Apr 22
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Emotions are vital to our well-being since they determine the state of our minds and the experience of happiness or suffering that our minds then create. Working with our emotions then becomes an issue not just relevant to extreme moments when harmful emotions rise up but is an integral part of developing inner peace and joy every day of our lives.


Despite this, a clear definition is difficult mainly because emotions are so varied in nature. We can, however, determine some common aspects to emotions: they are energetically elevated states of mind which often lead to physiological and behavioural changes, they seem to arise without control for most of us, although I will argue that more control is possible. They are often lacking a basis in reason being more of a spontaneous feeling and they mostly are accompanied by an often strong feeling of displeasure or pleasure.

Where do emotions arise?

We can categorise where emotions come from into three areas:

Basis: this refers to where we are as a person, our upbringing, education, culture all determine whether emotions arise or not but also whether we slept well or have difficult issues arising in our lives.

Trigger: which sets off our emotions be it a person, place situation.

Response; this may be on a mental, verbal or physical level to the emotion.

How to distinguish emotions?

To begin with, emotions of all types are felt within our mental consciousness not within our senses. We certainly experience feelings within our senses but the emotional reaction to whatever we engage with takes place always at the level of our mental consciousness within ourselves. From this perspective emotions all have a degree of inaccuracy in the way they engage with the world; since rather than the actual object out there being what they engage with, it is a mental image of that object. Think of your home while away from it, a family member who is in another country, we are clearly not able to engage with the actual object we are thinking about; it is only an image of that.


The most important distinction within emotions, however, lies in whether they are positive or negative (healthy or unhealthy).

Negative emotions will always have an agitated aspect to them; they feel uncomfortable and the more one cultivates awareness of one’s mind the more clearly this discomfort is seen. Take some easy examples: anger when it arises creates discomfort. We don’t sleep properly, enjoy our food or other normally enjoyable activities when consumed by anger. Secondly, and far more essential to understanding and being able to work with negative emotions, is that they are hugely unrealistic in nature. For example, the object of our anger is vastly over exaggerated in its negative aspects and we tend to cultivate and foster these aspects ignoring any contradictions to this.


Positive emotions on the other hand are almost completely opposite to the above. While still capable of being strong energetically they tend to be much calmer states of mind and also far more realistic in their perception of the object they are engaging with. Some examples: love and compassion are universally understood to be positive in nature, even when powerful. One can see a level of calm within the mind when they arise and they conform much more to the nature of reality plus projecting healthier emotions.

What do we mean by emotional imbalance?

From the above we can see that what is meant by being unbalanced emotionally is to be overly under the sway of negative emotions. These lead to agitation in the mind and often negative reactions, physically, verbally or mentally.

Why do negative emotions arise?

Clearly all emotions are similar in being energetic in nature but that energy is responsible for enormous suffering when the emotion is negative or unhealthy in nature.

The reason for the seemingly uncontrollable arising of these types of emotions is rooted in an exaggerated holding onto an identity. These patterns of harmful emotional reactions then become set into our minds and become instinctive ways of responding. We then fruitlessly attempt to control our reality to avoid the upsetting objects and get closer to our ‘helpful’ objects. This combined with a clinging to the imagined permanence of our lives and the world we perceive, means we battle ourselves in try and establish some control.

How then can we restore emotional balance and happiness to our mind?

Emotions are not fixed. We are not born with the same degree of anger, compassion and attributes. Just like the body but with a far greater capacity, the mind can develop and get stronger or weaker in its various functions. The first and probably the most essential method is to first clearly recognise negative emotions as harmful. Without this any attempt to work with them will not have any long term benefits.

Response: Once strong negative emotions arise, we are in damage control territory. We need to avoid letting the situation get worse (verbal or physical reactions can exasperate things). The advice here is to either remain unmoved like a ‘stick or stone’ or to try to distract oneself. Bring different thoughts into your mind, say prayers or mantras, physically engage in a distracting activity.

Trigger: At those times when harmful emotions arise, we need to train our minds to be able to step back and not let our habitual reactions kick in. To do this we need to be able to distance ourselves from identifying with and being controlled by the emotion. Knowledge of simple meditation techniques can be a great asset.

Basis: This is where we begin to bring some long-term changes to our minds. All harmful emotions have antidotes. For example, anger has two antidotes: patience and love. The more patient we are the less angry we will become. The more we cultivate genuine unconditional love the more we understand others and hence avoid anger towards them.


Change within the habitual tendencies of our mind is not only possible but the most vital thing we can do in our lives. Whether those changes happen is entirely up to ourselves. Positive changes in our minds and lives is not a distant possibility but a certainty, based on simple cause and effect.

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