Or, in other words, how to love yourself and others.
Any being who’s experienced emotions knows that, instead of you experiencing the emotions, sometime your emotions are experiencing you. Many religions and philosophies throughout history have taught that we should learn to be a witness, stepping back and not letting our emotions get in the way of rational thinking. Some even go so far as to say that we should become friendly with our emotions, get to know them, and therefore come to know when they are arising, recognize what it is, and stop yourself from feeling it. What I’m wondering, is what happens if you stop yourself from feeling emotions? Despite the fact that it must be extremely hard if not impossible to not feel any emotions, if we have evolved as the only beings that can recognize that we are feeling an emotion, should we embrace this? I’m not saying that we should let ourselves become overwhelmed with our emotions, but be able to step aside and let them coexist with us.
One of the most basic emotions I can think of is fear. For millennia fear has warned prey that there is a predator close by. These days, humans tend to be the predators more often then not, but in many cases fear has saved lives. It is a basic instinct. I’d go so far as to say that it is necessary to the survival of any living being. So, if a negative emotion such as fear can be such a good thing, what other emotions are necessary? I’d argue that love is necessary, as without love we couldn’t exist together peacefully. (Some would argue here that you can’t feel love without having felt hate, but I’d like to politely disagree. In my studies of metta meditation (loving-kindness), I’ve come to learn that even in hate there can exist a certain kind of love. I could go into this in detail, but that’s a whole other entry). But, there are three other emotions that I think are also necessary (among, likely, others) that I’d like to go into here: vulnerability, bravery, and compassion.
In my understanding of vulnerability, which differs greatly from the common definition of ‘weakness’, it seems that a vulnerability is a place for growth, connection, and individuality. I’d go so far as to argue that without vulnerabilities we would all be the same. Most people think of a vulnerability as a potential for harm, either physical or emotional. But, it’s only a potential for harm if there is something to be harmed by. Some would argue here that death is a vulnerability – but this is not so, as we all die. There cannot be life without death – and this does not make us weak. If anything, this should make us stronger as we realize that our time on this plane is limited and that we should spend the time we have with our loved ones with as happy an outlook that we can. We all have suffering in our life that can either be caused from, or create vulnerabilities. But, suffering is inevitable as we live in physical bodies that manifest physical emotions that don’t always coincide with the emotions of others. In my own experience, all suffering that I’ve endured has taught me more, and opened me up to more than I ever would have experienced had I avoided the suffering. Because we are never the same people from one moment to the next, let alone one lifetime to the next, we can’t possibly avoid suffering. Our cells are continuously dying and birthing, rewriting itself and changing in minuscule ways. Our bodies are always aging, our minds always growing. If we can look at this cycle of life and death, suffering and growth, as a positive life experience, we can fully embrace ourselves and each other for the way we are – our true beings – without shame. In doing this, we are actually eliminating much of our suffering.
Which leads us to compassion. If all beings have even a slice of compassion in them, then there is no need for a vulnerability to be a weakness. Instead of being shameful of your vulnerabilities, let them show so that people can get to know who you are, and love you for who you are. A vulnerability could be a broken heart, a broken bone, a bullied soul, amongst various other things not even a fraction of which I could name here. All of these things do heal when given the proper environment. Compassion is that environment. To give compassion shows humbleness, selflessness, and empathy. To be able to receive compassion shows even greater strength and trust, as you are letting the person see your soul. With this connection, we are able to communicate clearly, have stronger relationships, and end suffering all over the world. And, when I say compassion, I don’t mean in the form of money. I mean, opening your heart to the suffering of others; realizing that they suffer just as you do, and allowing them to experience it however they may without judgement. Compassion is so strong an emotion, and an action, that even if you open if up to one person a day you’d be doing yourself a huge favor, and helping those around you, even if just by setting an example. You never know what people are going through, or why they are acting the way they are. Don’t take their actions personally, as most of the time they aren’t reacting to something you did, but rather projecting their feelings from something that happened earlier onto you.
This brings us to bravery. In order to surrender yourself to someone – showing them your vulnerabilities, sending out your compassion, and trusting them to treat you with compassion – shows great bravery and courage (I use these two words simultaneously, as I think that backing down from a battle shows just as great, if not greater bravery and courage than running into it head-first). By opening yourself to them you are placing trust into their hands and hoping they won’t throw it back at you or drop it to the ground to stomp on it. I can guarantee you that they will recognize this, even if they don’t know they do, and they will treat you with respect and trust in return. Now, everyone’s capacity for respect and trust is different, so it may not seem so obvious to you that they are reciprocating, but every time they are given the opportunity to grow into that compassion, vulnerable environment, they are given an extra pull up the mountain, where at the top lays true trust, respect, and friendship. An exercise I would like you to try in order to practice bravery is to look into the eyes of all the strangers that pass you with acceptance. Don’t judge them. Don’t assume that you know what they are going through or why they are acting the way they are. Don’t assume that they are judging you. Let there be a complete exchange of introductions – how you really want people to know you, “Hi, my name is _____ and I see the good in you, and accept you for who you are.” See what happens in return – how many people’s faces will soften, aura’s will shift, and how many true connections you can make. Now, this isn’t a contest – the number doesn’t matter – but you will be surprised how many people are looking desperately for that kind of acknowledgement and kindness. Be brave – stick your foot out first, and see how many people catch you.
If we can give and receive these three things we would have very strong, trusting, and safe relationships – be them love, friendship, family, or connections with complete strangers. If we can accept ourselves enough to let our vulnerabilities shine through, show compassion even when all we want to do is lash out, and do this all with courage – imagine how much happier we would be. If we embrace the practice of separating our selves from our emotions and stopping them from happening, how can we exist as a co-dependent species? If we can accept our emotions, recognize when they are arising and why, and learn to scoot over and let them have a seat on the pillow beside us, then we can have a conversation with them, instead of trying to become them.
What do you think?