Make Your Emotions Conscious
Start by becoming aware. Instead of trying to make all the bad emotions disappear, you try to be fully conscious with the way you feel, all day long. Making emotions conscious is as simple as asking yourself: How do I feel right now? Answering honestly, may allow you to notice you’re still holding anger towards the stranger who cut you off in traffic, or that you’re mad your spouse didn’t say thank you. Very often, people don’t realize a negative emotion has taken control until it builds into something huge. How often have you heard someone growl, “I’m not angry!”? Sometimes, we don’t feel the emotion mounting, but there are some early tells.
I eat when I’m worried. I crave junk food. Often, I go to my locker looking for food before I even realize I’m upset. My thoughts become so mesmerizing I don’t taste the snack and am only partially aware I feel the emotion’s pain, while the treat lasts.
The longer the emotion stays unconscious, the more pressure it builds, and the bigger the blow up will be when it finally spills out. You need to make the negativity conscious as soon as it develops and allow it to exhaust itself while still small. To do that, you keep your mind in the present moment and constantly ask: Am I holding onto anything right now?
Rasa Sadhana requires you to keep asking these questions all day, for thirty consecutive days. Fasting on an emotion begins by being fully conscious with how you feel. Then, when the emotion starts to arise, stop and decide if the emotion feels appropriate.
If you pick worry for your fast, every time it arises decide if there is any action merited, or should you just let things take their course. Answer honestly. Do something if it’s needed, but then, move to
gratitude practice. If the worry arises again, just bring your consciousness to it, accept its existence, without trying to make it go away. Tell yourself: I accept that I feel worried about this. Be aware it is there and move back to why you feel grateful.
You simply accept the feeling without justification, rationalization, argument, or guilt. All those things boost the emotion. What you resist, persists. No matter how uncomfortable it feels, just sit with it. This is how you fast on an emotion. Starve it, by not feeding it any energy. Resistance gasses negativity like jet fuel.
When a toddler throws a tantrum, there is no sense in trying to talk it down with good sense or logic. You let the baby lie down, kick, scream, and pout until he realizes you won’t be moved by the performance. When the baby senses the futility, the crying stops.
Become a screen door. Allow the emotion to blow through as hard as it needs to, but don’t fight it anymore than the mesh wire fights the wind.
If you fast on anger, when it arises, ask if the emotion is appropriate to your current situation. Sometimes it will be, but that doesn’t mean you have to act on it or share it with whoever you blame for the anger. I’m not telling you to be weak. Don’t let people take advantage of you. I’m advocating that you always have a choice to respond appropriately to every circumstance. Many people with chronic anger, just see red and lash out. It’s pure reflex, and when it’s over, they spend days feeling guilty about their outburst.
Understand that anger doesn’t always require a response. If you don’t need to defend yourself or your space, it’s okay to just sit down and be angry. You’re not a bad person. You’re not evil, and in the event
you’re experiencing righteous anger, the other person isn’t necessarily bad or evil either. More importantly, it’s not your job to expose what he or she did or punish the person for it. If you believe your spiritual life hasn’t been harmed by your anger, guilt won’t compound things, and the anger will exhaust much faster.
The goal is to pick a problem emotion and stay present with it. Evaluate its source and weigh its relevance when it arises. Then, let it be.
A Convict’s First Fast
My first fast was on anger, and the first test I had occurred in the chow hall, at lunch, on day one. As I waited to go through the hot bar, someone jumped in front of the guy, two people ahead. Prisoners talk about respect all the time, but few show it consistently. I took this man’s action as a personal insult. I felt he was saying, through his actions, that he was better than me and everyone else he had skipped. My blood pressure rose, and my face flushed. I felt mad at him and the guy who let him hop the line. As I opened my mouth to say something to them both, I remembered my fast and swallowed my words, but as I sat down to eat, I was still too angry to enjoy my meal.
Sitting there fuming, I began to evaluate the situation. I asked myself why I was upset and decided this guy was saying, Screw you, through his actions. Then, I realized my mind created that thought and subsequently reacted to it. I didn’t even know if it was true. I couldn’t know what that man thought. My anger was spawned from this false belief alone.
I also realized I had created an expectation for respect, but I was in prison. If I went about expecting people to afford me common courtesy, I would become angry every time they didn’t. People that love me
won’t always live up to my expectations. I don’t always live up to my own expectations. To think some badly bred and otherwise rude inmate would live up to my expectations was pure insanity. My anger came from trying to control other people. I wanted them to behave in a way I considered proper.
Most importantly, I realized that, even if the guy had jumped the line as a personal insult to me, I would have to be an idiot to let him “succeed” by angering me. I was in no danger, and I hadn’t been directly disrespected. I mean, he didn’t even skip me. He skipped the other guy. If I held anger, confronted him, or took a swing, I would be giving someone I had no respect for the power over my happiness. Why should I let my blood boil and get so amped I could no longer enjoy my meal? I realized I had the power to let it go, let the anger pass, and relax into the taste pleasure my food offered.
I told you not to rationalize or argue with how you feel. Then, I offered an anecdote where it seems like I rationalized and argued with my own anger, but try to see the difference between what I did and a person who validates his anger by listing all the reasons why he is right and the other person is wrong.
I didn’t do that. I simply evaluated why I was angry, and as I evaluated, I began to realize how faulty my reasons for being angry actually were. This understanding defused much of the hostility I held towards those men. It also humbled me, because I realized how stupid I was behaving.
The ego becomes embarrassed whenever we uncover its childish underworking. Many of our pet peeves, irritabilities, and biases are irrational tendencies that get birthed in the subconscious. We seldom know why we feel these things, but we feel them very strongly. Bringing them to the light, with introspection, helps cancel them.
The understanding I gained, when I used introspective investigation in the chow hall, helped me dissolve much of the anger I felt towards the two men, but it didn’t get it all. As I sat there, I still felt anger in general. I couldn’t turn it off like a spigot, no matter how effective the understanding.
So, I sat with the anger. I realized I didn’t have to feel guilty about it, share it with a friend, direct it at the two men, or try to make it go away. I didn’t have to do anything other than acknowledge it. I let it move through me without any resistance. It made me extremely uncomfortable, but by not fighting it, it moved through quicker than I could have imagined.
To be continued…
Bio: Scott Brooks has served the past two decades in federal prison for a marijuana conspiracy and firearm conviction. He has been an incarcerated student of the Syda Yoga Foundation for eleven years and taught Hatha Yoga and Taoist meditation to fellow inmates for the past decade. Brooks recently published the first work in his Soul Call Series, A Soul Call from Prison: How Yoga and Taoism Cured my Crises with Cocaine and Christianity, a line intended to help people on both sides of the razor-wire find a little more awareness and peace.