Are emotions something that we just feel in response to environmental triggers, or is it something we can create? How can we create emotions? In this third article of the Emotional Self-Mastery series, I will answer these questions.
If we are not able to create our emotions, then we are at the mercy of external stimuli. For us to feel a certain way, something external would need to happen. We would not only seek happiness outside ourselves but always default to looking for an external trigger to help us feel all sorts of things. This, truly, is the state of living outside in—the hallmark of our modern society.
When we realize that our brain is the greatest pharmacy in the world and that our consciousness is the storehouse of all possibilities, then we turn within. Then we rely on ourselves and develop the ability to cultivate positive emotions internally. This emotional self-sufficiency leads to self-reliance. It is the practice of living inside out.
In a nutshell: our lower mind feels emotions as triggered by the environment and also by internal triggers. Our higher mind has the capacity to kindle any emotional state we desire.
When you are living inside out, people and external events can still press your buttons and trigger emotions, but ultimately you are the one in control. You feel what you decide to feel. You have the ability to dissipate negative emotions and to create positive emotions—and you exercise that in accordance with your values and aspirations.
No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
— Eleanor Roosevelt
Step 1: Kindle
The first step in creating an emotion within yourself is to kindle it. You need to create that initial spark. The difference is that instead of it being triggered by an interaction or an external event, it gets triggered by yourself through an act of will.
There are different ways to do that.
The most common one is using your memory. If you want to create the emotion of joy, for example, you can remember a moment in your life when you felt extremely joyful, or you can re-live many such moments in your memory, one after another. The stronger the emotion of joy in that moment and the clearer your memory of it, the better.
The second one is imagination. This takes a little bit more effort, but it doesn’t have the limitations of the first, as it doesn’t even require that you have experienced that emotion before. All you need to do is imagine how it would feel to feel it. Stay open to that possibility, knowing that imagination immediately creates whatever it conceives. If you doubt it or get into the analytical mode of thinking, you close yourself off to that possibility.
Both these ways are recommended by the different meditation traditions, such as Buddhism and Yoga. In that context, they are used as a means to create positive emotions such as peace, love, compassion, bliss, joy, and equanimity. Having said that, these methods are universal and can be used to create any state of mind or feeling that you desire.
Whether you are using memory or imagination, the key for it to work is to make it as real as possible. Create that state within yourself. Treat it as real, as if it was just arising spontaneously. Pay attention to its signs, and create space for it.
You can learn more about kindling positive states, emotions, and virtues in this article.
There are also external methods of kindling. For example, you could listen to a song that expresses that feeling or watch a movie or video clip that is filled with that emotion.
Implementing these is much easier, as it’s a more passive approach. For the same reason, though, they don’t fully train your awareness, and they can at times be a sort of a crutch. I suggest you use them as the training wheels for this practice, or resort to them in times when you might not have the energy and headspace needed to go through the process using memory or imagination.
Finally, some people also find that creative expression through poetry, painting, singing, and other forms of art can be an effective way to kindle certain states and emotions.
Step 2: Enhance
Once you have kindled the desired feeling or emotion, it now already exists inside of you. But it may still be very thin or weak. So the next step is to help it grow.
It’s a little bit like watering a plant in its early stages of growth. In this case, the plant is the state you just brought to life, and the water is your attention. By continuously feeding that new state with your attention, it begins to expand and consolidate.
Here is how you can do this:
- Start by paying attention to the bodily sensations associated with that state. This will help your awareness become clearer and more stable.
- Try to locate exactly where that new feeling is residing. If the sensations associated with it are in more than one place, select where they are strongest.
- Focus on that feeling for as long as you can. Take it as the object of your meditation. If you get distracted, come back to it with renewed determination.
- Create space internally for that feeling to grow. Have the subtle intention of it expanding inside of you.
- Use affirmations to consolidate that state further. For example, “I feel full of courage right now” or “My whole body is filled with bliss” or “I now have the resilience of a warrior, and nothing can break me.”
Spend some time dwelling in this new state in whatever way is most helpful to you. Help it grow.
Step 3: Repeat
Every time you go through this process, you create a stronger neural network in your brain for the experience of that emotion. The more you do it, the easier it becomes to re-create that emotion at will, experience it more intensely, and sustain it for longer.
That is why, in Wise Confidence, I wrote that if you do this for long enough you will have a “self-confidence button”. One that doesn’t involve putting foreign chemicals in your body and has no known side-effects! 😉
Over time, that positive state—be it a feeling, quality, or virtue—will no longer need to be practiced, for it has become second nature. It is now part of your emotional baseline; tapping it will feel as natural to you as reading the words on this page.
If you are a member of the Mindful Self-Discipline app, you can use the Kindle the Virtue and Absorb the Virtue guided meditations to implement the process discussed here.
In the next article of this series, you will learn the final skill of Emotional Self-Mastery: sublimation. With it, instead of trying to dissolve or overcome the negative emotions, you will transform their raw energy into something more useful, positive, and perhaps even sublime.