zen and emotional balance

Zen and Emotional Balance

This entry is part 9 of 10 in the series Zen 101

Zen and Emo­tion­al Bal­ance  —  there’s noth­ing “Zen” about block­ing emo­tions. In fact, Zen is all about being real, which means being ele­gant  —  includ­ing ele­gance in your emo­tion­al expres­sion.

Look­ing for more on this topic? 

Check out my book, Half Asleep in the Bud­dha Hall.

Wayne’s “East­ern” book takes you by the hand and helps you to find peace of mind. Half Asleep in the Bud­dha Hall is a Zen-based guide to liv­ing life ful­ly and deeply.

Let’s talk about Emotional Balance, shall we?

We can make a few uni­ver­sal asser­tions about emotions:

  • we all have them,
  • we all hurt our­selves if we do not express them, and
  • we all hurt our­selves and deep­en the mess we are in if we express our emo­tions in a non-help­ful way.

Zen prizes bal­ance, and the best way to do this is to be present with our process. While many peo­ple equate bal­ance with “neu­tral,” and there­fore with “luke­warm­ness,” we think that a life well lived is more like the sto­ry of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.

Too hot, too cold, just right!

Let’s pre­tend that Goldilocks is a Zen teacher, and look at emo­tions from the per­spec­tive of her three categories.

Too hot: Rather than get into a big head trip about how we gen­er­ate emo­tions, let’s just say that they “arise.”

We must also accept that emo­tions are all ours  —  oth­ers (or exter­nals) do not cause us to have emo­tions. Emo­tions arise as we par­tic­i­pate in life, and are com­plete­ly and total­ly self-generated. 

Too hot emo­tions are emo­tions that spill all over the place, and are usu­al­ly cov­ered in blame. Or per­haps bet­ter put, too hot emo­tions are deliv­ered in the con­text of blame, while jus­ti­fy­ing the deliv­ery by say­ing one is inca­pable of con­trol­ling them.

We hear, “It’s all your fault I am so angry, and there’s noth­ing I can do about my anger, because this is what I learned from my par­ents.” or, “I am so unhap­py that you won’t do what I want you to, so I’m going to find a way to pun­ish you for what I imag­ing you have done.”

Blah, blah, blah. 

The prob­lem with too hot emo­tion is that they burn every­one. They are nev­er jus­ti­fied, but sure are they pop­u­lar! Hot­ly expressed emo­tions, like a pile of manure in the liv­ing room, are pret­ty hard to ignore, and need shov­el­ling before life can return to normal.

Too cold: Too cold emo­tions are repressed emotions. 

There is a tight­ness about repres­sion, and espe­cial­ly when emo­tions are stuffed over time. There is a bit­ing off of the emo­tions, and thus a tight jaw. There is a dis­en­gaged qual­i­ty to the per­son­’s approach to life. 

While peo­ple think there is some­thing noble and restrained about repress­ing emo­tions, the result is inter­nal tur­moil, and often, illness. 

Includ­ed in this is pas­sive aggres­sive­ness  —  act­ing as it noth­ing is wrong, but using silence and cold­ness as a blud­geon to get oth­ers to coop­er­ate. Com­mon, but not helpful.

Just Right: a bal­ance. Emo­tions are felt inter­nal­ly, named, and expressed safe­ly and with clarity.

It’s fun­ny how few peo­ple reach a bal­ance point in their lives, and espe­cial­ly when it has to do with emotions. 

Most are stuck at either of the above poles, and rapid­ly swing­ing between the two. 

The bal­ance point, the “just right point,” is this:

I choose to safe­ly and clean­ly express my emo­tions with­out aim­ing them at any­one or any­thing. I say what I need to say, at the right vol­ume, using “I” lan­guage, and mak­ing it clear that I am accept­ing respon­si­bil­i­ty for my beliefs, my emo­tions and my reactions.

This, of course, is a tricky walk, as no one prepares us for it.

Indeed, our soci­ety sells us either or both of the oth­er two positions. 

It’s also tricky because it requires that I stay “sim­ply present,” and aware of my self all the time (which is how one bal­ances any­thing, includ­ing life.) With no one and noth­ing to blame, includ­ing myself, I am sim­ply respon­si­ble for my life, my fate and my direction. 

Now, odd­ly and para­dox­i­cal­ly, the more you prac­tice this Zen-based mid­dle way, the less you will find your­self need­ing to engage in emo­tion­al dump­ing. You’ll find that not many emo­tions are worth the time and ener­gy need­ed to express them. You’ll notice them build­ing, com­ing for­ward, reced­ing and pass­ing. Like clouds. 

This dif­fers entire­ly from “too cold.” Too cold is a forced repres­sion of emotions.

“Just notic­ing” is let­ting what hap­pens, hap­pen. It is see­ing every­thing and attach­ing to none of it. Or, as a mod­ern Taoist might think, (cf. Stew­art Wilde) 

The way it is, is the way it is.”

This week, notice your approach to your emo­tion­al life. Too hot? Too cold? Too much of both?

Re-imag­ine your life as “just right.” Hmm.

What a concept.

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