Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Positive Side of Negative Emotions

All emotions are part of being human. It's how we
use them that determines how they serve us.
There are some spiritual teachers who advocate what amounts to the suppression of emotion – or what was called by one man I once worked with, “going into observe mode” so that even when a seeker may have every right and reason to be angry, the result would be essentially standing to the side, observing the situation from a more detached perspective, with a more placid “acceptance” of “what is”.  I put several phrases in quote marks because these have come to sound like buzz words to me.  Something about this whole idea of "observe mode" just didn't feel right, but I believe I may have stumbled onto a partial explanation while working with a friend/apprentice recently.

Since I first embarked on this journey, I have encountered a lot of metaphysical teachers (from Toltec to Buddhist and everything in between) who essentially attempt to teach their “apprentices” that our “negative” emotions are somehow tantamount to evil itself, and must therefore be excised, or at the very least controlled to the point that the apprentice automatically goes into “observe mode” at the first sign of any negative emotion. In other words, one reaction is simply substituted for another, a different program is brought into play, but it's still a program. I’m going to use anger as the emotion du jour, but any of the traditional “negative” emotions could be substituted.

There have been several discussions about this, including the infamous thread, Kirks and Spocks and Klingons, oh my!* – and yet I still did not feel satisfied that I had really been able to isolate precisely why this idea of suppressing our emotions feels every bit as “wrong” to me as the idea of an extant deity on a golden throne answering to the name of “God”. And yet, every time I would hear a warrior say something to the effect of, “I was really pissed off that my husband kicked the dog, but I went into observe mode so as to remain detached,” I would be left with a feeling that said, quite simply, That ain’t right.

Being whole is a matter of integrating all aspects
of ourselves, not obliterating half of who we are.
Finally, I had what amounts to a personal epiphany which explains to me why these “observe mode” methods so highly touted by certain mystical teachers simply do not work in the big picture.  In a sense, it’s because teaching an apprentice to “go into observe mode” can end up being more like a bandaid over a gushing artery.  It stems the flow for awhile, but doesn't fix the underlying problem.  It's like teaching a child to say "darn" instead of "damn" - one may appear more acceptable, but the underlying problem still remains.  Teachers who employ such methods may help an apprentice identify the behavior and even suggest ways to "staunch" the behavior, such as “going into observe mode” or "become transparent", but what I've really observed is that this can end up replacing one pre-programmed response with another - i.e., you're only substituting "observe mode" for "anger mode", but the anger is still present.

A long time ago, Orlando said that if you're going to cut away diseased organs, you have to replace them with something lest the patient die on the table.  Problem is - can't replace a "heart" with a "liver"; can't replace a "stomach" with a "spleen".  To me, that's what happens with apprentices trained to go into “observe mode”.  I've seen it in apprentices who have worked with even some highly respected “naguals”.  The "cure" works for awhile, but when the apprentice starts to realize that their abilities haven't improved and they are still FEELING the anger (or jealousy or hurt), and that they're just replacing "anger mode" with "observe mode", they start falling back into the old patterns – and as a result, usually end up turning on their "master".  IOW, the cure is only temporary, because the disease still remains, and has only been masked by substituting a different extant behavior.  That's what I mean by "can't replace a heart with a liver."  One is for moving blood through the body, the other is for filtering toxins; and while both are necessary, neither can do the work of the other efficiently.

Please note:  I don't "blame" the teacher for this.  S/he can effectively bring an apprentice to the point where they really need to figure out for themselves what to Do with the so-called "negative emotion".  IOW, being able to drop into "observe mode" isn't enough in the long run.  It's just a starting point to break the old programs, to give the apprentice breathing room from the anger.  But it really does nothing to address the anger itself.  After that has been learned, the apprentice can then start learning how to re-channel the REAL human emotions into their daily life, as a matter of Intent.  I don't believe in trying to pretend I don't feel anger or hurt - I'm human, so that's a natural part of my being – and like my instinct to run from fire or to swim if thrown in water, I think our “darker” emotions are just tools to be used like any other instinct.

Trying to behave like a Vulcan is only another role-playing game - it's simply not real because we're not really Vulcans.  It's not in our nature. So what I've learned to do is to use my anger productively and ruthlessly - literally change the "molecular nature" of anger into creative godforce, for example.  Rather like using a propane-fed fire to power a refrigerator in your camper.  Using "negative" energy to create something positive, rather than just trying to squelch or ignore the negative energy because we’ve been programmed to think that anything “negative” or “dark” is something to be eradicated, when the truth is that it is just another tool once we strip away the assignations and stigma put onto it by our own human programming.

In the big picture, until we leave this earth, we're still human and that's just the way it is.  So where my "method" differs is that I don't try to teach people to be "peaceful warriors", but to use their emotions with awareness and ruthless impeccability. So-called spiritual people who talk about seeking wholeness and then fragment themselves into the good, the bad and the ugly need to seriously examine how that's really working for them.

If you really want to be whole, what you need to do is strangle your inner bliss ninny, stand naked in front of your own mirror, and see yourself for who you are. Chances are... it's not nearly as bad as you may think.

Condensed from a post to "The Shaman's Rattle"
May 4, 2005

*Kirks and Spocks and Klingons, oh my! refers to a discussion that was ongoing for several months on an old forum I once moderated entitled "The Shaman's Rattle." Anyone seriously interested in accessing it can hopefully find it here.

1 comment:

Alex said...

I understand and agree that to observe is not enough. What I do think that you have missed in this post (and perhaps ironically so through a lack of observation) is that observation is a very necessary step and one that perhaps needs to be mastered before moving on (though of course, it is prudent that a teacher makes the student aware of the next few steps also, even though he might not teach them). I do not believe that you are correct in saying that the "observe mode" is simply another substituted reaction for the "negative emotions". No, the "observe mode" is diligence. It is making oneself alert, conscious and aware. The negative emotions are not something that we put there willingly (at least not initially) as we do with the observe mode. The observe mode doesn't exist until we put ourselves to learn it and do it. Negative emotions, however, will be there no matter the situation and will continue to pop in through the observational mode. You mention that, but you don't say that that is the exact reason for which observation has to be a continual practice. It may be the first and most basic one, but it is also the one that never leaves and that requires constant maintenance. Observation does not block negative emotions, it doesn't contain them, it doesn't really substitute them at all, it simply allows for one to handle them properly. Like you said, to give them some space. This primary step, of observation, like any other, requires some room for experimentation for mastery, and thus the feeling you get from someone that is experimenting with it of "not being right" is actually a sign that they are still on their way.