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How to deal with negative emotions || IIT Bombay (2020)

Author Acharya Prashant

Acharya Prashant

6 min
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Questioner: How can negative emotions be expressed in a healthy way? Can expressing negative emotions be maladaptive? Does gender have a relation to mental health?

Acharya Prashant: You see, it does not matter whether you call the emotion negative or positive. The first thing to understand is that when you start calling or judging something as positive or negative, you already made it difficult for yourself to know what that thing really is about. How do you know that one emotion is negative and the other is positive? Positive for whom? Negative with respect to what? So, let’s talk of emotion itself; positive and negative can wait.

All emotion that you experience is actually trying to tell you something about yourself, provided you are willing to listen, to see. Even what you call negative emotions, such as anger or grief expressed in tears, has a story to tell. It is exposing, bringing to light what usually remains hidden in the lower layers of your consciousness. So, it does not merit condemnation; it deserves attention. By condoning it or condemning it, you are just trying to assert that you already know what emotion is, and by implication that you already know who you are and what your inner mechanism is. Humbly, I would like to say that most people don’t know anything about themselves.

It is like this. You don’t know anything about the functioning of a car engine, nothing at all. Under the engine assembly you find some liquid dripping, and you are quick to declare that it is quite a negative thing to happen. How do you know? Or, you go to the exhaust pipe, the silencer assembly, and there again you find some liquid dripping. You say it is bad. First of all, try to understand what the whole thing is all about.

The trainer who taught me how to drive said, “If you find that a little water is dripping from the exhaust pipe, it is a good thing.” This was some thirty years back, the carburetor age. He said, “If you see water dripping, it means the engine is quite nicely tuned.” Now, if you find some water dripping in this age, it might merely mean the air conditioner is working fine.

You don’t even know whether it is water drops, steering oil, engine oil, or brake oil. You are just labeling things as right or wrong, or good or bad. It does not make much sense, does it? If you are angry, it tells you that there is something that is resisting the world. Now, why it is resisting the world—going into it, trying to understand it, there would be a superficial reason and a deeper reason. The superficial reason obviously is that some event has happened that you are not particularly liking. Go into the deeper reason.

Same with disappointment. There would be a superficial reason, that you lost something, the desire was not met. But what is the fundamental desire? Similarly, attraction. Superficially, probably what you are looking for is desirable features, a few other things. But what is it that you really want? Whenever you go to the root of your emotion, you discover something important about yourself. In fact, the stronger the emotion is, the more important is the discovery waiting for you. So, don’t miss the opportunity.

We all want one particular thing—I won’t name it because there is no point naming it—but we all want it in our particular ways. It doesn’t matter who you are, what your qualifications are, how much knowledge and money you have, what your gender is, what things like ethnicity, religion, etc.—irrespective of all those things, we all want one central thing, regardless of our species, be it human beings, animals, fish, or birds.

Probably it is one central thing we all are looking for, but our expression is different. Our way to ask for that thing, our way towards that thing, depends on our biological constitution. Biologically, you are configured very differently compared to me. Biologically, a frog is very different from a lion, and a lion is very different from a human being. So, that same urge is to get that one particular thing expressed very differently in these three.

Similarly, what you are at one moment is quite different from what you are at another moment. Therefore, how you express that central inner urge at t=0, you might be very different from how you express it at t=10. At t=0, you are probably trying to get it by laughing or by being motivated, but at t=10, probably that same inner urge is expressing itself in disappointment and tears. If you only look at how the emotion is expressing and manifesting itself, you will not learn much. Instead, keep asking yourself: What do you fundamentally want? And what is it that one always wants?

You have asked if gender has any relation to mental health. Everything has a relation to the way your central inner desires express themselves. So, obviously people of one gender will dance quite differently from people of another gender. Still, maybe it is the same joy that they are looking for in their own or personal way. You could call it joy. You could call it mental health.

Something within us is born unhealthy, but it seeks health. That which is born unhealthy is diverse, of different kinds. That lack of health is sometimes called a woman, sometimes called a man; that lack of health is sometimes called introversion, sometimes it is called extroversion; sometimes it is labeled as one personality trait, sometimes the other.

Whatsoever defines us, whatsoever constitutes our personality, is seeking dissolution. That dissolution is joy. To get dissolved or resolved it expresses itself. That is the very reason for all human expression.

You express yourself so that the expression can come to a completeness and, therefore, closure. You express all your incompletenesses so that they may gain light and, therefore, completion. Then, if you are diligent and lucky enough, a point may come where the incompletenesses have all been resolved. Then life is just the expression of your fullness. That is called liberation, liberation from incompletion.

So, pay attention to all your thoughts, emotions, and actions. Something unknown is waiting there for you.

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