Whether we realize it or not, emotions have a strong impact on our everyday reality. You have surely experienced this, too – the same situation (such as going to work in the morning) can seem bright and exciting one day while on another day, it seems gloomy. The situation itself doesn’t change, but your perspective does. And very often, that perspective is shaped by the emotions you are experiencing at the moment. This is why working with emotions is an important part of yoga. But, interestingly, yoga views emotions very differently compared to how you might be used to thinking about them.
Why do we analyze our emotions?
Western societies have a deep-rooted tradition of analysing individual thoughts, dreams, emotions. We like to inspect our minds as a surgeon inspects a patient’s body, and then we make similarly professional and seemingly rational conclusions. Sigmund Freud and Carl Gustav Jung are highly esteemed and seen as an inseparable part of the Western paradigm. That is unsurprising given the long history of humanism, in which importance is placed upon individuals. When someone is unsure about a decision they have to make, it’s not unusual that people will ask: “How do you feel about it?” Relying on our own emotions is commonplace.
The problem is that our emotions and thoughts are not logical, they cannot be understood intellectually. They are so complex that no amount of theories and psychoanalysts can give a comprehensive description as to how and why they occur the way they do.
So why do we keep analysing them? We keep saying things like: “I like this person but I had a weird feeling so I’m not sure how it’s going to go.” “I don’t know if I should quit my job. I guess I’ll do one more month and see how I feel about it.” “I feel like crying but I don’t understand why.” We can keep endlessly analyzing our emotions because new ones arise all the time. For our whole lives, we can inspect our feelings, discuss them with others and try to rationalize them. But what might actually happen is that we get ourselves into a vicious circle.
There is no way to ‘resolve’ our emotions. Unless and until we have full control over our minds — which can take years of consistent practice — emotions will always come and go. They have no beginning and no end. In most cases, they don’t have one specific cause which, if removed, will stop the emotion as well. And even if they do, once you remove one cause, another emotion will arise from another cause. They will always find a way.
Importantly, why shouldn’t you take your emotions seriously? Because they have no rational basis. They don’t represent reality. In fact, they are quite random. In the same situation, you may feel extremely happy one day and then extremely sad another day. So how can either one be true? If someone tells you one day that they want to start a family as soon as possible and the next day they tell you they would rather be single and have a successful career, will you believe both? Will you believe that is a reliable and authentic person? If not, then you shouldn’t believe your emotions either.
Naturally, sometimes you do have to take your feelings into account. If your emotions hinder your everyday life, it’s good to look into what causes them and how you can manage them. If someone is frequently suffering from anxiety, they need to learn about it, determine the situations that cause anxious feelings in them and then minimize those causes. That is both good and necessary management.
What you can do instead
But from the perspective of yoga, it is not particularly helpful to overanalyze each problem by dissecting your emotions. Acknowledge your issue and do your best to manage it — but there’s no need to go beyond. If you keep worrying about your problem, if you keep asking “why me?” or start panicking, “oh no, I don’t want this sort of emotion”, or even feel guilty for having that emotion in the first place, you are actually making your problem much worse. Just accept your emotions the way they are.
There is no need to analyze why you feel a certain way, there is no need to call your friends and analyze your feelings with them, there is no need to Google your emotions. None of that is likely to help you in any way. Emotions will always find a way, the ones you want as well as the ones you wish you didn’t have.
In fact, welcome all kinds of emotions equally. Why do we enjoy a sudden rush of happiness, but when we’re sad and crying we wish that emotion would go away? Without one, the other wouldn’t exist. A coin cannot only have one side. A yogi should be equally accepting yet wary of both.
Therefore, observe your emotions, live your emotions, but don’t take them too seriously. Rather, work with yourself and your mind such that you are able to function without relying on your feelings. And definitely don’t search for causes and explanations — most of the time, there are none and you’re wasting a lot of your valuable energy.
What do yogic texts say?
The idea of not taking your emotions too seriously is beautifully captured in this extract from a book of Osho’s public lectures:
“Just look into it. If you are laughing, it is beautiful. In fact, if you ask me, even crying is beautiful; nothing is wrong with it. If you really ask me, then I will say accept whatsoever is. Accept the real, and then crying is also beautiful. And there is no need to go into the inquiry of ‘why’ — because that inquiry distracts you from the factual. Then crying is not important, but why you are crying is. Then the real disappears and you go on chasing the cause. Where can you find the cause? How can you find the cause? You will have to go to the very beginning of the world — and there has never been any beginning. The world has been here always.
No question is needed to live. And don’t wait for answers; start dropping questions. Live with the fact. If you are crying, cry. Enjoy it! It is a beautiful phenomenon — relaxing, cleansing, purifying. Laughter is beautiful. Laugh, and let laughter take possession of you. Laugh, so your whole body throbs and pulsates with it. It will be purifying, it will be vitalizing; it will rejuvenate you.
But remain with the fact. Don’t move into causes. Remain with the existential. Don’t be bothered why it is so, because it cannot be answered.”The Path to Liberation