How to Tame Emotional Reactions

Our health and well-being aren’t merely the absence of physical or mental dis-ease.  They’re also how well we engage with life emotionally.  What exactly are emotions and why do they matter? 

The words ‘emotion’ and ‘feeling’ are often used interchangeably but they’re not at all the same.  Feelings are automatic and instinctual responses to events while emotions are the subjective interpretations of those events.

Said another way, an emotion is a reaction of the body to the mind.  It’s created when your body has a feeling, and your mind adds a thought to it.  A feeling starts out as pure then gets colored or tainted by the meaning we give it and the story we tell around it. 

If I stubbed my toe on a heavy toolbox, I’d feel pain.  If I thought about what it was doing there and who left it there, I’d feel not just pain but, voila, an emotion, and not a pleasant one either.

The Buddha taught about the pain and suffering of a thousand arrows.   He said it’s the first arrow that causes the pain and the other 999 arrows are the self-inflicted wounds, or suffering, caused by our reaction to the first.

A feeling, no matter how pleasant or unpleasant, is easier to experience, process, and release before we convert it to an emotion.  Emotions are heavier than feelings, and more likely to get stuffed to be dealt with later, or not, because they come with baggage.

When we’re able to pause, take a breath, and simply feel, we’re able to keep our experiences pure, without imposing our subjective interpretation on them.  That brings us a greater awareness of our feelings and needs and what brings us joy.