Anger, fear, jealousy, resentment, worry are just a selection of negative emotions we endure as we go about our lives. Its often intrigued me that some people exhibit them less than others and that identical situations can generate completely different responses. As someone who is prone to the odd bit of worry and irritation, I have spent some time trying to understand whether our negative emotions are out of our control or whether reducing them can be a learned process. As part of this journey, I attended a day course called Emotional Freedom at the Global Retreat Centre in Oxfordshire. Although I am by no means 'cured', the session produced a number of 'light-bulb moments. I've decided to share some of them in the hope that they can do the same for others.
The key message of the day was that negative emotions are predominantly driven by our egos - ego defined as an attachment to a self-image, particularly one that we seek to achieve or protect. This could be material success - house, car, job, bank balance. Perhaps our education -level of schooling, general knowledge, political knowledge. Or maybe our affiliations - nationality, religion (or lack of), political allegiances, sports team or local community group. It could be our hobbies, how we look, how we talk or any other societal creations. Our ego manifests into self-defining projections such as 'I am rich or knowledgeable therefore I am successful, therefore I am happy', 'I am a certain religion/nationality, I am better than others, therefore I am happy'. The more we identify with these thoughts, the more our happiness depends on our ability to fulfil our self-image. When the criteria we set is threatened so is our happiness and self-esteem. 'I am a success' turns into 'I am a failure' (if we were ever a success in the first place).
Identifying with these criteria produces a need to protect them, and a series of negative consequences. Materialism leads to greed and the fear of loss. The more we accumulate the less we trust or share. The more a society rates happiness according to material gain, the greater the inequality within it. Where the criteria is our education or point of view, our path is often one of self-validation rather than self-development. Opposing points of view are often seen as an attack on ourselves rather than the chance to analyse a fresh perspective. Losing a debate can be as devastating to the knowledge protector as losing a fortune is to the wealth-seeker. Our allegiances are equally capable of negative personal consequences. How often has nationality and religion been used to justify the dehumanisation and genocide of others?
Of course wealth, education and allegiances do have a role to play in our happiness. Wealth gives us the ability to look after ourselves and to enjoy new experiences. But evidence shows that we don't get any happier once our basic needs are met. Education equips us with understanding, tolerance and the ability to grow. But we don't grow when we fail to listen. Allegiances give us a sense of belonging, friendship and community. But not when they turn into tools of hate and insecurity. We know we have crossed these lines when we become too attached to them. When they result in negative emotions and consequences. Unravelling this attachment isn't easy. It can take a great deal of introspection, and involves 'putting ourselves in the laboratory' as Nina the course leader said. Some of us may need counselling but for many, taking time out to study ourselves is usually sufficient. The first step is to identify the negative emotions and 'limiting beliefs' we are attached to. The easiest way to do this is to track back from a specific negative emotion. For example, if you feel shame or the need to apologise when someone asks what your job is, at some level you think you are a failure. At a deeper level you are attached to the belief that your job defines who you are.
Once we have identified our attachments, we need to work to remove them. Our limiting beliefs often exist because we do not believe in ourselves, either because of our life experiences or what we have been told by others. We need to respect ourselves simply for who we are - whether it's as an evolutionary miracle, a soul, a child of God or wherever our belief system takes us. This forms the basis of everything I have learned at the Global Retreat or its sister centre Inner Space London and it is wonderful in its simplicity. When we are secure in ourselves, our attachments and limiting beliefs start to disappear. How can we become more secure? Well I could try and explain but the guys at the Global Retreat Centre or Inner Space in Covent Garden will do much better.