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Emotional Freedom Part 1: Emotional Imprisonment
“Liberty requires responsibility. That is why most men dread it.”—George Bernard Shaw Most of us are in a prison. A prison we create with our own minds. We often do it unconsciously and automatically—not realizing the damage we are doing to ourselves and others. Not even realizing we are in a prison. Not realizing how limited the area is in which we allow ourselves to roam. Fortunately, once we become aware of our imprisonment and the limits of our confines, we can appeal to ourselves—for unlike a real prison, only we can free ourselves from these confines—to be let out on parole, giving us more choice and more access to the real world. The more we exercise this choice and the more our mental habits improve, eventually we can discharge ourselves from parole and enjoy true freedom, true peace, and true happiness. What is the greatest achievement we could all experience? What do we all ultimately want? Whether through our goals, our relationships, the recreational experiences we choose, the standards we hold for ourselves, the books we read, or the spiritual paths we walk—regardless of the context—we all are ultimately striving for the same thing: happiness. We could say that this is the human being’s purpose in life—to be happy and to live a life in service of real and true happiness according to our nature. And yet, misery and unhappiness is universal--even accepted in some philosophical circles as the human condition. Suffering, they say, is the natural order of things. Or “simple pain—the pain of everyday life”. Or “misery is there”. I disagree. I assert our natural right—our inherent nature—is one of joy and creativity. One of emotional freedom. One of happiness. One of liberation. And yet, so few of us are truly happy. So few truly free. And in the West, the idea of being emotionally free is often scoffed at, or worse—taken as a sign of a lack of “emotional intelligence,” or “denial” or a “lack of authenticity” or still worse: “inhuman”. This is compounded by the confounding fact that most people connect more deeply through their pain than their joy. For those who thrive on attention, comfort from others, and are desperate for connection, being in their misery gives them all too much secondary gain—that is, the underlying gain from keeping a “problem”—to do otherwise. Regardless of how much care and compassion we may have for the “victim” of some situation, and no matter how understandable their emotional suffering may be, simultaneously such ignorance, abrogation of responsibility, obvious projection of one’s own limitations onto another, and/or gross self-indulgence is painful to watch, regardless of what has happened to the person—to us—for we know not what we do and how much damage we are actually doing to ourselves out of ignorance and short-term gain. Far from being inhuman—far from becoming an automaton— once emotionally free, we are actually free to be fully human. What does it mean to be fully human? It is to consistently experience joy, creativity, beauty, grace, inspiration, love, and freedom. There is ever increasing levels of play, spontaneity, positivity, and a massive unleashing of creativity and creative energies. “Take refuge in nothing outside of yourself.”--Buddha The path is long, requires diligence and immense personal responsibility, and is well worth the daily effort. And daily [even hourly] effort is required. The first step is to unlock our prison cell. There are two keys required to open our prison cell. They are: •Responsibility •Facility Nothing emotional is sourced outside of ourselves. Once we take full responsibility for all of our own emotional reactions and experiences, we begin to receive the gift of choice. With this, we can then begin to educate ourselves about how our mind works and begin to exercise facility. Without responsibility, we will never develop facility and if we never develop facility, we will never have choice, and if we never develop choice, we will never reach the final goal of full emotional freedom. This becomes obvious when we examine the pre-rational [pre-responsibility] linguistic structures that people use when describing their emotional life: “I was wracked by guilt; I fell in love; I was gripped by fear; I was overcome by anger; I became overwhelmed by shame; a dark cloud of depression came over me…” What do all of these phrases have in common? What is their common denominator that demonstrates a lack of responsibility, self-ownership, and wisdom of the working processes of their mind? If we examine them, we see that they all indicate the emotion is somehow outside of the speaker. The emotion takes on the mystical/mythical life of some roving spirit that strikes at us causing us misery. We are at the mercy of the “god” of emotions. We do not have our emotions at this stage…rather our emotions have us. It does not have to be so. We can have choice, and we can have our emotions, rather than them having us. The truth, as it is in all of us, is that we create our own emotional experience. We do not experience reality, we experience our internal re-presentation or coding of our experiences in pictures, sounds, feelings, tastes, and smells. Something arises in our awareness—perhaps a sound, or a sight, or a taste—and we re-cognize it. We then interpret it. From that interpretation we get a bodily sensation or a “feeling” that is usually labeled as XYZ emotion. We then react accordingly. While learning not to react is a wonderful practice that I recommend and practice daily myself, we can go further down the line to earlier choice points making an even bigger difference in our own emotional life and by extension, the lives of those around us. We will see this in later installments of this series. There is no choice you say? We are run by our limbic system? Let us examine this together. How many of us have ever had an experience or witnessed an event with a friend, family member, or loved one and they remember it differently than we do? We all have. How many of us have ever had an experience or witnessed an event and had a different emotional reaction to it than the person we were with? We all have. And why is that? For precisely the reason laid out in the process above. We either re-cognize it differently than they do or we interpret and evaluate it differently than they do—both leading to a different emotional experience than they have. We do this unconsciously most of the time. Knowing all of this, we have no conscious choice other than to take full responsibility for our own emotional life and begin to learn more about this “coding” in our senses and to develop the conscious faculties necessary to be more conscious, more mindful, and therefore have more emotional choice for our own sake and for the sake of those around us. While it is understandable to be upset or hurt by certain genres of events and it is predictable to experience joy or happiness with others, this is not hard-wired. Additionally, the events of life and their practical implications are often challenging enough to deal with. Sometimes downright difficult. To manage these events and their implications and to effectively deal with the practical impact, we need a clear mind. If these events are already difficult enough to deal with, and the negative emotional reaction is—as we will demonstrate—often necessary and we have tremendous choice in the matter, why not exercise that choice? And we have choice to the exact degree we take responsibility and exercise learned “facility with self”. And as we develop the muscle of choice further and further, we eventually reach emotional freedom—real happiness, real peace, real harmony. It is your natural right as a human being. I hope you will join me in seizing the fruits from the tree of your own mind.