Life’s ups and downs and emotional states

Instability of life

Life is change, we know it. Things happen around us at very fast speed, and those things are not always good ones. On the other side, life needs stability for flourish: our body has basic needs that have to be fulfilled every day, even every minute, so living beings have to adapt to a ever changing environment.

Human beings are the most unstable of all living beings: not only our bodies are weaker (civilization effects) as other beings, but additionally we have the most developed nervous system of all creation on Earth; such system is able to change from stability to high instability in seconds, responding to external triggers, or even internal ones: a thought can change our mood almost instantly.

Instability of emotions

As a result, emotions usually changes very fast: we can move from positivity to negativity in one minute; that’s the case when something goes really wrong, but also sometimes happens without any external event, it simply happens. While the change in reaction to external circumstances is normal, even good, because a negative emotional state is information our body-mind gives us (like: hey! pay attention! something is going really wrong!), on the other side changes without any external trigger may be counterproductive.

Anyway, instability always must be a stimuli for adaptation to the events, this is their natural function. Emotions not are an exception: is normal experience emotional changes, but such instability must be brief, the person must recover their stability as fast as possible; otherwise, suffering will visit us, for a lasting unstable state is not healthy.

Due to our highly unstable nervous system, is very important for us to know coping techniques; coping with emotional instability has different variants, depending on the causes. Such techniques fall in two categories: psychological ones and spiritual ones, although there is some overlap between them.

Coping with emotional instability through psychological techniques

Without going into the field of therapy, simply being in the self-help, the techniques of Positive  Psychology are highly recommended for coping with “bad emotions”; most of such techniques are existentialist: recommend to full live your emotions, accepting them as part of life. Other recommendations and techniques are designed for improve our positive emotions, our ability for generate them voluntarily. This is a key point: emotional states usually are automatic, they come and go without our intervention; here we have a cognitive work for to do: 1) understand the mechanism of our emotional states, and become full aware of it,  2) intelligently use such understanding for become able of have the choice, for stopping the automatic mechanism, and choose how emotions will last and how will not.

The roots of Positive Psychology go back to Aristotle’s Practical Ethics based on the concepts: ‘Optimal functioning’, ‘Friendliness towards self’ and ‘Pursuit of a blossoming life’. Modern-day leading Positive Psychology researchers are noted. For further lecture, see, for example, Positive psychology: An overview (Mia Leijssen).

Coping with emotional instability through spiritual traditions

Spiritual traditions recommend meditation for overcome the difficulties of life and also for achieve peace of mind and a wise sense of life. Now a days, scientific approach and traditional ones are starting to be entangled: the effect of meditation have been widely study for scientists, who are checked it. The most studied traditional technique is the so named Mindfulness, although is not any  technique but a stable and peaceful state of mind, which you are reached by applying various techniques. The traditional techniques have a point in common with Positive psychology: they invite you to explore yourself, like a benevolent observer, discovering the mechanisms that are running automatically on you. When you become full aware of such mechanisms, the you start to become able of control it. 

Moreover, beyond the emotional states, spiritual development through meditation can be seen as a purging process in which you gradually root out the obstacles that keep you from your essence. In this sense, treading the spiritual path is not usually the easiest road to follow. In doing so you might be confronted with your darkest corners and your not so attractive traits. But in this process of growing awareness you also strengthen your life foundations. For further reflect on this path, you can read Spiritual Development, Surrender and Sacred Ground (Mia Leijssen).

Conclusion

In this short post we have seen the source of emotional ups and downs, the need of stabilize emotional states for live a healthy life, and two big categories of techniques for do it, such categories now a days are not longer opposed, instead, are full compatibles, so we can follow only one of them or both at the same time.

 

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Untangling

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Whereas those who, being impelled by their desires, work with a selfish motive become entangled because they are attached to the fruits of their actions.  – Bhagavad Gita –

The most common human being have their mind, desires and sense of “I am” entangled, confusing the three as if they were an unbreakable block; therefore, is unable to resist their desires, believing he is his own desires.

With meditation and deep reflection, however, we become able to untangle the desires and our sense of I. As a result, desires lose a large part of their power, because they depend on our identification with them.

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With time, we also disentangle our thoughts and our “I”, and also thoughts are dramatically reduced, following the same mechanism as desires: most of our mental rumination is due to our identification with our thoughts. Indeed,  desires and thoughts exists thanks to our automatic identification with them.

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In such estate, still there are desires and thoughts, depending or our residual identification with them, but now we are able to see them as something external to our self, and they are not able to control us anymore.

Eventually, while we are in a full mindfulness state, thoughts and desires almost disappear, only self left: that is realization of the self.

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Despite contact with the material body, O Arjuna, the soul neither does anything nor is entangled. – Bhagavad Gita –

Meditation on individuality and self-realization

Individuality

The evolution of species has endowed us, the human species, the quality of developing a sense of individuality, the quality feeling ourselves as someone separated from the rest of our environment. At physiological level this ability is related to brain region called the neocortex, which also have all mammals, but in our species is especially developed.

From birth we have a potential for individualization, to be “someone” separated from the outside world. As the person physically developing from childhood, adolescence, reaching adulthood, personality is formed, that is, a psychological “construct“. Then the innate potential of individualization uses personality  to create the illusion of the existence of a separate, autonomous individual, an individual separated from the external environment.

We say illusion because personality is a more or less unstable web of ideas and memories: the person is not really their personality, but has a personality. Clear here there is a certain contradiction in terms: “person” comes from the Greek próposon, and referred to the mask worn by actors in Greek drama theater; clearly this mask shapes how the actor is shown, the person is the mask, personality, his performance, but the actor is not any mask.

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Ancient Greek dramatic masks

But what really makes us individuals is not any personality, but the ability to be individuals; we are individuals as we have the ability to be, the personality is built, and is renewed day by day as an expression of that innate ability.

Meditation on the ability of individuality

The mind has, among its many wonderful qualities, a particularly curious one: it is able to observe itself, as in a mirror, using the functionality we call attention, the ability to focus the mind on an object, whether physical either mental. Attention is usually either serving our thoughts or abroad if we are doing an activity that requires it. But we can train to serve one’s mind, delving beyond personality, reaching the bottom of the mind.

Level 1: relaxing body and mind

For a “standard” person, that is, a very busy one with an endless list of occupations, concerns, problems, etc., to divert attention from the thoughts can be difficult. That is why the first step must be to calm the mind, let her relax, but without losing the attention; thus we freed from his bonds attention. There are many useful methods to achieve this first stage, we will not talk about them here, just mention one of the oldest and most effective, besides simple: abdominal conscious breathing, which focus attention on the breathing process, to be be slow and relaxing.

Level 2: mindfulness

If we get some ability to stop the mind and yet maintain the active attention, without falling into drowsiness, we are ready to start the next most advanced stage: draw attention to the back of the mind, seeking to connect with our potential for individualization, trying to “see” with our attention without intermediaries. It is a process that can take months or years, but for us we have that possibility exists, and has been reported by numerous testimonies.

Even without fully complete attention-deep, the practice produces remarkable effects. When training such attention, we have the ability to direct or stop direct the focus at will, regardless of thoughts or external events. When we are able to direct attention at will, we can be aware of anything inside or outside, without thinking about it: is a state called mindfulness. There are currently a lot of literature about mindfulness, and mindfulness meditation, but indeed mindfulness is a state of the attention, not a meditation: you can reach the state of mindfulness through any meditation technique, once it has worked enough. We will not discuss here the benefits of such a state, because as we have already mentioned there a lot of literature. Mindfulness has also been described as an end, as a goal, but in fact it is merely an intermediate step in the process of self-knowledge and self-realization, a state that must be achieved before accessing deeper levels of self-knowledge.

Level 3: connecting with our deep self, self-realization

If the person really has a compelling need to know, to know himself until the very end, then he can continue working, deepening attention, looking for the source of the individual, seeking to live, feel, just the sheer ability to be someone, beyond any intellectual content. It is a very interesting process, because as we discussed is the mind itself that directs its focus beyond any object, whether physical or mental. A priori it seems a contradiction, that the mind is able to know a primary potential that is not related to anything, but with training and perseverance the goal can be achieved, and have done so many truth seekers of different traditions.

That ability to be someone is in itself a potential self, but a self do not leaning on anything, is a “self creator”, that from the experiences of life is surrounded by a personality through which it is expressed. But the inner self is not any expression, is no expression, is pure “selfhood”.

Effects of self-realization

When the mind connects with the pure potential of individuality we gradually realize we are somebody regardless of external circumstances, need not identify with anything outside to be somebody. In fact, absolutely everything that exists becomes external to the self: the person focuses on the deep I, and from there she “see” both inside world and outside world. As a result, absolute freedom of thought and action is experienced, because by not identify with anything regardless of all is achieved. Also, you are somebody, and that somebody is indestructible, no matter what happens: an  unusual mental and emotional stability  is achieved. The mind is always calm, not only during daily minutes of meditation; as a result the emotions are soft and positive, negative emotions do not fit in a calm mind and a trained attention. Fears also disappear because the person knows she is indestructible, being someone beyond body and mind.