The mahakala is traditionally surrounded by flames, representing the unceasing energy of anger without hatred, the energy of compassion. The skull crown symbolizes the negativity or emotions that are not destroyed or abandoned or condemned for being bad. Rather, they are used by the mahakala for his ornaments and crown.
The Myth of Freedom, Working with Negativity
And in your patience, possess ye your souls.
The Gospel According to Luke: 21:19
LEADING WITH EMOTIONS
"If we were to think of ourselves as living in an ocean, we might see emotions as the waves that toss us about.
We are most human when we experience emotions. The energies of love, and the passions of anger characterize our interior worlds whether we admit it to others or not.
These emotions have great power to teach us important lessons. They become our fodder for transformation.
Disappointment. Despair. Elation.
Leaders live with emotions but must, somehow, master them. While some people may think that the strong leader makes his followers submit to his wishes through emotional abuse, nothing could be further from the ideal model of a great leader. No one appears strong in the midst of a temper tantrum. The terrible twos are for toddlers.
Great leaders somehow display self-awareness and serenity even in crisis. But the vast emotional landscape of a child still resides in the adult leader, and all the sirens of emotional upheaval call out at our weakest moments, threatening to overwhelm all that we have achieved. How do we live with them – these emotional demons – and lead in spite of them – or, perhaps, because of them?
“Equanimity,” a spiritual teacher once said to me, ‘is a razor’s edge.” We try to walk its ultra-fine line and not fall off. It is a perilous journey, because the depths of our emotions seem so real to us. Although they are not tangible, they have distinct characteristics. Who has not felt the heat of anger, or the thick, dark, turgid qualities of despair?
These passionate emotions seem to come from someone or something outside of us - triggered by an exterior force. We react rapidly with an “appropriate” emotional response. But those responses can get in the way of skillful action. They can hijack our judgment, impact our relationships, and make us ineffective in the moment of action.
How can we rise above such strong forces and still be feeling beings? If emotions are normal, how do we master ourselves in their presence and power?
The energy needed to sustain an emotion is a narrative. For emotions to sustain themselves, they need a story-line.
This is the human heart’s novel - the interior verbal scaffolds we create in our minds to hang our emotions on.
As anyone who has nursed an emotional wound knows, we can sustain an emotion a very long time if we can construct the right story to tell ourselves.
If we were to think of ourselves as living in an ocean, we might see our emotions as the waves that toss us about. We need these emotions. These waves belong to our experience, and they have their very natural place in our humanity. To feel is to be connected to the drama of life – to see suffering and respond; to ponder life through our dark shadows of doubt.
We are most human when we experience emotions. The energies of love, and the passions of anger characterize our interior worlds whether we admit it to others or not. It is with reason that the quote from The Myth of Freedom mentioned above describes “negative” emotions as ornaments and crown. These emotions have great power to teach us important lessons. They become our fodder for transformation.
Like waves, emotions pass through us, and their energies gradually dissipate. Or, to be more accurate, they pass if we do not further energize them. But we know how to give our emotions a longer life.
The energy needed to sustain an emotion is a narrative. For emotions to sustain themselves, they need a story-line. This is the human heart’s novel - the interior verbal scaffolds we create in our minds to hang our emotions on. We can justify our superiority in a relationship, re-live an old heartbreak, fuel anger with an enemy, and deepen depression within us simply through the cycle of thought repetition and our ongoing mental creations. We story-tell the emotion to keep it alive. As anyone who has nursed an emotional wound knows, we can sustain an emotion a very long time if we can construct the right story to tell ourselves.
Something happens. We feel things as a result. They can pass if we leave it at that, but there can be something that feels very good (oddly enough) if we can sustain the feeling. Even misery can offer a certain kind of emotional balm. “She said this, and I felt that, and I can’t believe she would say that. And it’s not the first time she has said such a thing. And I really reacted to that, and the more I think about it….” And on and on….
How do we interrupt that process? How do we create a space for the emotion to live and to die a natural death?
Great teachers offer ways to navigate the shoals of this emotional world. They advise us to let the emotions exist, but to separate them from their narrative basis. Without that narrative, the energy of an emotion will have its full life cycle: Birth, growth, decay and death.
We can choose to feel the emotion directly without the story we have attached to it. We just let it be the feeling itself. Only that: Joy, or happiness or despair or sadness. Just allow the emotion to be there, and we live with it while observing its arc of existence.
Sadness is sadness, but not sadness with a reason. Hate is hate, but not hate with an object. We just allow the emotion to live in purity. It is difficult to do this because we are natural storytellers. Interrupting the story-maker within is interrupting a very natural voice. We can do it though, because that is the way we can let emotions have their space and then die off. It is completely possible to develop the discipline of patience to let the emotion come into being, flourish and then die – without adding a narrative.To develop the patience for this practice we must develop our belief in the temporary quality of our emotions. The wave is not the ocean, but it feels like it when it passes through us.
The energy of the wave seems huge, and it feels like it will last forever. Then, somehow it is gone. When we notice its passing we begin to have faith that the wave will die of its own accord. So, we can feel the wave, but focus on the ocean. We can let the wave have its moment, but let the ocean have the day.
The energy of the wave seems huge, and it feels like it will last forever. Then, somehow it is gone.
When we notice its passing we begin to have faith that the wave will die of its own accord.
So, we can feel the wave, but focus on the ocean. We can let the wave have its moment, but let the ocean have the day.
Resolve then, in the frictions of your daily life, to notice the arising of emotions and to watch them with curiosity. Rather than being bowled over, you can see the whole process. The initial emotion may (and probably WILL) grow, and you can watch how it impacts your body. What happens to your breathing or your heartbeat? Do you sweat? Are you suddenly hot? What does the skin feel like? As it dissipates are you suddenly tired? As you observe all of this, you are in the present – and you can’t be in a storyline and the present moment at the same time. You can’t be telling yourself a story about a slight to your ego and also be fully engaged in watching this emotional arch come into being and die away. If you observe it, you are denying the emotion the energy it needs to live much longer. If you don’t attach energy to it, it will die a very quick and natural death.
The beauty of this approach to emotions is that you no longer try to push them away or to feel bad about having them. Like jewels in a crown, you see them as opportunities arising for interior work. As Gandhi said, “I only control my anger when it comes.” Rather than repressing his anger, he used it to develop his “angerlessness” through building up his capacity to have patience. Is it possible that actually Gandhi even welcomed his anger? It provided the chance to grow!
The most important aspect of this work is that, as you go through this process of observation, YOU change inwardly. Patience creates time to consider alternatives, fosters self-control, allows more information to come into decision-making; and matures the impetuousness that the toddler within us still wishes to indulge.
This is not a new idea, nor is it mine. All of the great traditions teach that the antidote to anger is not kindness. It is patience. Wait through the emotion. Watch it come, and then watch it go. If you do, you’ll see it for what it is: an energy that has something to teach you, and to even dramatically change your life.
And gradually, you will begin to master of one of the greatest challenges to being an effective leader: The ever-changing passions of your own - very human - heart.
©2020 John Thomas Dodson All Rights Reserved
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