Making Friends with Your Emotions

This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honourably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight. The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing and invite them in. Be grateful for whatever comes because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

The Guest House by Rumi

Rumi was talking about emotions in this poem. He is suggesting we welcome our emotions in like an unexpected guest, because each has been sent as a guide.

What we usually do is try to fight against our strong emotions, suppress them or get totally tangled up in them. None of these are going to be helpful. The more we fight against the emotion, the stronger it becomes. Acting this way, we will eventually make the emotion into our enemy. But emotions are not our enemies, they are our teachers. They don’t just suddenly appear for no reason. They come to inform us that something is happening, and we need to deal with it.

There are two types of emotions: connective and protective. Connective emotions are compassion, gratitude, happiness, contentment and so on. Protective emotions are usually the ones we fight against and they are anger, frustration, jealousy, pride, etc.

When we are in the grips of a protective emotion, we need to stop what we are doing and ‘welcome and entertain them,’ as Rumi put it. This means we need to investigate why the emotion has arisen and what it is trying to teach us. We can do this by following the ‘Six-Steps to Making Friends with Your Emotions.’

Firstly, we must calm ourselves down. When the protective emotion is strong it can activate our threat system and we could very easily go into the fight or flight mode. To prevent that, we need to do a mindfulness practice, such as becoming aware of our breath. This will bring us back to the present moment, calm us down and help us focus. A great practice to do is Rhythmic Breathing.

As you inhale, count to 4, hold for the count of 2 and then exhale for the count of 4. Keep doing this for some time to get a nice rhythm going. Then, inhale and count to 5, hold for the count of 2 and then exhale for the count of 5. Again, get a nice rhythm going. Finally, inhale and count to 6, hold for the count of 2 and then exhale for the count of 6, and get a good rhythm going. Do this for 2 or 3 minutes, or until you feel calm, focused, and present in the moment.

Secondly, we need to acknowledge we have the emotion. We can do this by labelling it. So, name it to tame it. By doing this the emotion will already start to lose its power. 

The third step is to accept that the emotion is there. This is a very important step because if we don’t accept the emotion, we could end up suppressing it or trying to ignore it. When we accept the emotion is there, it is important to not identify with it.

If we say, “I am angry,’ or ‘I am sad,’ we give ourselves very little room to work with the emotion. We are telling ourselves that we are the anger/sadness or whatever emotion we are experiencing. What we need to say is, ‘At this moment there is anger.’ This separates us from the emotion and gives us space to be able to work with the emotion. Remember, an emotion is a process in the brain and so, comes to go. By identifying with it, we stop it from going.

Step four is to investigate why the emotion has arisen. We can do this by asking ourselves the following questions:

  • Why has this emotion appeared?
  • What is it trying to teach me?

We need to answer these questions as honestly as we can. While answering the first question don’t blame others for the emotion arising. Playing the blame game is never helpful. Look at the emotion with a curious mind, as though we have never seen this type of emotion before. The emotion may be painful, so ensure you observe with a sense of kindness and compassion for yourself.

Once we have answered these questions, we can move on to step five. Now we know why the emotion is here and what it is trying to teach us, we can ask ourselves this:

  • What do I need to do to learn the lesson and let the emotion go?

If it is sadness, maybe we need to speak to someone. If it is anger, maybe we need to get some fresh air. If it is loneliness, maybe we need to meet up with a friend. Whatever it is, think of a plan that will help you let the emotion go.

The sixth, and final, step is to put the plan into action.

Throughout the whole of this process, ensure you are being kind and supportive towards yourself. Emotions can be painful and overwhelming, but by following these six simple steps you can learn from the emotion, put it behind you and move on.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play. You can also visit my website.

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