Do you sometimes feel oppressed by negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, anger, shame, worthlessness, or depression? Are you open to discover a way to manage them – and transcend them – that requires no medication nor years of psychotherapy? I have good news for you.
Ancient wisdom traditions of the East – such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism – have put a lot of study into the human body and mind, for thousands of years, with the goal of transcending human suffering. With centuries of devoted experiments, revelations, and insight, they discovered that all these negative emotions are not natural to our true being – they belong to the realm of the ego, our mistaken identity.
Following a certain set of contemplative practices and some lifestyle tweaks, these masters discovered their true being, and saw that in this place the negative emotions do not live. Out of their compassion and sense of oneness with all beings, they then spent their life teaching us how to find this space of freedom, of peace, of bliss. The insights and techniques that I share in this article come from the Buddhist traditions, and the teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi.
I like to call this the L-I-E-R method (label, introspect, examine, release), because it deals directly with the negative feeling and the lie it carries. It’s not a pretty word but does the job as a mnemonic device.
- Label. Recognize that fear has arisen, and label it in your mind. The words you use are important. Don’t say “I’m afraid” or “I have fear”; instead say “fear has arisen”, or “fear is here”. Do you see how just changing the words already creates a different perspective and more space?
- Introspect. Take one to three deep breaths, and bring your attention inside yourself – this means don’t pay attention to the object, person or circumstance that triggered the emotion, but rather attend to the emotion itself. Accept that the feeling is there.
- Examine. Study the feeling deeply: its causes, effects, and nature. Here are some questions to guide your contemplation:
- Causes: what exactly triggered this feeling in this moment? There is no need to go to the remote causes of it in your childhood or whatever. For now just stay with what’s happening right here. Once you find the core assumptions or mindsets that are at the root of the feeling, challenge them: is this the only way to see this situation? Is this an empowering way of looking at things?
- Effects: how does it feel in my body? Where does the feeling reside in my body? What memories and thoughts swim around this feeling in my mind? What are my thoughts and feelings about this feeling?
- Nature: Look inside and ask yourself “what is this feeling?” Don’t use words to explain, just keep the question alive. Does this feeling have a substance, a color, a size? What is it made of? What’s the vibration of it? Contemplate how this feeling is impermanent. It was not here a few minutes ago – where did it come from? It will not be here after a few minutes – where will it disappear into?
- Spend as much time as you need in step three. Learn as much as possible about the negative feeling. We are slaves of what we don’t understand. See if this emotion is the real problem, or if it is something else underneath it.
- Release. Let it be whatever it is – but don’t create stories and interpretations around it. And let it go. I can’t tell you how to let go, but intuitively every human being knows how.
The outcome of this process is fourfold: clarity (about what the emotion is); composure (to be with the feeling without being overwhelmed); self-knowledge (understanding the nature of the emotion, the triggers, and the effects in your body); liberation (a sense of separation between the emotion and yourself).
For step number three, you may encounter certain concepts or assumptions that are at the root of the negative feeling. Or perhaps certain subconscious “decisions” of looking at things a certain way. In this example (fear of rejection), it may be self-judgement about your feeling of worth, or perhaps an attachment to an idea that you need the approval of certain person to “confirm” that you are worthy of love and value. It may be useful, here, to spend some more time and thoroughly challenge these assumptions and choices.
In some cases, also, the emotion is indeed pointing out to something that needs some attention in your life; then you may need to take some external action, to change something. The “external fixing” does not prevent this internal process, nor does going through this process requires any external passivity.
After going through this you may find that the negative emotion has already disappeared, lost power, or transformed into something else.