By Bhante Sathi
A few days ago, a person asked me, “How can I control my feelings?”
“Why don’t you like your feelings?” I replied.
“I like some feelings, but I don’t like others. I want to learn how to control my feelings. Can you teach me how to do that?”
In times of difficulty, especially in emotional moments, we all ask ourselves this question . What are feelings? How do they begin? Why do we like some feelings and not others?
Experiences come to us through our senses. Our eyes let us see the world, ears relay sound, the nose picks up scents, the tongue tastes food and the skin picks up the sense of touch. Yet different experiences cause different feelings or emotions. If someone touches us, we either embrace them or recoil. We may enjoy tasting our favorite food, but not when it is rotten. The difference is what makes us happy and what makes us unhappy. When you meet a friend, you enjoy making conversation with him, but if he made you angry you might avoid him. We have to understand what makes the difference between liking and disliking a situation.
Reaction is the key. Our senses take in all the stimuli so that we can react. We can greet the same friend numerous times and each experience can be different. Even though the eyes are seeing the same image, the power of reaction alters the emotive outcome. One time we see him and we think of a compliment he made and are glad to see him as a result. . A second time we remember a thoughtless comment that embarrassed us, and we feel anger.
Reaction leads to action (chetanaham bhikkawe kamman wadami). When we have an emotional response with out insight then we cannot control our emotions. When anger arises, heart rate increases, muscles tense and breathing becomes quick and shallow. By reacting you feed what your body dictates. Perhaps after yelling at someone, the anger will dissipate. Releasing this tension can trigger a pleasure sensation, which is gratifying and creates what psychiatrists call positive reinforcement. This means that we will have a strong inclination to repeat this pattern. That is the nature of tension. However, the mind and more importantly, perception, is nowhere to be found. Emotion is the physical reaction with no insight to guide us.
Therefore, emotions are not really helpful, even when they are pleasurable, because emotions can blind us. And they can never be fully be satisfied. Emotion changes our body chemistry and manifests in our psyche. A body that is free from the harmful effects of emotions is proven to be healthier. Although it is hard to specify an exact number, a vast majority of doctors and scientists agree that a life of calmness and peacefulness can slow or either stop the onslaught of disease on our bodies. There are many stories about people who recover from cancer and blood related diseases through meditation, by calming the mind.
How can we control our emotions? It is better to stop the process before it manifests in the body or turns into physical action. We have to work with perception. It is not wrong to have sense experiences, but we have to use perception to stop experiences from arousing emotion. That will lead us into happiness without pain. By having the correct perception, we experience each sense as it is. We can see emotions when they arise. It will help us to be joyful all the time. Then we can experience life without being blind, without being controlled by emotion.