What would life be like without emotional burdens like anxiety, depression, guilt, rage, self-doubt and shame? What does it mean to be "emotionally free"? Is it possible? Is it even desirable?
Part of the tool kit with which we human beings are born are our emotions. They must serve a purpose, or we would not have them. So far, so obvious. What would life be like without love, passion, enthusiasm, joy, excitement, exuberance, compassion, empathy or frustration, anger, resentment, envy, jealousy, greed and fear?
Positive emotions serve to move us forward and expand our horizons. Negative emotions can trap us in a miserable downward spiral of hopelessness and despair. So is it possible to enjoy more of the positive and less of the negative? A large industry of therapists, counsellors and health practitioners are engaged in assisting us in dealing with negative emotions and the effects they have on our ability to function effectively in relationships, work and recreation, and to enjoy personal well-being, health and happiness.
"Emotionally free" might not mean doing away with emotions altogether, which could make us less human. What if we were free to liberate ourselves from the negative while embracing more of the positive, life-affirming emotions?
What purpose do negative emotions serve? Take the emotion of grief, for example. As a dear friend pointed out to me recently, we cannot escape the fact that we will experience loss at some time during our lives: loved ones die, friends move on, beauty fades, divorce happens. In my experience, grieving has a life of its own and exists beyond my ability to control or direct it. By accepting the emotion and not fighting it, it became less painful. Grief was another form of energy, and one that was inviting me to be gentle with myself, compassionate and kind towards my feelings of loss. Free.
Negative emotions, then, can serve to wake us up to another world in which we can live with greater love, understanding, empathy and wisdom. Seen in this light, even the harshness of some life experience can serve to enrich and stabilize us.
On the other hand, negative emotions that are dwelt upon (such as anger with a former spouse) or buried in the unconscious over time (such as childhood fears) seriously compromise our well-being. Stuck, we lose our freedom of choice.
Several forms of psychotherapy affirm the potential of loving acceptance that we have for ourselves, regardless of our past experiences. The loving of dear friends assisted me in dealing with the heavy sadness that I was experiencing as I witnessed my parents' challenges with dementia. I did not lose my empathy for their circumstances, but I ceased to be immobilized by my feelings for them. Loving heals. The loving within us can heal us.
I love that we can free ourselves from negative emotion. But what if we could train ourselves to meet one another "out beyond the ideas of wrongdoing and right doing," as Rumi put it, and live more in that field? What if we could become more accepting, loving and forgiving towards ourselves and others? What if we could recognize the good even when the bad happens?
Here is a thought from John Morton that endorses this possibility:
Then look for the good in your midst. Focus on the good until you give and contribute to the greater good. It's as simple as making the situation you are in better than it was a moment ago. Become part of the solution. Help clean up when there is a mess. Give some strength to those who can use it. Cheer somebody up, perhaps by starting with yourself. Be the bearer of a smile and good tidings.
What are your thoughts about emotional freedom? How have you found love to be a healer in your life? I would love to hear from you.
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