By Dr Tan Chin Yong
I had the good fortune to attend a talk recently about how to deal with our emotions in order to be happy. It was profound wisdom in a very practical manner and would like to share it in the hope that it may be of some benefit to everyone.
In our everyday life, we are constantly faced with great difficulties in dealing with emotions that take control of our mind. As an example, we often get caught in traffic jams on our drive to our destinations. Some of us with very short tempers may get angry, even to the point of extreme emotional outbursts such as road rage. Some others may swallow their frustrations and try to bear with the traffic as nothing can be done about it. However, some of us may take a look at the feelings that come up, and realizing their causes, seize the opportunity provided by the delay to practice patience and make good wishes for those who are unable to cope with it.
Our happiness is constantly in jeopardy due to such emotional struggles from situations outside of our control. The good news is that if we can take the time to truly see the situation clearly, we can overcome these struggles and remain happy nonetheless.
To start with, we need to identify the problem that involves not only the external situation but also our internal feelings and emotions. From there, we can then identify the causes of the problem. Many a time it is our greed, desire to ‘win’ and the lack of patience that lead to the situation worsening and becoming chaotic. When we know the causes, we can then generate the resolve and willingness to solve the problem by either changing the external conditions or our internal state of mind. In the case of our negative emotions, we can apply certain techniques to overcome them.
In our traffic example, we seldom realize that ours was one of the many cars that created the obstruction. The reason why we are upset is that we refuse to see our impatience and instead put the entire blame on others. If we persist in this mode we can never solve the problem, we are truly stuck!
The solution is to develop right thinking. In modern psychology, this is called selective thinking by shifting attention. As we shift our attention from negative thoughts to positive thoughts, we will find positive changes in ourselves, both physically and mentally.
The next step is to develop the right understanding. All emotional problems come from looking at things without analysing our mind. A simple observation of our mind and feelings will lead us to see how we are easily and quickly trapped by our likes and dislikes. The only solution is to relax and not to get caught up by them.
The negative emotions will only get stronger if we try to ignore, fight or suppress them, resulting in constant mental struggles. We make them worse instead of simply accepting them and working with them. We should see the emotions as emergency signals and ask ourselves ‘What’s up?’ and check our mind.
Going deeper, we can see that all phenomena we perceive are ephemeral. We suffer because we try to cling and hold on to what is impermanent and illusory. Our mind is like the vast sky and emotions are like clouds that come and go, yet cannot affect the space or the sky. To fully realize this, we need to let our mind embrace everything by doing nothing, just ‘be’ instead of ‘do’. This is meditation. Sit peacefully, simply watch our current state of emotional experience without trying to do anything about it. This is the Key to Happiness.