotional dependency?
Gurumaa: Every individual seeks joy and security. Fear of loss, fear of the unknown and fear of death is intrinsic to the human mind – therefore the mind always looks for happiness and emotional security. It is the natural tendency of the mind to seek a person or thing most likely to give us hope of joy and security in an uncertain future, and fit into the requirements of our needs. Because insecurities are deeply embedded in the human mind, therefore one is unwittingly attracted to the source of apparent hope. And soon the mind spins a whole web of expectations around that thing or person. No one wishes to be alone or unwanted, so the mind plays all kinds of games and uses all kinds of ploys to seek attention and to make a positive impression on parents, teachers, friends and colleagues. The mind tends to lend a wide spectrum to its aspirations – it wants to grab everything which can give it a sense of worth!
The mind suffers from the disease of possessiveness; it clings to objects and individuals as though this alone can make it happy or secure. From here dependency begins. This one line: I cannot live without you, is the trademark of your dependency. On record no one will admit to being dependent, yet no one is free of dependence. Take a minute to think and look deep inside and see if you feel that you cannot live without something or someone. If the answer is yes, then certainly you are an emotional dependent. This fact is unrecognized and unaccepted by most people; that is how you end up suffering at your own hands. I know of many people who say that they can’t live without something or someone – a relative, a car, a dog, the husband, the wife, the job or status – the list goes on and on – and yet if you confront them directly with this fact, they will simply deny it.
Q: What does it mean to take emotional responsibility? How can one change the pre-conditioning of the mind?
Gurumaa: Being emotionally responsible means not being vulnerable, rather, being conscious in our dealings with people. It also means to be conscious of our mind and to observe our responses to people and situations. Unknowingly the mind creates mental bondages and desires – propelled by lust and greed – which are then topped with insecurities. You are constantly and untiringly occupied with creating a mess in your life! Speculations that are strife with anxiety add fuel to fire, increasing our agony further. One has to look deep into the mind and ask: ‘What do you want O mind. What are you looking for?’ If you have a little clarity the answer will be right in front of your eyes. But if you are totally immersed in worldly pursuits, then only the bitter knocks of life can give you a wake up call!
If a virus infests our computer we have it cleaned up; so it is always wise to have a good anti-virus system installed on your laptops and computers. Awareness is the anti-virus to the infection of dependency in the mind. But awareness does not happen in a day, one has to learn to develop and strengthen it with every passing day. A life lived without awareness is indeed a bed of thorns, of insecurities and of slavery.
Q: How can one rise above emotions?
Gurumaa: By simply being a witness to them. All emotions arise in the mind – and the knower of the mind is indeed different from the mind. The association with the mind is so strong that it seems absolutely impossible to see oneself as separate from the mind. The identification with the mind is even deeper than the association with the body. When one can’t see the body, senses and the mind as being different from the self, then how can one be a witness to their action? We never feel that the body is different from us – we see the body as being us. The same is true of the mind. Although we do say that ‘my’ mind is sad, happy, excited, anxious or angry – yet deep inside we see ourselves as a body and a mind. Thus any sensation taking place in the body or any emotion arising in the mind, are thought of as happening to us. So when the mind is shattered we feel that I am shattered; when the mind is happy then we say that I am happy. The waves of emotions which arise in the mind engulf you. The identification with the mind is so strong and overpowering that it is very difficult to see the knower as distinct from the mind.
It is difficult to learn to swim when the river is in flood; it is wiser to do so when it is calm. Similarly, when the mind is not disturbed one can understand experientially, the art of witnessing thoughts. What is the mind? It is the sum total of thoughts, impressions, memories and conditioning. As one practices awareness, one by one the thoughts unravel and very slowly one begins to understand the whole drama played out by the complexities of the mind. This art requires deep patience and perseverance on the part of the meditator – it will not happen in one day, nor will it happen with theoretical knowledge. It will happen only by first accepting the fact that thoughts exist and then alienating ones self from them. Emotions are strong responses which occur more as a reflex than as a deliberate exercise. You do not think of a response to a situation, it happens spontaneously defeating all your meticulous plans of not getting angry, sad or jealous. When the situation arises you do just the exact opposite of what you had planned! And feel guilty into the bargain!
Emotions fail all your great philosophies. Life is full of new situations and challenges, and no one can prepare or tutor ones self to meet them. The mind is very complex and one needs to understand its mechanism to overcome its grip. Witnessing the functioning of the mind gives you the ability to be established in the process of witnessing – this paves the way for overcoming the grip of emotions.
Question: Normally we are taught to suppress our emotions. What about the accumulation of suppressed emotions, is it not also a disease of the mind?
Gurumaa: There are two schools of thought on this issue: traditional society favours suppression and modern western society favours expression. In the first the practitioner suffers and in the second where you vent your feelings, there is a possibility that the other person suffers – so one party has to suffer, which is definitely not a good thing. A third way is to neither suppress nor express, but to watch the drama of emotions played out in the mind as a witness to the reactions and responses of people including yourself. People are so well conditioned and trained to emote that they act and react accordingly. There are some words which will upset you and others which will make you happy. Every smart person tries to learn the trigger words; those who do can easily manipulate people. Deep in their hearts everyone tries not to be vulnerable and they create a wall around themselves – a wall of cold behavior, anger, egotism or aloofness. That is their way of protecting themselves from an onslaught of emotions and its repercussions.
Society requires people to behave in a certain way; there is code of conduct to be followed in offices, in families and in public places. Everyone tries their best to follow the diktats of social mores, but this only adds to their hypocrisy, leading to further suffering. Society is more accepting of robots than of human beings who respond to situations.
I have heard that when Rinzai’s master died, he cried so loudly that people were surprised: How could a man of his stature cry like this in public. Some advised him not to wail like a woman, others reminded him of his master’s message that the body is mortal. Rinzai said, “Well, I do know that, but I have lost my master’s body, the one that spoke great words of wisdom, that loved me and accepted me as I am. I am not bothered about what people will say about my crying. I am weeping for the body and not for the eternal soul. I am crying for the body which will never again be seen in all its beauty and glory.
Rinzai was not a hypocrite – he was a normal person who could cry when he was hurting, while simultaneously witnessing the crying; he could come out of it whenever he wanted to.