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Becoming More Intimate With Our Emotions
(and More Adept in Expressing Them)


Copyright 2010 Robert Augustus Masters

All rights reserved.

1. Introduction: Emotional Literacy......................................................3

Meeting the Emotions (at least most of them)

2. Shame............................................................................................... 14
3. Guilt................................................................................................. 19
4. Anger.................................................................................................24
5. Joy......................................................................................................39
6. Fear....................................................................................................41
7. Collective Fear..................................................................................50
8. Doubt................................................................................................59
9. Paranoia............................................................................................62
10. Jealousy............................................................................................65
11. Schadenfreude................................................................................72
12. Awe..................................................................................................76
13. Grief................................................................................................78

More to Consider Regarding Emotion

14. Feeling Into, Feeling For, Feeling With......................................82
15. Dont Numb Yourself to Your Numbness...............................84
16. Dating Your Loneliness................................................................86
17. Collective Overwhelm..................................................................88
18. Connected Catharsis.....................................................................92
19. The Psycholinguistics of Emotion.............................................99
20. The Feeling of Being..................................................................104

I. Affect, Feeling, Emotion..............................................................109
II. Emotion: An Anglocentric Artifact?.........................................112
III. Theories of Emotion.................................................................115
IV. Are There Basic Emotions?.......................................................124

~ 2 ~

1. Introduction:
Were born feeling. We live feeling, and we die feeling. Even when we
might assess ourselves as feeling nothing, there nevertheless is some kind
of feeling including the feeling of numbness going on, however
much it might be in the background. An emotion, and another emotion,
and another, layer upon layer, pervading our esh, minds, psyches.
But how well do we know our emotions? How much at home are we with
them? Do we have difculty controlling or expressing certain emotions?
When fear, anger, shame, or sadness arise, what do we usually do? We
may know our IQ, but do we know our EQ (emotional intelligence)?
Emotional illiteracy or a lack of emotional sensitivity, understanding,
and savvy is largely rooted in the historical (and still commonplace)
devaluing of emotion relative to cognition. Many of us still tend to view
emotions as being lower or more primitive than reason, doing little more
than clouding the skies of rational thought or muddying objectivity.
Thinking clearly is thus often associated with dispassion, or a muting
of our emotions; moral decisions are allegedly best made when passion
and feeling are either safely out of the picture, or kept functionally
peripheral to the decision-making process, much like children excluded
or kept at a distance from parental discussions.
Implicit in this attitude is the all-too-common identication of emotion
with subjectivity at least in the sense that subjectivity is a failure to be
objective an identication that may be justiable if and when emotion
is irrational or ego-centered, but not when it is rationally informed.

~ 3 ~

Emotional Literacy
We can be objective and emotional at the same time, as when a releasing
of tears washes away an ossied or neurotically dug-in stance, leaving
us not in a particular position, but rather aware of possible positions. As
research shows, the openly felt, unrepressed presence of emotion can
signicantly contribute to mental and social skills.
The practice of distancing or dissociating ourselves from our emotions,
including our darker or more uncomfortable emotions, can seriously
disrupt our ability to think clearly and act with moral intelligence.
Research indicates that an impairment in emotional capacity (as perhaps
caused by damage to brain regions essential for emotional processing)
can actually retard our ability to make sound decisions. Feelings
are needed for making truly rational decisions. Without emotional
intelligence (EQ), intellectual intelligence (IQ) means little.
To view emotions as lower or less reliable than reason also has serious
gender implications, given that femaleness is commonly associated with
getting emotional, and maleness with being rational. This is roughly
paralleled by those views that claim that the neocortex, associated with
rational thought, is higher than the phylogenetically older zones of
the brain that supposedly house and deal with emotions which
implies that men, being supposedly more rational, are therefore more
developed than women. Youre being emotional! remains much more
of a putdown than Youre being rational!
Many factors must be taken into account in examining a particular
emotion, not the least of which is the interrelatedness of the various
emotions. Anger may be a defense against sadness, or sadness may be
a defense against anger. Rage at its peak may suddenly metamorphose
into joy. Surfacing sadness or anger might trigger shame, and surfacing
shame might lead to sadness or anger. Mix together shame and fear,
and youll probably get guilt. When anger and disgust mingle, contempt
arises. And so on.

~ 4 ~


To become emotionally literate, we have to become intimate with our

emotions, knowing them from the inside, as well as knowing both our
repressive and expressive tendencies regarding them.
As obvious as it may sound, we need to know what were feeling when
were feeling it. On the way, we must learn to nd the balance between
containment (as when our anger is about to turn into aggression) and
expression (as when our held-in anger needs to be given emphatic voice).
Healthy restraint and healthy uninhibitedness.
We need to learn how to regulate our emotions, how to directly express
them, how to infuse such expression with awareness and compassion,
how to ride, guide, and ultimately just be with our emotions.
Emotional illiteracy infects all too many relationships, regardless of
how effectively it might be covered or compensated for by rational
discourse (or lets-rise-above-it-all spiritual practices/beliefs). Despite
the obvious presence of emotion in everyone, as well as the equally
plain-to-see emotional difculties or challenges many of us have,
emotional education has yet to take a signicant place in the public school
system. It simply does not appear to be a priority for those in charge
of educational or, better, schooling policy. Intellectual intelligence
gets the lions share of attention, with moral and emotional intelligence
getting far too little focus.
During the start of couples work when we ask men what they are
feeling, many do something other than say what they are actually
feeling: They may, for example, state that they feel that their partner
is not understanding or hearing them, or that they feel that they
are not getting enough sex or recognition or appreciation (which are
statements about what they are thinking, not feeling!); or they may look
away, and then say something inappropriately abstract, trying to keep
the conversation from getting emotional or vulnerable; or they may
wait in silence for more than a pregnant pause, trying to gure out what
to say, until we probe further, at which point they often will state that

Emotional Literacy
they are feeling nothing, or that they dont know what they are feeling.
And so on. The very question What are you feeling? thus becomes
an occasion for saying anything but what is actually being felt.
By contrast, when we ask women during the start of couples work
what they are feeling, the majority are quick to directly, and usually
quite expressively, articulate their emotional state. Of course, what they
may actually do with their emotional state is another story (generally no
more attering than what their partner is doing with his), but the very
fact that they generally recognize what they are feeling and can usually
get that across with sufcient accuracy puts them, with few exceptions,
far ahead of their partners when it comes to sharing whats occurring
Some men, having realized their partners more developed emotional
literacy, honor her for it and are inspired by her example to develop the
same capacity in themselves. Other men, more me-centered and feeling
less positive about their partners superior emotional literacy, invest
much of their energy in nding fault with her delivery, trying to turn the
focus back on her, doing what they can to corral the conversation into a
more civilized or reasonable discussion, head-lined by disembodied
rationality and the safety it provides for his egoity.
So long as we equate being emotional with being female, and being
rational with being male, we are not available for true intimacy. We need
to divest emotionality and rationality of any xed gender associations,
and realize, right to our marrow, that emotion and rationality work best
when they work together.
In intimate relationship it is essential that we, male or female, can clearly
state what we are feeling as we are feeling it. What we are then conveying
is data, rather than opinion (Im feeling angry or I feel sad are not
opinions, but facts, whereas I feel youre not there for me or I feel like
you dont see me are not facts, or even feelings, but opinions). Couples
stuck in dead-end arguments and power struggles usually go back and


forth with emotionally-charged opinions, sparring over whos right or

whos to blame or whos the screwed-up one (or the more screwed-up
one). What is being felt then is not being simply and directly shared,
but instead used to amplify or arm a particular position.

The rst step is to identify what you are feeling. If you are feeling sad, simply

notice that, without getting caught up in the details or accompanying

dramatics. If you are feeling a mix of emotions, and its not clear whats
in the mix, simply notice the mix.
If you are not sure what you are feeling, ask yourself, as simply as
possible: Am I feeling sad? Am I feeling angry? Am I feeling happy?
Am I feeling unhappy? Am I feeling angry? Am I feeling excited? Am I
feeling afraid? Am I feeling uncomfortable? And so on the odds are
that youll get some kind of instant response to each question, usually
in the form of a yes, no, or maybe.
If after this, you still are not sure what youre feeling, look a bit deeper,
and notice your general feeling tone, even if it is numbness. If you are
convinced that you dont know what you are feeling, start by noticing
your most obvious bodily sensations, such as tightness in your shoulders,
tension in your belly, or whatever breathing pattern is occurring, and so
forth, and note that you are indeed experiencing these.
All you have to do is place your attention on whatever it is that you are
feeling; often what this means is withdrawing your attention from your
thinking processes. Theres nothing to gure out here, no need to ask
your mind what youre feeling (as many do when they look away and take
a long time to answer the question of what it is that they are feeling).

The second step is to directly say what you are feeling. No tangents, no drama,

no shoulds. Just the bare facts. At rst, you might feel disconnected
from what you are saying, as when announcing in a at or bland tone
that you feel angry, but sooner or later, youll be able to say what youre
feeling in a way that conveys, at least to some degree, the felt experience
~ 7 ~

Emotional Literacy
of such feeling. Your facial muscles, tone, posture, and verbal emphases
will make it clear that you are feeling angry as you state that you are
indeed angry.

The third step is to make sure the other is really hearing what you are saying.

This means not only that he or she is registering the facticity of what
you are saying, but are also registering it at a feeling level (which means
experiencing it not just from the neck up!). Many of us dont take the
time to do this, pushing the cultivation of empathy into a background
position in the dynamics of our interchanges. However, without some
empathetic attunement, our dialogue with an intimate other can quickly
degenerate into an energy-draining argument, a deadening withdrawal,
or a heart-eroding stalemate.

So say what you are feeling, and if you are on the receiving end, let it
in, until you can clearly feel it (whether or not you agree with all of the
content or storyline), as if you are in your partners skin. This may not
always feel good, but it keeps us from staying holed up in our egoic

The fourth step is to get into the details without losing touch. The key here
is to make continuing to feel (or experientially resonate with) the other
more important than whether you disagree or not with their content.
Make your connection with each other primary, and the working out of
relevant details secondary.

This is far more efcient than trying to deal with such details when you
are not sufciently connected with each other. This also is when its very
easy to get injuriously reactive. If things get sticky, go back to steps one
and two, and stay with them for a while. One minute of sharing whats
going on emotionally, without bringing in the corresponding details,
prevents overwhelm (or emotional ooding), and can signicantly shift
the energetics of whats happening.
If you are getting really worked up, resist the temptation to get up on a
~ 8 ~


soapbox or to turn the exchange into a courtroom drama, and instead

stay with what you are feeling (while acknowledging the difference,
if any, between your presenting feeling and your underlying feeling
our show of anger, for example, may be covering our hurt). If this
is too intense for you or for the other you might, with his or her
permission, very briey indulge in a clearly-boundaried rant (a conscious
temper tantrum), or take a break, or stop talking altogether, and go
more deeply into your core feeling. Its important, of course, to have
prior agreements regarding such options dont make them up in the
middle of a heated or upsetting exchange!
Notice which emotion or emotions you are least comfortable with,
and start taking your attention toward and into them however slightly
or slowly even though your aversion to them will be pulling at you
to move in the opposite direction. Study them as closely as you can,
getting intimate with them to the point where their arising is no longer
such a concern for you, nor a threat to your relationships, but rather just
one more opportunity to deepen both your self-knowledge and your
relationships. Your darker or negative emotions are not the problem;
your aversion to them is.
And notice when an emotion is secondary to another emotion.
For example, anger often kicks in when sadness is starting to surface,
especially in men. When you are telling another what you are feeling,
you may begin by stating the obvious e.g., Im angry but while
doing this, pay attention to how open you actually are. If youre tight or
closed-off, the odds are high that youre feeling another emotion and that
you also are reluctant to share it, or even to admit that its there. You
might begin here by stating that you are having a difcult time saying
whats going on emotionally, besides being angry. Maybe theres some
sadness, some hurt, some shame. We may have difculty being vulnerable
and nondefensive in difcult exchanges with another, nding it easier
to be angry than to directly show our hurt.

~ 9 ~

Emotional Literacy
For all four of the steps described above, being vulnerable that is,
being transparent and open is immensely helpful, because it keeps
an emotionally honest resonance going between us and the other, along
with an amplied receptivity that invites more in-depth disclosure and
About being open: This doesnt mean that were necessarily happy and
open-hearted, but rather that we remain aware of and receptive to
what is occurring. An honest sharing of ones fear, devoid of any selfprotection, can bring a couple very close. In fact, the more we openly
expose and share the emotional states (and their historical roots) that
we are most afraid to share, the deeper our connection will be.
Emotional literacy is the heart of emotional intelligence (which includes
emotional awareness, empathy, expressive competency, interpersonal
savvy, and other related feeling-centered or feeling-including qualities
which inuence our ability to succeed in dealing with the demands and
pressures of life). Without sufciently developed emotional intelligence,
we easily tend to overrely on other kinds of intelligence, especially the
Just as we can raise our IQ, so too can we raise our EQ (emotional
intelligence). And how? Through various practices which address the
weaker areas of our emotional life. If we score low in empathy, we are
not necessarily sentenced to remain there. A little study of empathy,
combined with some empathy-generating practices (visualizing ourselves
in anothers position, learning to listen wholeheartedly to another,
doing tting meditative practices, etcetera), will deepen our capacity
for empathy.
If we have trouble reading the emotional weather of our relationship,
practising what was described earlier in this chapter (the four steps
to emotional literacy) will help us develop a keener sense of whats
going on emotionally. This, by the way, requires no lowering of IQ,
no intellectual slumming, no shunning of rationality, no triumphant
~ 10 ~


summations of Youre in your head! In fact, as our EQ goes up, our

IQ may also go up, if only because were now bringing more of us to
whatevers before us.
An increased IQ may not mean an increased MQ (moral intelligence),
but an increased EQ may well mean an increased MQ, simply because
the more in touch we are with the emotional terrain of our intimate
other including having increased empathy for them the more
likely we are to want to treat them better.
And, as we take this further, extending our empathy and feeling for
others to more and more beings, the more we start to understand, in a
very visceral and obvious sense, that what we do to another we do to
It takes a certain cognitive ability even to consider getting into someone
elses skin or shoes (the capacity for empathy is present within 24 hours
after birth, but it is not a chosen empathy), as well as to recognize that
we are indeed doing so (without such recognition, empathy easily can
become a negative force, swamping or overwhelming us with anothers
emotional state), but empathy nevertheless remains primarily a feelingbased undertaking. (Emotion itself blends feeling, cognition, and various
social factors.)
If I get lost in your emotional state, then I am going to be of no more
use to you than if I were to remain cut off from your emotional state.
So part of the challenge during our relational difculties is to get close
enough to our signicant others to openly feel their state, while separating
it from our state and also while keeping enough space between us
for focusing purposes.
Another factor to consider here is boundaries. Robert Frost famously
said that good fences make good neighbors; in the same spirit, we could
say that good boundaries make good connections, and furthermore,
keep the integrity of the relationship alive and well.
~ 11 ~

Emotional Literacy
Letting go of or dissolving our boundaries so as to include the other is
not the same as expanding our boundaries to include the other.
In openly sharing and exploring our emotions with another (and vice
versa) which means not only talking about and ttingly expressing
them, but also being upfront about our operational context for such
expression we create, and in a sense are also created by, a vibrantly
alive we-space.
Through such multileveled communion, such passionately participatory
interconnection, such transparent mutuality, such deeply shared aliveness,
we only deepen and enrich our intimacy.
We exist through relationship, and the more emotionally literate we are,
the deeper and happier our relationships and therefore we will

~ 12 ~

Meeting the Emotions

(at least most of them)

Emotional Literacy

Shame may be the emotion for which we have the most aversion. In a
famous poll that asked what one was most afraid of, dying (as I recall)
came in third or fourth, with speaking in public atop the list (speaking in
public while naked was not on the list). Mortifying. The fear of making a
fool of oneself, the fear of being humiliated, the fear of feeling full-out
shame. Ultra-negative exposure.
Though shame itself is not fear, we fear it.
We may blend and also blanch shame with fear, thereby whipping
up some guilt (see the next chapter for more on guilt), or we may push
it into the background, letting other emotions take center stage.
For example, if we are in a situation that triggers shame in us, we may
get angry to such a convincing degree that we genuinely believe that
we are only angry, whether our anger is directed at another or at ourself.
In either case, our anger especially if it is allowed to mutate into
aggression distracts us from our shame.
Shame typically plunges us into a nastily gripping, darkly burning sense
of being seriously awed in the eyes of a convincingly critical audience,
whether outer or inner. And not only does shame expose us or at least
our actions as defective, but also emphatically deates us in the face
of such exposure, regardless of however much it heats us up.
Unlike fear and anger, shame readies us not for action, but for on-thespot shrinkage or collapse not necessarily full collapse, but enough
to strongly interrupt us, to stop us in our tracks or pin us to the spot.

~ 14 ~


Shame has the power to impede what until a moment ago had been
enjoyable, or at least interesting. Its signs typically are: a sudden loss
of muscle tone in the neck and upper torso, so that the head slumps
forward and the chest caves in; a downcasting of the eyes; an increase
in the skin temperature of the face, which usually produces blushing;
and a brief but intense period of confusion and disorganization.
The slump, droop, and sag of shame shows up at an early age. More
than a few adults look as though they are permanently shamed and
how surprising is this, given how pervasively shaming modern culture
tends to be?
It is interesting to note that shame reduces our coordination, which gives
us a perhaps timely time-out or separation from our current circumstance
or task, while at the same time highlighting our failure, thereby leaving us
in a position where we cannot help but contrast where we were before
shame kicked in and where we now are.
This contrast, at best, sobers us, so that we become less conceited, less
full of ourselves, less immune to remorse, less caught up in overpursuing
pleasure (and less prone to indulging in that commonplace pride that
is but everted shame).
Just as disgust curbs hunger, shame curbs positive feeling.
But where disgust is a kind of off-switch for hunger when certain
substances (like food that is going bad) or situations (like unappealing
behavior) are in too-close quarters with us, shame simply reduces our
level of interest in situations where just about everything else is still
operating in the context of amplifying our interest. This has survival
benets, protecting us from getting too attached to maximizing our
pleasures, especially when its not safe or socially appropriate to thus
However, in its toxic forms, shame simply crushes us, making us feel
~ 15 ~

Emotional Literacy
like disappearing or even killing ourselves hence mortication.
Shame, whether healthy or unhealthy, shrinks us. The commonplace
labelling of psychiatrists as shrinks may have some of its origin in the
near-inherent shame and accompanying self-shrinkage so many
have felt when going for psychiatric help.
Probably the most neglected emotion in psychotherapy and spiritual
practice is shame, even though at the same time it may be the primary
emotional force animating our neuroses and spiritual ambition.
The more defective we take ourselves to be as signalled by the presence
of shame the more driven we are likely to be to seek some sort of
compensatory solution, be it narcissistic behavior, aggression, peoplepleasing, withdrawal (shyness, depression, dissociation, metaphysical or
spiritual escapism), hyperrationality, psychic numbing, self-deprecation,
excessive interest in sexual possibility, and so on.
But let us not be too hard on shame! Without the capacity for shame,
we would be devoid of conscience.
The morality of shame and Im speaking here of healthy shame is
responsibility. On the other hand, the morality of guilt unhealthy
shame, shame polluted with fear is blame.
Guilt masquerades as conscience, but shame awakens or reawakens
conscience. Conscience is simply the activated presence of our innate
moral sense, its core of compassion arising from a mix of empathy
and shame-informed but not shame-dominated contemplation.
Moral intelligence.
What a shame it is that we so easily treat shame shamefully, even as we
assign a negative connotation to being shameless! So, so much of what
we do is just a strategy to avoid or minimize shame. So much shame
about shame!

~ 16 ~


The key to working with shame is to meet it with compassion. This

gives shame room to breathe, room to openly be itself without fear of
being looked down upon.
Also, we need to differentiate shame from the fear, anger, hurt, or disgust
that may arise from and camouage it. Does the felt presence of shame
drive us into compensatory emotional activity? What do we tend to do
emotionally when shame is catalyzed in us? Addressing these and related
questions is an essential aspect of working with shame.
Shame is painfully imbued with self-consciousness (which is a misnomer,
since when were self-conscious, were not so much conscious of our self
as we are of the other[s] apparently watching us). Becoming conscious of
our self-consciousness that is, allowing it to be the object rather than
the subject of our attention when we are in shames grip allows us to
examine our shame with at least some degree of healthy detachment.
Better yet, lets bring our shame into our heart, letting its heat branch and
ush through us, while granting its message, however dark or misshapen,
an audience in chambers of compassionate clarity.
Only diseased shame seeks or makes a virtue out of vengeance. Such
shame, steeped in humiliation, narrows its capacity for satisfaction to
the machinations of revenge; an eye-for-an-eye morality is its warcry.
If we are sufciently shamed or humiliated, we are, in many cases,
culturally sanctioned to feel justied in pursuing some kind of revenge, as
is so lavishly illustrated by cinematic hero after cinematic hero enduring
being shamed and then going after the villains, and the more violently
the better after all, dont the bastards deserve it? On the other hand,
healthy shame aims not for vengeance against our offending others, but
rather for forgiveness not premature, shallow, token, or politically
correct forgiveness, but forgiveness nonetheless, regardless of whatever
consequences are deemed appropriate.

~ 17 ~

Emotional Literacy
Let us cease shaming ourselves for having shame.
Our aversion to feeling shame (and staying with such feeling) is so strong
that most of the time our shame unfolds not as itself, but instead as
aggression, withdrawal, hypercriticalness, sexual obsessiveness, excessive
pride, workaholism, elitism, submissiveness, narcissism, exaggerated
competitiveness, and so on these may appear to be very different
than shame (and have an investment in appearing thus), but shame is
at their root.
Shame which is not dealt with shame that is not acknowledged, not
openly felt, not directly shared, not ttingly worked with will pollute
whatever relationship in which it arises. This means that we need to know
our history with shame in detail and inside out, and be able to recognize
it for what it is while it is occurring. It is, for example, very, very easy
to shame others and not realize that we are doing so we may even,
however inadvertently, shame them for their oversensitivity to our
original shame-inducing comments and behavior. And on it goes.
When rst realizing the role that shame has played in their lives, many
are astonished at how pervasive, deep-cutting, and inuential that role
has been; it is as if they have discovered a lost continent of themselves,
initially submerged or deeply shrouded in fog, and then illuminated by
the spirit of exploration brought to it.
Shame is probably our most hidden emotion. Bringing it out of the
shadows is a deeply healing undertaking, a journey that, sooner or later,
we must take if we are to truly live.
When we have become intimate with our shame, we dont let it mutate
into aggression or relational disengagement, confessing it as it arises,
recognizing that it is simply the herald of conscience.

~ 18 ~

Guilt is little more than frozen shame, shame that has been infused with
fear, manifesting as the self-punishing sensation of having violated some
sort of contract or moral agreement.
Where shame exposes us, guilt splits us and compensates itself for
this by continuing to engage in whatever bad activity supposedly is its
cant-help-myself reason for existing
As such, guilt means we get to stay stuck. And small.
And how does guilt split us? It is inherently self-divisive: One aspect of
us, xatedly childish and irresponsible, does whatever it is that triggers
our guilt, in conjunction with another aspect of us, xatedly parental
and authoritarian, which righteously punishes the doer of the supposed
crime or misdemeanor.
The relationship between these two basically a nastily stalemated
endogenous child/parent conict is the essence of guilt. One hand
grabbing for the candy, the other wielding a parental whip.
At the same time, however, guilt is something that we are doing to
ourselves, something that we are superimposing on ourselves, something
that can be counted on to keep us divided, disempowered, stuck, and
Guilt means, among other things, that we get to again do whatever it
is that seemingly makes us feel guilty we permit ourselves to do
it over and over again, even as we simultaneously punish ourselves for
such transgression.

~ 19 ~

Emotional Literacy
We may complain about and even broadcast the abuse we are
suffering from our own hand and our self-incrimination, but that very
punishment, if sufciently severe, signicantly lessens the probability
of outside punishment (after all, who wants to beat on us when
we are already doing such a good job of beating on ourselves?), while
ensuring and perhaps even, at least to some degree, legitimizing our
continued participation (as victims, of course!) in what we shouldnt
be doing.
(An example: We put ourselves down with such intensity such selfagellation for watching violent porn that we not only lessen the
odds of others getting on our case for watching such stuff, but also,
through absorbing the very pain of our self-denigration, feel as if weve
wiped the slate clean and are therefore justied in treating ourselves
to once again watching violent porn.)
Guilt remains and makes sure that it remains! irresponsible, making
impotent, self-sabotaging, or already-doomed efforts at responsibility,
which it consistently confuses with blame. Its central mantra/excuse
is Im trying.
(Trying which features the intentionality not of us, but only of a
piece of us carries within itself a largely unacknowledged oppositional
Guilt means that we get to stay small, safely tucked away from truly
taking charge of our lives. Guilt all but ensures that we wont and
wont have to grow up.
Guilts prevailing reality is that of toxically simplistic right and wrong. Its
moral stance is stubbornly prerational, dutifully skewered by the ossied
nger of self-blame, self-denigration, self-castigation anything to
keep us pinned down.
The self-accusations of guilt are in the spirit of the other-accusations
~ 20 ~


of resentment; where guilt is an amalgam of shame and fear, resentment

is an amalgam of shame and aggression. In fact, one could describe
resentment especially in its globally hypercritical stance and underbelly
of toxic impotence as everted guilt.
Resentment is all about dragging others down; guilt is about dragging
ourselves down, nailing ourselves with enough condemnation to all but
guarantee our domicile in guilt, thereby stranding ourselves from any
signicant intimacy with responsibility and love.
Healthy shame does not take long to ush the entire system. Instead of
continuing to contract us (which it does initially), healthy shame sooner
or later unknots and expands us we blush, our blood ows more
freely, our body warms up, enriched with an admittedly uncomfortable
yet nevertheless enlivening passion.
As such, the whole body is then simply just a confession of consciously
felt responsibility for what has happened. There is a powerful, deeprooted impetus to coming clean, letting go, and healing, a painful yet
heartfelt resolution to grow.
But guilt, on the other hand, is not really interested in healing. The guiltridden and guilt-spurred have little energy for genuine growth they are
driven to do it (that is, the thing they feel guilty about doing) over and
over again, and in order to justify doing it over and over again, they
have to keep the threat of parental punishment hanging over them.
When we are stuck in guilt, we are basically just repeat offenders keeping
ourselves behind bars, playing both prosecutor and accused, but without
any genuine resolution, chronically resurrecting our courtroom drama
and suffering the pains of once again tting ourselves to its loveless
script, while nding a needed (and perhaps even pleasurable) release
through once again doing it. Here, not so far below the surface,
there is such grief, such a paucity of self-compassion, such an agony
of desperation and addiction.
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Emotional Literacy
Guilt is not only a refusal to love, but also a refusal to sanely parent
ourselves. In our guilt, we childishly cling to and react to outside
parental forces which we have deeply internalized.
By contrast, healthy shame provides fertile conditions for reconnecting
with the parental authority thats native to us. (For example, we have just
ridiculed our partner for not being smarter in a certain area and now,
through our shame our openly felt shame over having done so, take
full responsibility not only for what weve done, but also for facing and
working through whatever drove us to behave in such a hurtful way in
the rst place.)
Shame can catalyze an environment in which genuine forgiveness can
bloom; it is an opportunity to come clean and enter a truer scene. Guilt,
however, works against the possibility of forgiveness.
Guilt is a ight from integrity, the very epitome of divided we fall.
The guilt-ridden are usually easy to control and exploit, for most of
their power is consumed by their internal warfare.
Guilt reduces God to the ultimate parent or punishment-wielding
overseer, a fact exploited by more than a few religions (as exemplied
by the inculcation of the doctrine of Original Sin).
Guilt lls churches and empties hearts.
Nevertheless, guilt is not just some kind of entity at which we can
or should throw darts, or which we can exorcise or exterminate. It is
something that we are doing, something that we may not want to see that
we are doing.
The very disempowerment generated by guilt empowers us to persist
in it.
Guilt is false conscience.
~ 22 ~


So how to work with guilt? First of all, dont approach it with a closed
heart or with moral righteousness feeling guilty about (or shaming
ourselves for) having guilt wont help!
Get in touch with the shame, fear, anger, and hurt that underlie guilt.
Identify them, get detailed in your attentive survey and investigation
of them, and do so as compassionately as you can. At the same time,
do what you can to expand your energy, and do it as consciously as
Do not let yourself automatically bounce between the childish and
parental sides of guilt recognize that neither one is you, but are in
fact just polarized personications of guilts script.
Instead of identifying with either one, sit where you can compassionately
hold both and know, right to your marrow, that you are neither.
See and feel them as clouds, and be their sky. Literally. Introduce them.
Unmask them, bridge them, bring them together without taking either
side, letting their mutual rainburst be your cry.
Thus do we let go of the whip, and also of the morality of blame. Thus
do we shift from guilt to shame to freedom.

~ 23 ~

It is easy to trash anger.
After all, when it possesses us, are we not more prone to violence,
ill will, and lovelessness? And, even if we can successfully counteract
such possession, we have, it seems, only curbed the beast it still
paces behind its bars, fanged and all too eager to do damage, while we
play vigilant zookeeper. Or, less commonly, we may romanticize anger,
rationalizing our natural urges to uninhibitedly express it, in the name
of emotional de-suppression and honesty.
In both cases, however, anger is treated as though it were no more than
an indwelling entity or mass, a thing either to be muzzled or set loose.
Enthusiasts of cooling down and their getting it out of our system
counterparts snipe at each other, citing and making moral real estate
out of the dangers of either letting anger out or keeping it in. But
there is much, much more to working with anger, as we shall see.
There is nothing inherently wrong with anger. Anger is not necessarily
a problem, a hindrance, a sign of negativity or spiritual slippage, an
avoidance of something deeper, nor a demonstration of unlove. It
is our use of our anger that is the real issue.
Do we blame our anger for clouding or befuddling our reason playing
victim to our passions being one of our oldest alibis or do we
assume responsibility for what we do with it? Do we turn our anger into
a weapon, hiding our hurt behind its righteously pumped-up front,
fueling and legitimizing our defensiveness with it, or do we instead keep
it as transparent and permeable as possible, remaining non-blaming
and vulnerable even as we allow it as full or penetrating a passion as
ts the situation? Do we use our anger to get even, to score points, to
~ 24 ~


overpower or outdebate, or do we use it to deepen or resuscitate our

intimacy with our partner, to compassionately ame through pretense,
emotional deadwood, and life-negating investments?
Its easy, in the name of angerphobia, to reject, crush, incarcerate, badmouth, or otherwise violate our anger, allowing it so few life-enhancing
outlets that it like an animal kept too long in a cage usually behaves
badly when nally released, thereby conrming our suspicions that it is
indeed in need of much the same treatment as a savage beast that has
somehow found its way into our house.
It is also easy, though less common, to glorify anger, with equally harmful
results. Exhorting the inhibited to get into their anger may just lead
to a forced anger, an anger of performance, an anger that leads not to
healing insight, but rather to an overreliance on simplistic (and possibly
aggression-reinforcing) cathartic procedures.
It is, however, not so easy to cultivate intimacy with our anger. Getting
close to its heat, its ames, its redly engorged intensity, without losing
touch with our basic sanity, asks much of us.
But if we do not ask and ultimately demand this of ourselves,
we will surely miss knowing not only the heat of angers re, but also
its light. As much as anger can injuriously burn, it can also illuminate
it all depends on what kind of relationship with anger we choose
to cultivate.
Anger is an aroused, often heated state which combines (1) a compellingly
felt sense of being wronged (hence the moral quality of most anger), and
(2) a counteracting, potentially energizing feeling of power.
Can we identify anger which is not a single emotion, but instead a
family of related emotions, ranging from annoyance to rage through
the observed presence of particular behaviors? Not necessarily. We can
display none of the behaviors supposedly characteristic of anger, and
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Emotional Literacy
still be angry. Instead of pounding the table or cursing the idiot who has
dared to cut us off in trafc, we may instead in our anger try even harder
to please our partner, or smilingly withhold a piece of information that
we know would help our partner. So can we or others recognize
our anger through observing our behavior? Not necessarily!
Similarly, can we identify anger through the observed presence of
particular feelings? Two emotions like envy and resentment may
feel very similar, having much the same physiological characteristics, yet
they do differ. We discriminate between emotions by attuning, however
unknowingly, to the context of the situation.
Because bodily sensations are usually so obviously involved in emotion,
we may confuse them with emotion itself. There is, however, more to emotion
than just the feeling of it. Anger is an attitude, not just a feeling. We evaluate
emotion, but not feeling we may speak of our anger as justied
or unjustied, but would we speak of our feeling like vomiting as
justied or unjustied?
Also, we can cease being angry, and yet still feel the very same feelings
that a moment ago we identied as anger.
For example, I am raging at you for scratching my newly bought car, and
suddenly I nd out from a deeply trustworthy friend that you are in fact
completely innocent of doing so, and I am now no longer angry at you.
My evaluation of the situation has radically and almost instantaneously
changed, yet the very feelings which I was experiencing just a moment
ago pounding heart, facial ushing, shoulders knotting, hands ready
to strike are still clearly present, having diminished only slightly.
So can I now call these feelings angry feelings? No, because their evaluative
framework or emotional basis has changed.
Anger, contrary to popular opinion, is not necessarily the same as
aggression. Aggression involves some form of attack, whereas anger may
~ 26 ~


or may not. Aggression is devoid of compassion and vulnerability, but

anger, however ery its delivery might be or might have to be, can be
part of an act of caring and vulnerability. Nevertheless, anger in general
remains all but synonymous with aggression.
Aggression is not so much an outcome of anger, as an avoidance of it and
its underlying feelings of woundedness and vulnerability. Recognizing
this is essential for relational depth and maturity.
Viewing anger as aggression or as the cause of aggression gives us
an excuse to classify it is a lower or primitive emotion. Or something
far from spiritual. But anger is far from primitive, though what we do
with it may be far from civilized!
Rejected anger easily mutates into aggression, whether active or passive,
other-directed or inner-directed. Thus does a means of communication
become a means of weaponry.
Anger assigned to do injury, however subtly, is not really anger, but
hostility. Anger that masks its own hurt and vulnerability is not really
anger, but hardheartedness or hatred in the making, seeking not power
with, but power over.
However, there is a potential healing here: to reverse the equation, to
convert aggression, hostility, hatred, and every other diseased offspring
of mishandled anger back into anger.
This conversion, however, does not mean eviscerating or drugging
the energy of such negative states, but rather liberating it from its lifenegating viewpoints, so that its intensity and passion can coexist with a
caring, signicantly awakened attention. In this sense, the world needs
not less anger, but more. Especially anger coming from the heart.
Violence the brass knuckles of abused wounds ignores, tramples
or dynamites personal boundaries, but anger, in many cases, protects or
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Emotional Literacy
guards such boundaries, at best resolutely exposing and illuminating (or
perhaps even aming through) barriers to intimacy or integrity, without
abusing those who are maintaining such barriers. Anger that burns
cleanly leaves no smoldering pockets of resentment or ill-will.
Violence is not a result of anger, but is an abuse or violation of anger.
Working with Anger: Four Approaches

The four approaches to working with anger introduced below provide

a framework not only capable of making sense out of the diverse,
complex, and enormous amount of material concerning anger, but
also sufciently inclusive to cover both personal and transpersonal
considerations of anger.
(1) Anger-In refers to strategies favoring the restraining and redirection
of the energies characteristic of raw anger. Not surprisingly, advocates
of this approach emphasize the importance of not directly expressing
anger. Self-control, subduing and recontextualizing our anger these
are the cornerstones of anger-in. Anger-in experts tend to equate
the expressing of anger with venting, a lack of self-control, violence,
and aggression. Anger-in practices teach us not only to identify those
perceptions and interpretations that catalyze anger, but also relaxation
and cooling-off techniques. Reinterpreting supposed provocations is
essential to anger-in; such reappraisal reduces the probability of anger
being openly expressed by removing or at least shrinking the perception
of being under attack.
Though anger-in may make too much of a virtue out of controlling,
managing, and non-angrily expressing anger, it does make a strong
case for learning to step back from anger so that its more extreme
or irrational impulses can be reconsidered or given more contextual
space. Nevertheless, anger-in has a difcult question before it: How
successful can a way of working with anger be that does not include
openly expressing the actual feelings of anger? Would we, by analogy,
~ 28 ~


consider a grief therapy to be successful that did not include the actual
expression of grief ?
(2) Anger-Out refers to approaches that emphasize the importance
of directly and fully expressing the energies and intentions of anger. At
the very core of anger-out theory and work is the notion of catharsis,
which remains a controversial topic in therapeutic practice, despite
evidence that incorporating catharsis in anger-management work makes
it more effective.
Advocates of anger-out say that suppressed anger is not healthy better
to bring it to the surface (or dig it up) and release/express it, they claim.
As appealing and apparently medically sound as such down-to-earth
logic may be, it can tend to overemphasize a merely physical approach to
anger, as if anger was just something to discharge or eliminate from the
body. The emotional-release work that characterizes anger-out practices
can range from enthused licence to blindly cut loose (or irresponsibly
act out anger) to profoundly healing, integration-promoting release
and illumination.
(3) Mindfully Held Anger refers to approaches in which anger is
consciously contained, not emotionally expressed, and meditatively
attended to, with a key intention being neither to suppress anger nor
act it out. In its emphasis on neither repressing nor acting out emotion,
this approach appears to offer a solution to the anger-in/anger-out
dichotomy. In being wakefully present with our anger, thereby closely
witnessing the actual process of it (in its feeling, cognitive, perceptual,
and social dimensions), we also bear witness, at least to some degree,
to the very I who is busy being angry. That is, our perspective shifts
from how angry we feel to who it is who feels it. We then take good care
of our anger, cradling it much like we would an upset child.
At its best, the mindful holding of anger is not so much a containment
of anger as a deliberately intimate embracing and investigation of it,
a willingness to stay with our anger without outwardly expressing it.
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Emotional Literacy
Through such loving alertness, anger can be transformed into the energy
of understanding and compassion. However, this practice carries its
own dangers as suggested by the more negative connotations of
the term holding especially when it is engaged in prematurely or
in order to ee or suppress anger, as when we are not so much sitting
with our anger as on it.
(4) Heart-Anger refers to approaches in which openly expressed
anger and compassion consciously and benecially coexist. Put together
the virtues of anger-in, anger-out, and mindfully held anger healthy
rationality and restraint, emotional openness and authenticity, meditative
openness and compassion and minimize the difculties associated
with each, and heart-anger emerges.
Heart-anger is anchored both in full-blooded aliveness and in clear caring
for the other. As erce as it sometimes can be (or has to be), heart-anger
is but the emissary of wrathful compassion. Here, the expression of
anger is not necessarily rethought or kept to oneself, nor always given
free rein, but rather is deliberately infused with wakeful, investigative
attention, without any requisite dilution or non-expression of its
passion. It is clean anger, incisive, non-blaming, mindful, contextually
sensitive, heated yet illuminating rooted in both the personal and
the transpersonal.
As such, it could be called soul-centered anger (by soul, I mean that depth
of individuality in which egoity is clearly and functionally peripheral to
Being). Such anger has a broad enough sense of human suffering to
embrace a radically inclusive morality; it possesses sufcient faith in Life
to persist in its erce caring; and it has the guts to carry all this out.
If all that was necessary was that it shine, heart-anger surely would, but
it knows that it often must also burn. And, because of this, it knows
that it must also weep.

~ 30 ~


Getting Closer to Anger

Anger is moral re. Whether it is destructive or constructive is in our
hands. And our hearts. In the ery care of clean anger, passion and
compassion coexist, as do heat and light. We need to respect our anger,
to cease viewing it as a problem, spiritual hindrance, or something
beneath us, so that it might serve our well-being.
Neither to repress nor to indulge in our anger is far from easy, asking,
among other things, that we meet it with genuine caring. Anger that
is denied compassion easily becomes anger that is delivered, however
indirectly, without compassion.
But how to bring compassion to anger? First of all, we need to approach
it without aversion, which means becoming more intimate with whatever
aversion we might have toward anger. The degree of caring with which
we approach our anger is the degree of caring with which we can infuse
the anger we give to others.
Anger that does not violate this is the ery face of compassion, the
wrathful shout of the awakening heart.
The exploration of anger ought not to be the occupation of just a few.
Not to explore anger, not to be intimate with it, is a dangerous choice,
leaving us cut off from the very forcefulness and energetic underlining
that may already be enlisted in the service of aggression, hatred, and
mean-spiritedness. Not to know our anger is to keep ourselves in the
dark, and in danger of being violent instead of simply angry.
At its best, anger heart-including, open-bellied, open-throated, and
so, so passionately alive cannot help but support love and integrity,
for it is then deeply connected to need, to vulnerability, to bareness
of soul. It is then but relational re, helping to both clear and light our
way into an ever deeper intimacy, an intimacy that ultimately includes
all that we are.
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Emotional Literacy
The ery intensity at the heart of anger asks not for smothering, spiritual
rehabilitation, nor mere discharge, but rather for a mindful embrace that
does not necessarily require any dilution of passion, any lowering of
the heat, nor any muting of the essential voice in the ames.
Bringing our anger into our heart is not only an act of love for ourselves,
but for all beings, since such a practice increases the odds that we will
not let our anger mutate into aggressiveness, hostility, and hatred, but
rather into compassion-centered activity.
In no longer abandoning or destructively harnessing our anger, we
move a step closer to being and standing up for the very love that we
most desire from others.
Anger can be love may we permit it to be so.
Gender and Anger in Intimacy
The disempowerment of women has, among other things, meant the
suppression and devaluation of their anger. Where male anger, despite
angers supposedly lower origins, has in many circumstances war,
contact sports, vigilante heroics often been viewed as healthy, morally
justied, or even ennobling, female anger has generally been viewed far
less favorably, as illustrated by our less-than-attering labels for angry
women. Hes assertive, hotheaded, pissed off, just letting off some steam,
taking care of business; she, on the other hand, is just a nag or bitch.
Thus have anger-in or anger-suppressing practices tended to be more
expected of women than of men. Anger is culturally held as less
legitimate an expression for women than for men. The result is that for
many women anger is largely unavailable as a resource.
A woman marooned from her own anger is likely going to have a harder
time maintaining healthy boundaries; she may feel more helpless, more
fearful, more prone to despair and depression. When her anger cannot
~ 32 ~


be depressed that is, kept or pressed down its energies may be

routed into resentment or bitterness. And what a pity this is, given that
anger can be, including in its eriness, a form of caring. In my work I
have often seen a womans rage full-out, clean rage cut through
the cognitive muddling of her partner or other men, waking them up
to what theyre actually doing.
For anger to be a resource in relationship requires not only that it be
permitted its innate vulnerability, but that it also be valued, and valued
equally, in both women and men. So long as female anger is treated as
something less worthy of respect than male anger, relational approaches
to anger will remain supercial or unproductive.
Anger asks not for domestication, but for an honoring of its wildness,
a receptive, suitably expressive outlet for its elemental, primally alive
nature. Unfortunately, the wildness in men often tends to be either
crushed or channeled into mere savagery (however sophisticated), and
the wildness in women just as often tends to be smothered, reduced to
various forms of nagging, or trivialized as mere bitchiness.
Women have been much more subject to domestication and niceness
implants than have men, and yet I have observed again and again that
heart-anger usually comes more readily to women than to men. A
possible reason for this is that women generally are more willing to bring
some caring into their anger, whereas men are typically more prone to
converting their anger into aggression.
There is more to this, however. The active/dynamic (or going-toward)
capacity commonly attributed to men, in contrast to the corresponding
passive/receptive (or taking-in) capacity commonly attributed to women,
may have some truth in certain areas, but not very much at all when it
comes to psychological/emotional life. Much of marriage counselling
deals with the far more active roles that women generally take for
better or for worse with regard to the interior life of their relationship.
Thus it is no surprise that women would tend to be more accessible
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Emotional Literacy
to heart-anger, since they are, in general, already more inclined toward
both caring and taking an active or even challenging role in the arena
of psychological/emotional communication.
A womans impassioned and resolute shaking up of the relational status
quo disturbing her partners complacency, disembodied rationality, or
supposed expertise can be a potent awakening agent. And vice versa.
Anger and love can exist at the same time in a mature relationship!
Imagine a new image: The warrior of intimacy, female or male, who can
give anger with full-blooded yet compassionate and vulnerable intensity,
and who can also receive anger not absorbing or swallowing it, nor
playing martyred target for it, but simply responding to it nondefensively,
letting it in not like an invader but like a guest.
Expressing and Receiving Anger
Brian and Tina are at a stalemate. Both are articulate and insightful, yet they are
stuck. Their knowledge both are therapists does not seem to be making any
difference. He wants more commitment from her, she wants less pressure from him,
and both are unhappy. She says she feels guilty about her lack of commitment to
being with him, so we talk about her guilt and its roots, but still there is little life
in the room.
They are both clearly angry and very much under control rmly in position,
armed in their attempted openness, trying to be non-combative in their combativeness.
The stage is set.
Face each other, I say, and keep eye contact. Tina briey raises her hands
slightly, palms out, smiles, and delivers some more dead-end insight. Do that again
with your hands, I say, and breathe deeper. She grins. I see a ash of shame.
Her hands are sliding up and down the outside of her thighs. What do your hands
want to do? I ask her.
In an instant, her hands are on Brians knees, pushing him back. Immediately, she
~ 34 ~


pulls back, smiling, changing the subject. I ask her what shes feeling as she smiles,
and she says that shes angry, and that shes withdrawing from him. Tension lls
the room. We briey talk about how easily she puts herself down for not wanting
to be closer to him; even to directly give him her anger would be, she says, a kind of
giving in. And so on. Brian is hurt, but still present.
Lets try a different tack, I suggest. Tina, I want you to express your anger to
Brian as fully as possible, but without any words. She no longer can smile. I have
her hold her a pillow between her hands, to be squeezed as hard as she can. A half
minute or so passes. I can see and feel her rage, but she is silent. I ask her where she
is most tense, and she says her throat and jaw.
Suddenly, she leans forward, screaming at him, her sounds deep and powerful; she
is clearly not acting. Brian now looks much more awake and caring. Tina is
full-blooded in what she is allowing, and is simultaneously very vulnerable. Tears
mix with her rage. Less than a minute later, I have her interlock hands with him
while she bites down on a towel that I pull on; this loosens her jaw and neck. For a
minute or so, she pushes against him, biting very hard, her eyes pure fury and hurt.
Then I have her let go of the towel and his hands. Silence, and a deeper silence.
Both had complained of not having enough of a soul-connection, but now it is evident
that they are plugged into a very real intimacy. He, unlike many men, did not pull
back or disappear in the face of her raw anger. They are not through their difculty,
but are now in a place where they are far more capable of getting through it.
The expression of anger and the need to take action are not necessarily
the same thing. The direct expression of anger-energy is simply an act
of exposure, whereas the need to have events go this way or that has
more to do with power and control.
Restricting anger expression to verbal combat only keeps it from being
as healing a process as it could be if it were to also under the right
conditions! to safely include the nonverbal expression of undisguised
and uncensored anger (as illustrated in the vignette above).

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Emotional Literacy
When anger is uncaged in a suitable environment at the right time,
it often will, after a minute or two of full-throated, full-bodied release,
be accompanied by tting words and phrasings that potently articulate
the heart of the matter. Thus can skillfully steered anger-out become
more than venting, more than a merely eliminative strategy, eventually
mutating, to a signicant degree, into heart-anger.
In a relatively awakened relationship, the actual intent of our anger can,
at least some of the time, be safely verbalized, openly and specically. At
times if there is enough trust, love, and mindfulness the confession
of such intent may need to be also physically expressed (as when anger
is particularly intense, edgy, or gripping) through wringing a towel,
pounding a pillow or sofa, or engaging in other similarly nondestructive
expressions of such energy.
To expose our darker reactive intentions with clarity, vulnerability, and
perhaps some degree of dramatic exaggeration, can be, even though it
might appear otherwise, an act of love, providing an illuminating and
valuable inside look at our uglier urges, soul-crushing habits, core
wounds, and their attending anger.
Openly sharing what we are ashamed or afraid of in ourselves makes us
not only more intimate with such qualities, but also with each other.
Even so, we may still go to great lengths to avoid exposing or sharing
not only the more shameful or embarrassing imperatives of our anger,
but also its passion. Getting righteous during our anger may be pointless,
but no more so than submitting to our partners demands (tacit or not)
that we: (1) not get openly angry; (2) spare them such raw intensity;
(3) prove (through suffocating, sterilizing, or at least muting our anger)
that we are loving; and (4) in short, let them in this particular situation
remain in control, safely removed from the heat of our anger.
If we are on the receiving end of anger coming from our partner,
particularly heated or wide-open anger, it may be very tempting to deny
~ 36 ~


them signicant access to us, even if their anger is being delivered cleanly.
We may interrupt, deect, minimize, or try to detour their intensity of
feeling (and/or content), perhaps informing them that they are out of
control or behaving irresponsibly, saying to them in so many words,
Cant we do this another way?
This apparently reasonable request, however appropriate it might be
at times (as when the environment is not sufciently supportive of an
uncivilized exchange, or when anger is being abusively expressed),
is usually an avoidance of anger, as well as a confession of not being
intimate with our own anger. That is, if we dont successfully defuse or
mute our partners anger at us, it might catalyze our own anger into a
more active form, and the more opposed we are to this, the more we
will tend to oppose, obstruct, or sabotage our partners direct expression
of anger.
We may even without raising our voice, of course! demand from
them in the midst of their anger that they demonstrate that they do
indeed love us. To do so may mean that they have to cease being angry
(or at least looking angry), given that our prevailing model of love very
likely does not include an angry-faced or wrathful love. If anger signals
the end or absence of love for us as it might have in our past then
we are going to have a strong investment in suppressing it, both in
ourselves and in others, stranding ourselves from the realization that
anger and love can both exist at the same time.
For anger to enhance intimacy, it needs to be met with nondefensive,
empathetic listening (which does not necessarily mean that the partner
listening should suppress his or her own anger!), listening in which
agreement or disagreement with what is being said or conveyed remains
secondary to our empathy and caring for the other. Such is the essence
of receiving anger.
Rejecting our partners anger not aggression, but anger simply shortcircuits it. This generally encourages the stockpiling of anger-energy
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Emotional Literacy
and frustration, along with a resulting pressure to nd other outlets,
such as the subtle cruelties of passive aggression.
Anger that is rejected, anger that is denied compassion, anger that is
vilied or ostracized or declawed, is the very anger that corrodes and
sabotages intimacy.
Sharing anger in an intimate relationship does not always have to remain
a serious affair. Playfulness and healthy anger expression are not mutually
exclusive. Skillful teasing in the midst of anger may in fact create more
room for hearing what is really being said, testing the health and resiliency
of our edges, keeping us uid, even if our bones are brittle with age.
Such teasing is the leavening of healthy criticism. It puts down our
sweaty fretting and fussing without putting us down.
In the erce heat of anger, a happy-to-be-alive feeling may sometimes
emerge especially when deep intimacy and trust are present. Some
signs of anger may still linger, but there will also be a deep and natural
empathy, plus a spaciousness which allows integrity to surface, tears
to stream freely, humor to upstage righteousness, and love to shine
When anger and love are permitted to coexist as happens most
commonly in being-centered relationships intimacy cannot help
but deepen.
Anger does not disappear as we awaken, and in fact may become even
more ery, but burns cleanly, serving the well-being of all involved.

~ 38 ~

5. JOY
Joy is the energetically expansive feeling of unobstructed openness and
happiness, ranging from a mild sense of euphoria to outright exultation
or ecstasy. In short, elated ease.
Theres not very much cognitive complexity to joy, which makes it
a refreshingly straightforward emotion no ambiguity, no mental
logjams, no heavy-duty infusions of information-soaked considerations.
What a joy it is to be lled with joy!
Unlike excitement, joy is not highly charged with stimulation, but
pervaded with an easiness that is more than just contentment. In joy,
we are not amped up, but opened up. No pressure, other than that
preceding deep laughter.
Joy is more than the absence of suffering, more than the pleasing
sensations that arise when an extremely tight pair of shoes is removed
or we are otherwise extricated from some sort of suffering. Its presence
signals a palpable yes! that radiates all through us, however briey, a yes
that celebrates the ease and spaciousness and sense of okayness that
is pervading us.
Joy lifts the sternum and brow, opens the arms and eyes, lifts the head
and step, loosens the jaw and belly, ultimately causing the entire body
to smile. It breathes us open, loose, easy.
Million-dollar moments can certainly catalyze joy this signaling an
extreme of situational happiness but joy can also arise when outer
circumstances are far from pleasant, and not just as a denial or escape
from such conditions. The deepest joy, in fact, does not depend on
circumstances. It is found not in having, but in being.

~ 39 ~

Emotional Literacy
Joy can be me-centered, but its very contagiousness usually stretches
it into we-centered territory. Sometimes its we-centeredness deepens
considerably, as in mudita, a Pali and Sanskrit Buddhist term meaning
sympathetic joy, a joy felt when others succeed or do well.
In contrast to mudita, there is a dark form of low-grade joy known as
schadenfreude (there is no English term for this), meaning the pleasure
we take in others misfortunes (see Chapter ).
Another shadow-form of joy is mania, which is joy intoxicated/polluted
with excitement to such an extent that personal boundaries are trashed
and the ground underfoot is rendered dangerously unstable. (A
somewhat more subtle shadow-form is hypomania, a toned-down version
of mania that is taken to be a good thing in much of our culture.)
How to work with joy? Make room for it. Dont make it dependent
upon having something in particular. Get as intimate as possible with
all your emotions, honoring the basic energy of each one there is a
joy that sooner or later emerges from such exploration, the joy of being
present at the heart of whatever we are feeling. Such joy weeps as easily
as it soars, its loss of face only deepening its presence.
If you want more joy, dont wait for more auspicious circumstances, but
simply get more emotionally literate and practice gratitude, especially
when you feel the least grateful. Practicing gratitude helps awaken us
to who and what we really are, and makes us more receptive to grace;
its very hard, if not almost impossible, to practice gratitude and remain
ego-centered. When we soberly rest in the raw reality of who and what
we really are, joy inevitably arises.

~ 40 ~

In entering our fear, we end our fear of it.
It would be an understatement to say that fear is probably one of our
least favorite guests.
When it shows up and it shows up for all of us we usually are not
in a position to greet it, let alone treat it like a guest. In fact, we are likely
already trying to get away from it, even if we have to vacate our body.
But the more we try to escape or evict our fear, the stronger it gets,
occupying more and more of us (especially as we occupy less and less
of ourselves). Eventually, it may seem that it is not in us, but that we
are in it. And leaving the premises doesnt work, either; our unwelcome
guest goes where we go, regardless of how much we medicate, mute,
or deny it.
This sounds like bad news, having the feeling of an unpleasant dream
in which we are entrapped but it is actually good news, if we will
learn to work with fear rather than ee it. And this begins with turning
toward it, and not just intellectually! The dragon is there for a very good
reason, which well discover rsthand as we get acquainted with it.
Working effectively with fear is all about facing, encountering, and,
eventually, embracing the dragon. If we dont do so, the treasure it is
guarding will remain out of our reach.
The dragon is not blocking our path; it is part of our path, an essential
part. As we approach it, we not only learn why this is so, but also how to
embody and live from this perspective. We wont necessarily get rid of
our fear, but we will shed our fear of it, so that it becomes a life-giving
~ 41 ~

Emotional Literacy
force in our life, literally fueling our entry into a deeper life.
If you are truly looking for genuine transformation, you need look
no further than your fear. In it there exists not only an abundance of
trapped energy, but also the very testing and challenge that we need in
order to live a deeper, more authentic life.
Fear be it in the form of worry, anxiety, doubt, paranoia, panic,
dread, or terror pervades our culture, along with our solutions
for it, which mostly only numb us to it. These are very tough times for
many of us, times in which it is easy to slide into fear, both personally
and collectively.
So what are we do to with our fear? Giving in to it only further entraps
us in it, and avoiding it simply keeps us in the shallows, overly absorbed
in distraction. But fear itself is not the problem! What really matters is
what we do with our fear, be it personal or collective.
As simplistic as it may sound, fear often is just excitement in drag. If we
are excited and then we contract, fear arises; if we are fearful and then
expand, excitement arises. Same energy, different context.
This is not all that difcult to recognize when we consider our fear
in its physical/physiological dimensions, but not so easy to recognize
when we consider our fear in its mental dimensions (chronic doubt,
for example).
One form that excitement can take (for better or for worse) is anger.
Not surprisingly, fear and anger are biochemically all but identical.
Same adrenaline, different directionality fear retreats, anger moves
forward. Same adrenaline, different intentionality fear avoids, anger

~ 42 ~


Fear disempowers, whereas anger empowers, so long as it is not allowed

to mutate into aggression. When the fearful get truly angry, they are not
afraid any more, but just angry. Not that getting angry is the solution for
fearfulness but the arising of anger can really empower us, in contrast
to the arising of fear.
Fear comes in many forms worry, anxiety, dread, and so on but
fundamentally is just apprehensive self-constriction, a contractile
aversion that takes shape as a mildly to deeply unpleasant gripping
feeling that announces, compellingly and viscerally: I am not safe; or I am
threatened; or I am in danger.
This message scrawled in our own blood may often be impervious
to cognitive intervention. Consider the following example: If we suffered
a particularly difcult birth, with our vital signs having accelerated for a
signicant amount of time into zones of extreme danger so that our
biological survival was clearly at stake we obviously didnt mentally
reect on our situation (our brain not being developmentally capable
of doing so), but rather automatically reacted by doing whatever most
quickly and effectively reduced the danger, like going neurologically
limp or depressing our vital signs.
Later in life, when in the presence of danger (real or imagined), we may
then not only get afraid, but may also revert, beyond any mental countereffort, to what originally had worked to save our life withdrawing,
shutting down, turning off, getting depressed, whatever does the job.
Many relationships are ruined or kept in the shallows by such reversion
(which is not always a result of birth trauma!) the depressing of
our vitals signs both saves and destroys us, making us all but incapable
of sustained intimacy.
However it manifests, fear very easily undercuts our rationality. Fear
thats allowed to inltrate our mind doesnt waste any time generating
thoughts that support and amplify it.

~ 43 ~

Emotional Literacy
Animals get afraid demonstrating the physiology and characteristic
behaviors of fear when actual danger is present and registers; the
electrifying biochemistry of fear immediately enables them to ee or,
less commonly, to freeze.
Humans, however, are usually far less practically inclined, at least after
infancy, getting afraid not only in the present, but also projecting
fearfulness into the past (as in guilt, which is shame injected with fear)
and the future (as in worry or anxiety), generally keeping ourselves not
only chronically afraid, but also overcommitted or enslaved to whatever
most successfully keeps us sufciently distanced from our fear.
Fear can be adaptive or maladaptive. The rush of fear we feel when
we are getting too close to a precipice is useful, immediately alerting
and readying us for needed action (like stepping back). Worry, on the
other hand, is far from useful when we permit it to gnaw at us, and
to enlist our cognition in its service, were only keeping ourselves off
track, bound up in a too narrowly framed view. Worry which is but
socially acceptable anxiety keeps us spinning in a cranial cramp, until
we leave for more life-giving territory (perhaps after having worried
our head off ).
To journey into, unguardedly feel, and directly relate to our fear (instead
of from it) requires that our usual distancing strategies, cognitive and
otherwise, be exposed and disarmed assuming, of course, that it
is timely to do so. Our fear can then be touched and known from the
inside, and eventually divested of its power to shrink, misguide, or
intimidate us.
Our smaller fears, unpleasant as they might be, are not usually very
difcult to temporarily escape or sedate we know what we are afraid
of; we are perhaps even oddly comforted by its uncomfortable or edgy
familiarity; and we know when to throw it a piece of meat and when
not to. We know it well enough to know how to take the edge off it,
through positive thinking, sex, food, drugs, intense exercise, electronic
~ 44 ~


xes, and other such distracting preoccupations such strategies give

us some sense of control, regardless of what they cost us.
That is, when our fear has a concrete, everyday object upon which to
focus or xate, we are on miserable yet dependably familiar ground,
seemingly far from the quicksands of our deeper fears. Thus do we
tend to prefer the burdened beasts of depression to the monsters of
the deep.
And so thus do we tend to cling, however indirectly, to our everyday
fearfulness, focusing on its mental content much more than the raw
feeling itself. We then leave the nature of fear out of our inquiry,
settling instead for explanations for why we are afraid. Its easy to use
our reasoning powers to distance ourselves from our fearfulness, yet
even from the loftiest and most seemingly safe neocortical towers we
are not entirely out of the reach of our core fears.
Until we move toward our fear, we will be bound by it.
The key to working effectively with fear is to get inside it.
This means, among other things, that we need to have a clear knowledge
of all the ways in which we have learned to get away from fear, so that
when one of them shows up, we are capable of looking at it rather
than just through its eyes and, to whatever degree, saying no
Getting inside fear means getting past its periphery, getting past its
dening thoughts, getting past its propagandizing sentinels, getting past
our problematic orientation to fear. Entering the dragons cave.
Once we are within fear, under its skin, with our attention scanning
our surroundings like a miners headlamp, we can begin acquainting
ourselves with its basic features, particularly those sensations and beliefs

~ 45 ~

Emotional Literacy
that together make it into a something we label fear. The closer we
get to it, the better we can see it.
However, we need to learn not to get close too quickly, not to move so
fast that we cant keep digesting and integrating what were experiencing.
If were entering something as intense as terror, we have to step very
carefully. Taking on too much only increases our fear of fear.
So slowly and carefully we go, feeling our way in, remaining as aware as
possible of our breathing, feelings, sensations, and intentions, keeping
some connection with the outside world, letting our Ariadnes thread
of remembrance have some slack, but not so much that we forget to
keep in palpable contact with it. In touch.
Asking certain questions of ourselves as we proceed can be very helpful:
What sensations am I experiencing in my belly, my diaphragm, my throat,
my upper back, my forehead, my hands? And how are these changing?
What is their texture, tone, temperature, directionality, color, shape?
And what kind of mental processes are going on as I do this? And to
whom is all of this arising?
That is, we deliberately cultivate some curiosity as we make our way
toward and into the den we are on guard, but we are not all that
solidly armored. It is also advantageous to view the storyline presented
by your fear as just that, a story treat it as you would a dream that
youre beginning to suspect is indeed a dream.
Sometimes it may be useful to personify fear and not only ours! as
a scared child, a very upset child, a child who is aching for our touch,
our care, our love. As much as that child, that self-conscious locus of
frightened vulnerability, may initially shrink from us, it is only for as
long as we forget or avoid our compassion.
When we remain outside our fear, we remain trapped within it.

~ 46 ~


When we, however, consciously get inside our fear, its as if it turns
inside out. Getting inside our fear with wakeful attention and compassion
actually expands our fear beyond itself. Once the contractedness at the
center of fear ceases to be fueled, fear unravels, dissipates, and terminates
its occupancy of us.
In entering our fear, we end our fear of it.
Through attending closely, caringly, and carefully to the particulars of
our fear, we decentralize it, so that its intentions and viewpoint can no
longer govern us. When the light goes on in the grottos of dread, then
fear is little more than our case of mistaken identity having a bad day.
When we touch our fear with real caring, it de-tenses, de-compresses,
usually quite quickly becoming something other than fear, something
unburdened by fears agendas or headlines. Fear met with an open heart
does not usually take long to dissolve.
The key is to actively and decisively disidentify with our fear.
When we no longer feel as though were constellated around our fear,
then fear is no longer so fearful it may still experientially resemble
fear, but it doesnt have us so compellingly hooked. We may still be
squirming, we might even still be frightened, but we know were not
really in as much trouble as our fear initially announced to us.
But sometimes fear can slam into us with such force, such shocking
intensity, that we are left devastated. Rape, war, heavy accidents, a sudden
loss of sanity. Huge, huge blows. Even so, it is still possible to approach
such trauma-centered fear at the right pace and very, very carefully,
with skilled help and defuse it. Doing so means not just working at
a mental level, nor simply relying on medication, but rather adopting an
integral approach, working in tting depth with our physical, mental,
emotional, spiritual, and social dimensions.

~ 47 ~

Emotional Literacy
In working with fear, it is also important to take into account collective
fear (see the next chapter). Ever since we became capable of destroying
ourselves through nuclear means, our fear-level has skyrocketed, along
with our fear-distractions (depression and self-numbing ranking high
on the list). We know in our marrow that we feel threatened at least
on a physical level regardless of how successful our compensatory
strategies might appear to be.
As long as our desire to continue distracting ourselves from our suffering
is stronger, or permitted to be more central, than our longing to be truly
free, we will continue to be occupied or colonized by both fear
and its remedies (not the least of which are the spiritually ambitious
dreams and immortality aspirations of our me-centeredness).
And no matter how determined we are to truly face and work with our
fear, there remains a part of us that does not want to go near fear. This
part call it the fear-eeing us must not only be acknowledged and
faced, but also kept in healthy perspective, if we are to move through
our fear.
It is crucial not to make a problem out of such resistance. It is not really
blocking our way; what matters is what we do with it. Do we identify
with it, losing ourselves in its dramatics and agendas, or do we relate to
it, naming it without shaming ourselves for having it?
There is enormous energy bound-up in resistance, energy that can
be freed up for more life-giving purposes if we will but approach our
resistance with clarity and compassion, moving at a pace that neither
rushes us nor proceeds too slowly.
In our resistance to working with our fear lies our history with it,
including all the ways through which weve learned to get away from it.
We need to read that history with an open heart and wakeful eyes, until
we are intimate with it.

~ 48 ~


Theres no point saying to ourselves that we shouldnt be afraid which

just shames us for being afraid, driving the fear-ridden us into more
and more compensatory activity, anything to get away from fear. That
particular us responds best to real care, heart-centered attentiveness,
much like a frightened child to a truly loving adult presence.
So treat your resistance to working with fear with care and respect,
without , however, allowing it to run the show or masquerade as you.
Take it by the hand and lead it to a truer land, step by step, expanding
yourself enough to keep making room for it. Do so, and your fear of
fear will greatly diminish...
Going to the core of fear deepens love and relational intimacy. In fact,
its only through openly facing our fear that genuine fearlessness arises.
In fear, we do not feel safe; but in ego-transcending love, we feel and
are safe, being in intimate resonance with that which cannot be harmed
or left.
Awareness doesnt mind fear.
Nor does love.

~ 49 ~

To work in truly signicant depth with fear, we need to take into account
not only personal fear, but also collective fear the kind of fear which
could be called our fear and the fear, surrounding and permeating
all of us with its energies and core message: we are threatened, we are
in danger, we are at the mercy of far-from-benign forces....
As immune as we might like to think we are to this, at least in its more
obviously transmitted forms (like the commonplace media hyperfocus
on horrible things happening to people other than us), we are affected,
we are impacted, in much the same way that a polluted atmosphere
gets to us no matter how clean the air is in our home or how correctly
we breathe.
Collective fear, like personal fear, coexists with our solutions to it.
One of the most prominent of these is psychoemotional numbing. This
basically manifests on a global scale as a ight from feeling, a muting
and attening of feeling, a depression of sorts a pressing-down of
fearfulness that masks itself with whatever uppers it can nd, along
with a big enough dose of denial to keep the lid on, generating a toxic
mix of apathy and nihilism that gets by behind the label coping.
Such mass numbing shifted into high gear in the rst decade following
World War II. Knowing that we now had the capability to wipe ourselves
out through nuclear war, and that such an event could denitely happen,
hooked us up to enough fear to successfully overwhelm us so of
course we got busy eeing such fear, such collective dread, investing
enormous amounts of energy into nding various means that kept us
safely removed from it. Various fascinations ranging from the
narcotic to the erotic to the spiritually captivating capable of potently
~ 50 ~


distracting us from our dread while at the same time pleasurizing us,
occupied increasingly central places in our lives.
As we got more numb to our numbness, we normalized it. Pharmaceutical
solutions became second nature. Hyperstimulation not only became
mainstream, but also was increasingly viewed as admirable, if only
vicariously. Revving up our nervous system built up enough charge to
necessitate some sort of energetic release, which of course took some
of the edge off our fear.
And if we really wanted to feel what we had suppressed, we could tap
into it now and then through immersing ourselves in secondhand fear,
via such means as horror movies. But the cinematic terrors that drew
forth our screams and raw fear were none other than sensationalized
surrogates and exaggerations of what we had already covered up in
ourselves, rising up from their subterranean holding tanks to confront
us. When the movie was over, we could sit back relieved and somewhat
sated by our plunge into safe fear, in much the same sense that we
could awaken from a nightmare so as to remain relatively unaware of
what was actually animating it.
Such false or unawake awakenings only reinforced our slumber
regarding our actual situation. We were, in short, not taking advantage
of the shock that our nightmarish situation was delivering, the shock
that could jolt us wide awake, settling instead for the chills and thrills
and eventual relief afforded by our immersion in secondhand fears.
We may have the best seats in the coziest section of the ecological and
political nightmare that pervades our planet, and we may have more than
enough comfort and status to relegate this nightmare to the outskirts of
our consciousness but there it resides, gnawing at our gates, sliding
under our doors, nding more and more ways in, saying in all sort of
ways: See me, feel me, dont turn away from me, face me!

~ 51 ~

Emotional Literacy
And face it we must, with our whole being. It is very late to be taking
such a stand, but take it we must.
And this begins with seeing collective fear for what it is, and learning to
recognize when we are most susceptible to it as when we are feeling
overwhelmed by various demands and needs, and let ourselves spin off
into the kind of functioning that only makes things worse. None of us
are immune to collective fear. So let us turn to face it. We need to do
so eventually, so why not do so as soon as possible?
Psychoemotional numbing is not our only solution to collective
fear. Another is avoidance, which of course shares some overlap with
numbing. Collective fear insinuates its way into us, and we sidestep it, rise
above it, withdraw from it. Where numbing is a freezing, avoidance is a
ight. So theres more movement in avoidance; it chooses not inertia, but
removal. Its legs do not turn to lead when in a nightmare, but rather to
getaway pistons or to wings whatever helps deposit us elsewhere.
Aggression is another solution to collective fear. Instead of eeing
or freezing, we ght. We transmute the energy of fear into the energy
of aggression, or unhealthy anger. Now were not afraid, but just
pissed off, looking for someone or something to attack. But were still
not relating to our fear, but are, as is the case with freezing and eeing
options, only relating from it. We are not moving into healthy anger
nonblaming, nonshaming, nonattacking but into modes of being
in which offending others are our focus. Zeroing in on them and/or their
shortcomings keeps us distracted from the very fear that is motivating
us to behave so in the rst place.
The fourth f the rst three being eeing, ghting, freezing is
that of exaggerated interest in and obsession with sexuality. The more
afraid an overcrowded collection of rats is, the more hypersexual and
sexually aberrant they get. Were similar: When theres great stress,
we may use sex to provide a quick and potent energetic release from
~ 52 ~


such tension. As collective fear spreads wider and deeper, so too

does the reliance on sex to make us feel better. Modern culture is so
hypersexualized, so obsessively eroticized, that we generally take such
excess as not so far from normal; we are acclimatized to it.
And theres the promise of a certain liberating power in sex, however
crude or gross, and that promise becomes especially seductive when
collective fear strengthens its grip on us. Only when we release sex from
the obligation to make us feel better (or less fearful), do we really start
to free ourselves, if only to at last face our fear, both in its personal
and collective forms.
Collective fear is one hell of a dragon, enlarged through our fear of it.
We need to name it, and turn toward it, both in solitary and communal
ways. Yes, recognize it and how it affects us, but also recognize how
it affects others. Theres nothing like being with others who are also
actively and deeply facing and working with their fear, and moving with
them through fear, both in personal and collective contexts, until were
established in a love and interrelatedness that does not mind fear.
Everything I have said about working with personal fear applies to
working with collective fear but there is more to consider in dealing
effectively with collective fear.
For starters, collective fear carries a lot of weight, a globe-encircling toxic
oppressiveness so instead of being burdened only by our own fear,
we are also burdened by a general sense of chronic fearfulness coming
at us from all directions. There is a felt density to this, an unpleasantly
pervasive contractedness, that is so common that it has become all but
normalized. When we let this get into invade us, our personal
fears get amplied, and our resources for taking good care of ourselves
~ 53 ~

Emotional Literacy
So what can we do? Much the same as were learning to do with our
personal fear: name it, turn toward it, enter it, cultivate intimacy with it,
giving it a more expanded container and liberating its energies from their
prevailing viewpoint. Its just that now the scale is much larger, with the
forces of collective fearfulness insinuating their way into us, smogging
us, bogging us down, eating away at us if we let them.
It is essential that we allow ourselves to openly FEEL such forces,
without letting ourselves collapse or dissociate (or indulge in worrying).
This may sound counterintuitive, but it actually reduces the impact of
collective fear, partly because weve expanded through the very act
of such opening, and partly because were allowing other emotions
to arise in conjunction with fear, so that it ceases to dominate our
psychoemotional landscape.
When we really open to collective fear, we are hit not only in the gut and
solar plexus, but also in the heart. We then feel not only our own fear,
but that of so many others, in conjunction with a rising caring for them.
Through our rawness of heart, we shift into an authentic, vitally alive
intersubjectivity or we-centeredness, letting the general fearfulness of
humankind penetrate us in such a way that our capacity for compassion
and compassionate action kicks into high gear.
And then we are not so much afraid as we are undefendedly feeling great
hurt, being touched by a depth of collective woundedness and pain that
breaks our heart. We naturally now breathe in fear not just my fear
or our fear but also the fear and breathe out care, not in some effort
to be compassionate or a spiritual somebody, but simply because there
is nothing else to do.
The broken heart can go into endarkened contraction, a myopic
curling-in like a snail retreating to the innermost (and smallest/tightest)
chambers of its shell or it can go in a very different direction, namely
that of being broken open.
~ 54 ~


When the heart is broken open, there is great expansion, a sense of

vast and deep roominess, however raw, however painful. In such radical
stretching, we simultaneously bleed and soar. This makes it possible for
grief my grief and your grief and the grief to pour in and through
us, until we are but an exquisitely vulnerable being-centered presence
(and prayer) serving the good of one and all...
So let collective fear into your heart not all at once, but enough
so that you feel your heart starting to crack and stretch. As you let it
break open, you will discover that it has room for all. Then fearfulness
will not be a problem for you, but simply one more arising, one more
quality showing up, already seeded with its own transformation and
the catalyst for this is your willingness to enter such fear and to let it
enter you.
In dealing with collective fear, it is also of central importance that we
ground ourselves. Letting our heart break open does not mean that
we should turn to mush or let ourselves be passively blown around by
circumstances. Stand solid, no matter how transparent or vulnerable
you are. Feel the earth beneath your feet. Make and keep making real
contact with the ground, as if becoming a kind of lightning rod for
Opening yourself to collective fearfulness does not mean that you should
open yourself indiscriminately to fear-reinforcing material. Cut through
whatever information is before you and feel what underlies it. If you
watch the news, dont just watch it feel it! Bad news should not be a
spectator sport or just more infotainment, but rather an occasion to cut
through fearfulness, so that our energies are mobilized for something
more benecial than merely distracting ourselves from fear.
Another aspect of dealing skillfully with collective fear is that of
maintaining and deepening our individuality not our egoity, but our
individuality (or personalized essence) doing all that we can not to
~ 55 ~

Emotional Literacy
give in to groupthink or groupfeel. It is easy to lose touch with our
autonomy when we are surrounded by others fear and panic.
Our work is not to become hyperautonomous, however, keeping
ourselves safely apart from whatever is happening with others, but
rather is to simultaneously embody autonomy and we-centeredness,
honoring both individual and group needs.
In this, we have enough separation to be able to keep things clearly
focused, and enough connection to be in touch with what is occurring.
In short, we are deepening our capacity for intimacy, both with others
and with all that we are.
Essential to maintaining healthy separation and healthy connection is
the ongoing presence of conscious, well-functioning boundaries. Fear
either obliterates our boundaries or shrinks and calcies them. But
a snail without its shell is too vulnerable, and a snail holed up in the
innermost spirals of its shell is cut off from life; one gets squashed, the
other atrophies. Just like us. With effective boundaries, we can venture
out without having to abandon our softness and vulnerability, and we
can stay put without turning ourselves into a fortress of solitude or
And what is the primary guardian, emotionally speaking, of our
boundaries? Anger. As weve seen, anger and fear are very closely related,
being all but identical biochemically. If were angry and shut it down
(as we may have learned to do long ago for survival reasons), our fear
level tends to increase. So it is crucial that we not convert our anger
into fear (or aggression!), but give it space to breathe and unfold and
nd expression in life-giving ways.
Get as intimate as possible with your anger; keep it close by, and dont
deny yourself your fully felt outrage over things you see and hear if
you suppress your anger over such things, the very energy of that anger
~ 56 ~


will become but worry, anxiety, dread, along with varying degrees of
In similar fashion, if you suppress your hurt and grief over things you
see and hear, the very energy of that insufciently expressed hurt and
grief will become but apathy, depression, dullness, dispiritedness.
Collective fear attens and wastes and deadens us, if we leave it
unchallenged. By contrast, our anger can enliven us, fueling us in more
life-giving directions. Fear puts out the re; anger ames it bright. And
the re of anger if healthy provides both heat and light.
Once again, stay vulnerable, and do so without abandoning or neglecting
your boundaries. Let your heart break open, again and again and again.
Doing so will only enlarge it, without any dilution of your capacity to
love. And dont conne your love to meekness! Give it room to be erce,
to be vitally alive, to make a fuss! Your unleashed voice is needed. Let
it arise right from your core, so that by the time its on the tip of your
tongue, it is already passionately alive.
Fear separates us, but only if we let it. Shared fear, fear that is openly
faced and discussed and felt with others, can draw us into unusually
potent we-spaces, breaking us open to what matters most of all (Im
not talking here about worry-fests, the sharings of which are all
about indulging in socially acceptable anxiety, without any impetus to
go deeper).
In this, we are not escaping our fear, but rather entering it so deeply
and so fully that its energies unravel, burst, dissipate, expanding beyond
Collective fear contains the very energy we need to fuel our leap to more
tting levels of being. All we have to do is free up that energy, but we
cannot do so if we remain distant from it. So both together and alone
~ 57 ~

Emotional Literacy
let us face this planetary dragon, learning to breathe it in right down to
our toes without losing our ground. The treasure that it guards is the
treasure we were born to nd.
Collective fear is vast, but love is vaster.
So are we.

~ 58 ~

Doubt is an inner questioning infused with uncertainty and, more often
than not, enough agitation to make it a relatively unpleasant state. In an
everyday sense, doubt is what happens mentally when we nd ourselves
stranded in ambiguitys darker carrels, trying to think our way out, stuck
in cognitive trafc jams that catch us in their treads and atten us as
much as they fragment us.
Typical doubt is not much more than skepticism that, having lost its
clarity and condence, is bound up in worrisome shades of uncertainty.
Anxiety may be lurking nearby, ready to be recruited, bringing more of
an edge to doubt. Although doubt is not dread, it can become dread
if sufciently fed.
Doubt can manifest as avoidance, moral impotence, indecisiveness,
existential fence-sitting, indulgence in ambiguity, cognitive obsessing,
prevarication, and so on and it can also, though much less often,
manifest as a necessary questioning, a courageous inquiry that can
both tolerate and investigate uncertainty. Doubt is no more bad than
certainty is good.
Theres everyday doubt, a self-contracted, often neurotic questioning
injected with constricted feeling, zigzagging with myopic desperation
through the presenting layers of uncertainty and theres another
doubt, a sober questioning that carries us beyond facile certainties and
automated beliefs deep into the inherent insecurity and uncertainty of
Life, inviting us to adopt a nonproblematic orientation toward it.
Everyday doubt is a collapse of heart that has gone to mind, an unhappy,
unillumined inquiry thats interested not in discovery or revelation,
but only in persisting in repetitively touring its culs-de-sac. It puts an
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abundance of energy into going nowhere, spinning its wheels until it is
exhausted, leaving us asleep at the wheel.
Such doubt is the contracted and divided mind doing time in uncertaintys
mental mazes, providing apparent justication for worry.
Whereas skepticism is a healthy, incisive, and often robust questioning,
everyday doubt is an unhealthy, indecisive, and chronically anaemic
questioning, a dead-end inquiry, a bottled-up questioning that is terried
of being uncorked.
When the energy of everyday doubt is allowed to mushroom in our
headquarters, it tends to invade and stain whatever content is nearby,
immediately framing it in a darkly questionable light.
Doubt is what the mind tends to do both when it is cut off from the
vitality and openness and primal intentions of our depths, and when
rationality itself just does not satisfy. And doubt presumes to have an
overview, but in fact has none it cannot even see itself, let alone
accurately assess its environment.
Nevertheless, doubt is not an enemy. What matters is what we do with
it. Do we identify with it? Do we give our power away to it? Do we
allow it to enlarge? Do we believe in it? Do we make decisions based
on it? Or do we illuminate it, outbreathe and outdance it, crashing its
slumber-party with such resolute focus that it cannot help but dissolve
into a more Life-giving form?
Trying to work with doubt through mental means only doesnt really
work. The self-suppression that catalyzes and animates doubt must
be seen, felt, and known from the deep inside. Our whole being must
be eased, expanded, given permission to come alive. Our torso must
be loosened, our limbs unfrozen, our heart reentered, our reach made
both powerful and vulnerable, so that our entire anatomy is brought
into supportive resonance with what-really-matters.
~ 60 ~


Doubt your doubt, and then pour your undivided attention into whatever
noncognitive openings have been generated by doing so.
When doubt does manage to inltrate your mind, read its contents
once-through as though they belonged to a supermarket tabloid, taking
careful note of which headlines most easily snare your attention. Then
immediately shift your attention, and shift it completely, to the feeling of
your doubt, resisting the temptation to scoot back into your mind.
No matter how tempting it is to immerse yourself in what your doubt is
telling you, shift your attention from whatever it is that youre doubting
to the actual phenomenon of doubt itself. Feel into and through its
tensions, its contracted tones, its positioning, its emotional qualities, its
bodily ramications and anatomical peculiarities; feel what it is doing to
you, feel what it is doing to others near you, feel how its staining your
speech, vision, hearing, perception, posture, your very being...
The key is to actively and decisively disidentify with our doubt, while also
allowing the surfacing and tting expression of whatever feeling states
are associated with it fear, sadness, anger, shame, and so on.
Dont give your doubt a thought. Instead, give it your full attention. Go
right to its core. Its dark heart is but the shell, the calcied chambering,
of a love that effortlessly dissolves all fear and clears space for a deeper

~ 61 ~

Paranoia, like doubt, is fear that has gone to mind, but where doubt peers
over the precipice from a bit of a distance, paranoia teeters right at the
edge. Where doubt has some access to rationality, paranoia has none,
however darkly brilliant its logic may be. Paranoia is the constricted,
fear-infested mind doing time in windowless cells of hellish possibility
that ominously threaten to shift from possibility to probability to literal
If were thinking paranoid thoughts, and are aware not only of the fact
that we are thinking such thoughts but also of the fact that they are but
thoughts, however heavily infused with unpleasant feeling, we are still
sane. Disturbed maybe, fearful for sure, but not insane.
But if were thinking paranoid thoughts and cannot step back from
them enough to know that we in fact are thinking such thoughts (our
capacity for clear self-reection here being absent or severely crippled),
then were likely more than knee-deep in insanity, regardless of our times
of sanity. Insanity does not necessarily mean the absence of sanity, but
rather too little anchoring time spent in basic sanity.
If youre being paranoid and know that youre being paranoid, you very
likely can be worked with in therapeutic/spiritual contexts, usually quite
effectively; but if youre being paranoid and dont know that youre being
paranoid (or refuse to admit it), then the odds are that you cant be
worked with very successfully, anymore than a religious fundamentalist
can be persuaded that his or her certainties may not be so certain.
The ability to hold two or more perspectives in mind while remaining
relatively intimate with each of them is a hallmark of sanity. After all,
each of us is making an appearance not so much as a singularity as a
~ 62 ~


kind of community, a collective of self-conscious habits, every one of

which, when given center stage, tends to refer to itself as I and
each of these personied habits, these crystallized complexes, these
pretenders to the throne of self, possesses (and is possessed by) its own
unique perspective, which needs to be recognized and known well, but
not allowed to assume the role of overseer or master.
Our task is to become so intimate with each of these apparent selves that
constitute us that we become incapable of identifying with any one of
them to the degree that we lose sight of who and what we really are.
Real sanity is about recognizing and taking good care of all that we are,
without letting any one aspect of us take over the others; this does not
mean chaos or politically correct egalitarianism, but rather a functionally
tting positioning of each aspect, in the spirit of a parent who dearly
loves his or her child, but does not let that child drive the car. Keeping
our habits where we can keep a clear eye on them is an essential practice
in our maturation.
To journey into our paranoid thoughts and associated feelings without
getting signicantly paranoid is basic sanity in the courageous crunch.
To go into our madness without becoming unhinged is a sign of
relatively advanced development. To enter our pain without turning
it into suffering is a gift to all beings. To pass into our lovelessness
without losing heart is a great art, out of which healing cannot help
but arise. To move into the Unknown without having to know whats
going to happen once were there is real freedom in the making. The
way toward basic sanity is not that of rising above, trying to transcend,
marginalizing, or otherwise avoiding our insanity, but rather that of going
into and through our insanity, letting all that arises, however hellish or
scary, awaken us to who and what we really are.
The late R.D. Laing somewhere once said that when he looked through
the DSM-III (psychiatrys bible of diagnostic criteria for mental disorders,
the latest incarnation of which is the DSM-V), he recognized himself
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strewn all over its pages, shredded to criteria. And if we look deeply
enough in the same manual, well also see ourselves thus shredded to
criteria there, the shakier dimensions of our selfhood pathologized on
page after page in the deadening language of disembodied rationality.
However, recognizing the truth of That too am I doesnt have to be
an occasion for identifying with a particular condition or self-state, but
can instead be an opportunity to further ll out the circle of our being,
embodying a radical inclusiveness that requires no abandonment of our
capacity for discernment.
Through this, we can touch our own paranoia (and related dysfunctional
states) with tenderness, taking an awakened attentiveness into it until it
is but the contracted electricity of bare fear holding our mind hostage
with the threat of dire possibility, and then not even that, but only
undressed aliveness, now energetically available for something other
than the hallucinogenic presentations/certainties of our paranoia.
When we thus relate to our paranoia rather than from it we
feel our way past its endarkened edginess into its core of heightened
sensitivity until it is nothing more than exquisitely responsive attunement
to whatever is arising.
In this, paranoia, or any other undesirable state, becomes but an entry
point into what lies prior to and beyond all fear. All we have to do is
move toward it when it arises, however counterintuitive that might seem
at the time, while opening ourselves to whatever assistance we might
need in order to do so. Each step thus taken, however small or halting,
reinforces and deepens our basic sanity, giving us much of the ground
we need for living a deeper life.

~ 64 ~

Jealousy is a painfully intense contractile reaction to and usually also
a compelling dramatization of being rejected or replaced, whether
this is real or imagined. Jealousys ache is one of deep-cutting anguish,
burning its way into heart, solar plexus, and gut, impaling us on its
moral outrage.
Even the slightest threat however groundless of being rejected
or replaced (or bumped to less-than-central status), may be enough to
trigger jealousy, especially if we already do not feel particularly secure
or stable in our intimate relationship.
Given jealousys power to erode and undermine and, at the extreme,
destroy intimacy, it is extremely important to be able to deal with it
skillfully, which begins with knowing it from the inside.
Jealousy can take many forms, ranging from a mildly gnawing sense of
being insufciently wanted to raging or even murderous revengefulness.
But whatever its form or appearance, it remains a grippingly unpleasant
state that can easily possess us.
Jealousy is not so much a single emotion as a blending of a number
of emotions, with hurt (the ache), grief (the loss) and anger (the moral
outrage) atop the list, followed by shame and resentment, all combining
to generate an achingly compelling sense of being pushed aside, replaced,
unwanted, rejected that is, relegated from our primary status with an
esteemed or beloved other to a denitely less-than-primary status.
Jealousy shows up early in life; toddlers who nd a younger sibling on
the scene may demonstrate jealousy, as when they with territorial

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Emotional Literacy
intensity aggressively push aside, overrun, or pinch their more
youthful competition. (Competition for what? Parental attention, for
What follows concerns not the morbid or pathological extremes of
jealousy, but rather the more commonplace kinds of jealousy both
warranted and unwarranted which arise when there is a perceived
threat to our closeness with our intimate other.
Warranted jealousy arises when our partner has betrayed or is betraying
us, through, for example, interacting with boundary-crossing intimacy
(and not necessarily always sexually!) with another without having our
permission and such jealousy may still arise even if we have given our
permission, especially when such permission-giving arose not from our
core, but rather from our desire to please or control our partner.
And unwarranted jealousy? It arises when we mistakenly assume that
our partner has betrayed us.
Jealousy can be exceedingly painful, as anyone who has writhed in its
straitjacketed res knows all too well. Most of us strive not to provide
fertile conditions for jealousy, but it nevertheless may still manage to
sprout up, with a green not of sun-embracing reach, but of dark and
sometimes venomous force.
However, jealousy is not some inherently evil or negative or necessarily
inappropriate feeling! If we catch our partner cheating on us, our feeling
jealous is far from unnatural well feel a mixture of hurt, grief, anger,
resentment, and perhaps also shock, all of it intensied when we think
of our partner with his or her new lover. And well also probably feel
like taking various actions, some of which will only make things even
worse (like getting violent), and some of which may help bring about a
needed healing (like establishing and maintaining clear boundaries).
What matters is what we actually do with our jealousy.
~ 66 ~


Do we get lost in its dramatics? Do we settle for being right? Do we

indulge in revengeful fantasies? Or do we try to rise above our jealousy,
acting as if we are beyond it, thereby denying ourselves full access to it
and its possible riches? Or do we condemn it, sentencing it to a padded
cell, thereby walling away the very vulnerability of which our jealousy is
but a confession, however twisted or dark? Or do we abstract it, talking
about it with relentlessly level, disembodied rationality and unnatural
calm, even as we now and then wonder why our emotional life tends
to be so at and unexciting?
Do we believe in our jealousy so strongly that we do harm to ourselves
or another? Or do we ee it, avoiding any circumstances that resemble
the ones that originally catalyzed our jealousy? Or do we deny that it is
actually happening, while we slowly die inside, painting good cheer and
non-possessive smiles all over our collapse of heart? Or do we make
good use of our jealousy, giving its energies enough room to breathe
and move through us, while taking appropriate action?
So how to work with our jealousy?
First of all, acknowledge its presence and name it. As blatantly obvious
as jealousy can be, we may have trouble likely shame-based openly
admitting that it is indeed present. Being jealous may not t into our
Second, dont try to eradicate your jealousy. Instead, explore it and dig
deep, mining its depths for what lies at its core (if possible, work on this
with a suitably skilled psychotherapist). Get in touch, and stay in touch,
with the hurt, anger, and sense of loss that constitute it.
Third, get your jealousy in healthy perspective; that is, allow it to be there,
but dont let it run the show (psychotherapy and meditative practice are
very useful here, especially when employed in conjunction).

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Emotional Literacy
And last but not least, if your partner has catalyzed (or is catalyzing)
your jealousy (as by having an emotional affair), do not let him or her
off the hook as we are prone to do when under blind compassions
spell and do not make yourself wrong for being jealous!
Seat your jealousy where you can keep a clear eye (a non-jealous eye!)
on it, so that when it starts to act up, you can spot it immediately and
take steps (like shifting perspective) to keep it from overwhelming you.
This is not easy, but gets easier with practice.
Jealousy is made possible through attachment. So, not surprisingly, some
of us perhaps seeking an end to jealousy strive for nonattachment
in relationships.
Without attachment, there would be no jealousy (and there would also
be no compassion!) but do not allow yourself to make a problem out
of attachment, and be aware/beware of teachings which view attachment
as something to be shed or transcended (with the exception, of course,
of our attachment to such views themselves!).
Its very easy to get attached to not being attached. Yes, attachment does
have its pathological possibilities such as addiction but it itself
is not necessarily a sign of neurosis or immaturity. Attachment comes
with relational intimacy (and in fact deepens as we become truly closer,
even as it simultaneously becomes more transparent).
Jealousy often features a compulsive drive to blame our offending or
apparently offending other for what is happening to us in our jealous
state, as if to somehow legitimize what were doing with our jealousy.
At the same time, though, it is important that we not downplay what
is triggering our jealousy, just because were not handling our jealousy
very well.
The central message of jealousy usually is a blend of (1) You dont love
me! or something similar, implying colossal or terribly unfair rejection,
~ 68 ~


as of a child by its mother; and (2) If you really loved me, you could not
and would not be doing what youre doing! This, of course, is reinforced
by the fact that our partners jealousy-catalyzing actions may be far from
loving regarding us, including to the point of actual betrayal.
Feeling unloved by our partner hurts, but when it is accompanied by
their giving to another what were aching for them to give to us, it really
hurts. This is the raw anguish of jealousy, the jagged gut-slam and heartshock of in-your-face rejection.
It is easy to get marooned in the wastelands of rejection, especially if
our history has predisposed us to being readily hooked or triggered by
any sign of rejection.
But as we mature, we learn to stay open and present in the midst of real
rejection, ceasing to let our jealousy run us: There may be anger and
tears and indignant disbelief, and all the symptoms of jealousy, but there
will be no signicant withdrawal of self, nor any indulgence in mere
blaming; there may be force, but not violence; there is vulnerability, but
not mushiness or self-pity; there is real sadness, not reactive sorrow;
and there is a clear willingness to go right through jealousys dark realm,
rather than just adopting a righteous positioning somewhere within
it; and most of all, there is love or at least the all-out commitment
to making room for it rather than just an uptight, loveless waiting
to see if the other, the one who has rejected us, is being loving, or is
going to become loving toward us. (This does not mean, however, that
we should be openhearted and prematurely forgiving with our partner
after they have betrayed us, but rather that we not lose touch with our
heart, even in the midst of our anger and hurt.)
If we will only love when we are already being loved by the other (as
epitomized by me-centered relationships), we are prime candidates for
unwarranted jealousy, for we are then chronically on the search for signs
that we are not being loved, miserably snifng around for evidence of
abandonment or neglect or betrayal, reducing ourselves to little more
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Emotional Literacy
than neurotic sleuths, sinking into overamplied suspiciousness, again
and again demanding, however indirectly, that our partner consistently
demonstrate or prove his or her trustworthiness.
Such demonstration, however, is rarely enough for us, for we, in the
gripping dramatics of our unillumined jealousy, wont trust anything
except our mistrust and doubt regarding the other. In short, we then
expect betrayal, and perhaps even in some sense crave it, so as to recreate
(usually unconsciously) childhood scenarios of unresolved rejection.
The lesson here, at essence, is to remain truly open to being loving (in
the highest sense), even when we are clearly being rejected. The form of
such love is not meek or passive, nor necessarily all-accepting of rejection.
Rather, it is potent, dynamic, and passionately alive, quite capable of
ery yet clean anger, more than willing to call bullshit bullshit (as when
the other deliberately does things to catalyze our jealousy, so as to feel
more powerful or more in control). Such love does not shrink for long
in the face of rejection, and nor does it piously stand aside or slip into
the robes of blind compassion. Instead, it radiates forth, generating
an environment that simultaneously cradles reactivity and renders it so
transparent that it cannot possess us.
When we get overfocused on feeling rejected to the point of identifying
with such feeling we are, in part, just blocking ourselves from fully
feeling our woundedness. We are then, in effect, actually rejecting what
is most vulnerable in us, doing to it what is being or was done to us
(or what we imagine is being or was done to us) by the one making
us jealous.
Real love does not reject the other, but it may reject and may need to
reject something that the other is doing.
Jealousy is the festering abscess of feeling cast aside, the endarkened
sensation of betrayal-catalyzed rejection and loss. When untouched by
awareness, jealousy especially in its unwarranted form is mostly
~ 70 ~


just a mean-spirited temper tantrum, a coupling of twisted anger and

exaggerated hurt up on a toxic soapbox, righteously ranting about right
and wrong, making too much noise to hear its own true song.
When held and penetrated by compassion, however, jealousy eases its
defences, becoming a raw, nonviolent expression of relational hurt and
wounding, a heart-opening confession of in-depth attachment that has
been amplied by rejection, an honest sharing of deep feeling, leaving us
sobered, unmasked, and more loving, more at ease with our attachment
toward our partner (and with our demand for integrity from him or her),
no longer struggling for either ownership or detachment, no longer held
hostage by the possibility of potential rejection, no longer afraid of
jealousy, and no longer so bound to being in relationships that, through
their unresolved neurotic patterns and lack of real grounding, provide
excessively fertile conditions for the arising of jealousy.
When jealousy arrives, treat it neither as an enemy nor as a green light for
reactive behavior, but rather as a challenging visitor. Listen to it closely,
separating what is neurotic in it from what is not. Stay with it, until its
dramatics diminish and its vulnerability and hurt are clearly in the open.
Then address what spawned it, with attention given to both detail and
context, until its clear if it is warranted or unwarranted.
In the presence of our undivided, compassion-infused attention, our
jealousy may ail and rage briey, but will quickly be but hurt, deep hurt.
Dont try to x, rehabilitate, or spiritualize that hurt. Instead, simply be
with it, holding it as you would an upset child whom you love. Allow it
to shake and weep. Let it breathe fully. Hold it close. When it has settled,
then whatever actions may be called for can be sanely considered.
Jealousy is a difcult guest. Treat it as such.

~ 71 ~

Theres an emotion, a very common emotion, for which theres no
word in English (other than perhaps the extremely obscure epicaricacy),
an emotion that is all about taking pleasure in others misfortune or
This may not be the kind of emotion that we readily admit to having,
but who among us hasnt felt it, and sometimes also acted as if they
were not feeling it?
When those who have done us harm or committed a crime are clearly
suffering, we may feel justied in taking pleasure at their downfall and
might even do so publicly, but at other times we may feel the same kind
of pleasure when certain suffering others clearly have done nothing
disturbing or harmful to us, in which case we ordinarily are not inclined
to show our pleasure publicly or even privately (or even to admit it to
German has a word for this emotion: Schadenfreude. This translates as
harm-joy. Many other languages have a word for it, but not English.
We have phrases that hover around or hint at it, phrases that convey
some of the feeling of it, but without the overt pleasure, as if were
embarrassed to admit that it actually feels good.
For example, we may say, he had it coming or I hope she suffers or
it was just a matter of time before he fell these all perhaps hinting
at a certain satisfaction we might feel upon seeing someone take a spill
or go downhill, but not coming very close to indicating any real pleasure.
But Schadenfreude with a stiff upper lip or impassive countenance is
still Schadenfreude.

~ 72 ~


Unjustied Schadenfreude may be our most ubiquitous guilty pleasure,

more often than not springing (unlike arguably justied Schadenfreude)
from envy, an envy that pleasantly dissipates (leaving only a dark stain
in the backcorners of our psyche) when we spot the fall or demise of
the envied other.
The tabloids on sale at most checkout counters provide an instant
Schadenfreude high movie stars without any makeup, movie stars
messing up royally, movie stars down in the dump, their travails and
photos inviting us to look upon them where they are not just like us, but
worse. Their fall is our rise, leavening us with tiny bursts of satisfaction
and secret yumminess, like a chocolate bar downed in the mid-afternoon
whilst watching a soap opera. Its a vicarious shamefest; were close to
the shame, but not that close, so that we can see it and feel it without
having it contract or shrink or expose us.
How quietly yet pointedly delicious it is to be on the other side of the
glass. Someone elses fall amplies the fact that we have not yet thus
fallen; thus does Schadenfreude give us a little hit of immunity, which
in itself provides a small but noticeable shot of pleasure. A cheap and
easily accessible buzz.
Much of Schadenfreudes ancestry lies in the triumph we felt and
this goes back a long way when the overcoming or downfall of others
improved our lives in some way (and the better this felt, the more fully
wed participate in it). This can also be seen developmentally, when young
children exult over getting something that another child clearly wants.
Being higher up on the food chain can be a high, despite the cost.
As we get older and more cognitively sophisticated, our capacity for
Schadenfreude deepens. Although we may still be driven by a certain
core competitiveness and a corresponding envy, now we can bring in
ner and ner distinctions as to what constitutes a fall in others, as well
as dragging into the mix such potent ingredients as the ability to shame
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Emotional Literacy
others. And if we ourselves can be shamed relatively easily, we may seek
to escape the raw feeling of such shame not only through attacking
others or ourselves but also through honing our capacity for
Our sense of justice and our Schadenfreude leanings are directly related.
If we feel that others have behaved unjustly, were more likely to feel
some Schadenfreude toward them than if we knew they had not thus
behaved. The enormous coverage given celebrity failings is largely fed
by a powerfully pervasive cultural Schadenfreude. In this, major news
networks are simply the Jerry Springer Show in polite drag, pandering
as they do to the very same appetites of less civilized broadcasts.
There are many shades of Schadenfreude, ranging from malicious
delight to sweet revenge to eruditely smiling contempt, but all involve
an absence of compassion, coupled with an us-versus-them mentality.
As such, Schadenfreude works against forgiveness, and how could it
not, given how it dehumanizes the offending or fallen other?
Also, in the sense that it is a spectator sport just think of Romans
packed into the amphitheater for a day of rousingly entertaining
bloodshed Schadenfreude keeps us psychoemotionally separate from
the downfall thats providing us with pleasure. Thus does it disconnect
us, even as it connects us to others who are also enjoying observing
the same downfall.
Schadenfreude can be brought into clearer focus by examining its
opposite, mudita (a Pali and Sanskrit Buddhist term), which basically
means sympathetic/appreciative joy the pleasure we take in others
successes and achievements.
Many of us know this emotion in its purest form through the joy we
feel over our childrens breakthroughs and triumphs, so long as we are
not caught in living through their successes (which of course often
means overemphasizing their doing well, thereby bringing unnecessary
~ 74 ~


and often injurious pressure to them). Mudita has an open heart;

Schadenfreude does not. Mudita does not lose touch with the humanity
of others; Schadenfreude does.
So what can we do about our Schadenfreude? First of all, become
sufciently aware of it so that you can name it as soon as it arises
in you. Then bring your full attention into the actual feeling of your
Notice the contraction in its expansiveness; notice its overlap with other
emotions; notice its texture, color, directionality, depth, intensity, and so
on. Study it closely, getting intimate with it to the point where its arising
is just one more opportunity to deepen both your self-knowledge and
your relationship with others. Instead of merely judging or dissociating
from your Schadenfreude, have compassion for it and for the you who
tends to indulge in it.
Everyone has some Schadenfreude; all we need do is see it for what it
is, and not allow it to sit in the drivers seat. Dont worry about getting
rid of it; rather, let it sit in the backseat, giving it some quality playtime
with mudita.

~ 75 ~

12. AWE
Amazement is wonder infused with a touch of surprise. Add a more
impactful dose of surprise, and the result is astonishment. Rev this up
a bit, and we shift from astonishing to astounding.
And beyond this is awe. Less startle, more magic and depth.
Awe includes not only the rapt attention and radical openness that
characterize deep wonder, but also a sense of veneration. And at times
it may also include a fearful reverence that can border on dread.
In awe, terror and ecstasy are separated by the thinnest of veils. The
direct realization of the Real can be not only profoundly liberating and
joyful, but sometimes also terrifying. Arms may be raised in weeping
bliss, and a second later our entire frame of being might be stormily
shaking. Its enough to bring us to our knees. We then bow not because
we choose to do so, but because we simply have to what were facing
is that profoundly compelling and vast.
Awe is not just a gape-jawed reaction to the sublime, however it
reconnects us with visceral immediacy to the core of Life, literally
plugging us back into primordial signicance.
Even so, this may not be as wonderful as it sounds, because awe as a
state can be accessed at just about any stage of development.
For example, if rabid fundamentalists experience awe, they will very
likely interpret it through the lens of their developmental level, perhaps
using it to reinforce and legitimize the fundamentalism in which they are
embedded. But when a very mature person, one consistently capable of

~ 76 ~


intimacy with multiple perspectives, experiences awe, it is interpreted

very differently. Same awe, different lter.
But strip awe of whatever conditioning clothes or colors it, and all thats
left is a speechless shiver of primal recognition, a profoundly emotional
yet self-transcending intimacy with irreducible Mystery. In the same
sense that Life is the Poetry of Being, awe is the Poetry of Revelation,
too real for translation. It cant help being ineffable.
I am in awe that we can feel awe. I am in awe that we are hardwired for
awe. I am in awe that is is. And my words fall down speechless as awe
pervades me, leaving endlessly sentient openness in the raw, personalized
just enough to keep things thing-ing...
Awe is all the proof we need for the really big questions. Silence may
be the answer, but awe is the answer in full bloom.

~ 77 ~

We all have grief, however much we may mute or bypass its expression.
It is what we feel when our heart registers a loss that is of considerable
signicance to us. There is grief over the death of a loved one, grief
over missed opportunities, grief over damage suffered by someone
else. It is intensely personal, even when it stretches us far beyond our
usual selves.
Grief breaks the heart, however concretized its casing may be. The
broken heart can go into endarkened contraction (a myopic shrinking
or going to pieces) or it can go in a very different direction if
allowed to, grief doesnt just break the heart, but breaks it open, ultimately
breaking us open to unbroken Being.
Grief includes sadness, but is much more than just sadness. Its tears
may burn, but sooner or later they also illuminate. In deep grief, we
are stripped down to our feeling core, registering the bare facticity of
suffering and quite often not just ours without any buffers.
We begin with my grief and may remain there, but sometimes this
shifts to our grief as our rawness of heart radiates out compassionately,
and then may shift even further to the grief, as we feel, to whatever
degree, our collective/shared suffering and allow that feeling to pervade
us which doesnt bring on more sorrow, but rather more love, love
that remains itself even as its weeps. Huge heartache, huge hurt, huge
opening carrying us through the deepest sorrow into a spaciousness
as naturally compassionate as it is vast. In such spaciousness, such
exquisitely raw openness, there is, eventually, room for all.
A famous rabbi, when asked what could be done about the Mideast
conict between Israelis and Palestinians, said, Both sides have to grieve
~ 78 ~


together. Together. The deepest grief is, however solitary its expression,
a communal event. It touches all. Its hurt blows the cover off its sky,
carrying us far beyond the dramatics of conventional sorrow.
Grief is a passion. Sadness is not a passion, nor is sorrow, but grief is.
Like other passions rage, lust, ecstasy grief has the power to
overwhelm us, for better or for worse. Grief usually works best when it
is uninhibited. So many want to hush it, to muzzle or mute it, perhaps so
as to minimize any potential embarrassment such suppression being
quite common at funerals. Anyone who really wails, really lets it out,
often tends to be looked upon as behaving poorly or inconsiderately.
Not surprisingly, many of us end up doing therapy years after the fact,
dealing with the grief that was not expressed, or expressed fully enough,
back then.
Unleashed grief is not mere venting nor self-indulgence, but rather
Life-energy on the healing/awakening loose, cutting new channels in
the terrain of self, uprooting obsolete stands. Such a wild, wild storm
it sometimes can be such a dark yet luminous outpouring, such a
radical ripping of the heart, such a deep dying into Life, birthing us
and a truer us in its wake.
The de-suppression of anger often catalyzes an undamming of grief, of
a feeling of loss sometimes so immense and deep that it can, eventually,
embrace other losses losses that belong to all of us thereby making
deeply signicant links not only across space, but also through time.
Thus do we move from the interiorized community of voices that make
up I to the community at large, widening the circle of our reach, our
love, our caring.
In such a panoramic intensity of heart-hurt, however agonizing it might
be, there usually emerges some sense of a sobering ease, the ease of
simply being not being this, not being that, but simply Being. This is
not the bliss of immunity-seeking, fear-fueled transcendence, nor that
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Emotional Literacy
resulting from any other ight from painful feeling, but rather is the
natural joy of simply existing, equally at home with the high and the
low, unable to be other than compassionate toward all.
Such is the prevailing condition of the heart that though already
bruised is nonetheless sufciently open to have room for all that we
are, however dark or lowly or frightened. In grief, the heart is broken
in the same way that a stream rushing down through a mountainside
forest is broken its still cohesive spiritually, still unied in essence,
its elemental dying only strengthening and afrming its fundamental
aliveness, its rough-and-tumble course only furthering its dynamic yet
utterly vulnerable surrender.
Where reactive sorrow just contracts and isolates us, unimpeded grief
expands and connects us, grounding us in natural openness.
Grief can be just as spacious as it is earthy, existing as a deeply personal
yet also signicantly transcendent sense of loss pervaded by a more-thanintellectual recognition of the inevitable passing of all that arises.
As such, grief provides not only a bridge between the personal and
transpersonal (with neither having a higher status than the other), but
also between pain and love. That bridge awaits our step, our crossing.
Every loss must be felt right to the core
Or else theres an even greater loss
Sadness must leave its mind to become grief
Or else itll just settle for repressive relief
So let the pain sweep through
And the even truer ache
And especially the bare need
The love beyond love
The pure heartbreak

~ 80 ~

More to Consider
Regarding Emotion


We not only commonly use the word feel for various doings that are
in fact not really expressions of feelings like thinking or judging or
perceiving but also commonly employ it in combination with various
prepositions like into, for, with to indicate what we are doing (or
are intending to do) on a feeling level with others.
FEELING INTO others is all about sensing and nonconceptually

reading them (especially energetically), bringing an emotionally literate,

well-embodied focus to them, regardless of their state or what they are
doing. However, we cannot do this very well if we remain holed up in
our headquarters we need to be solidly and spaciously present to
enough of a degree to maintain a consciously grounded focus.
But as helpful and necessary as this can be, it is not enough with regard
to the deepening of relationship to only be feeling into another
just keeps us somewhat distanced, safely removed from entering into
truly vulnerable connection with her or him. In our practice of feeling
into, we may not yet have gone very far into feeling for and with others,
even as we hold space (or attempt to hold space) for them to be
where they are.
FEELING FOR others brings in more empathy, more obviously heartfelt

connection, more caring, more life-giving reciprocity. They will very

likely feel this, and usually open accordingly, feeling safer with us than
if we were only feeling into them. Now we are not only attuning to
them, but also are more overtly caring for them, which asks of us a
certain vulnerability. As others sense our vulnerability (our undefended,
emotionally open transparency), coupled with our steadiness of
~ 82 ~


presence, they will probably relax even more, connecting with us without
abandoning their boundaries.
FEELING WITH others makes things even more mutual. Now its not

just us sensing and reading and empathizing with others, but also us
being with them in clearly resonant mutuality. Now they are not so much
sitting across from us, as sitting beside us assuming of course that
they are also emotionally connecting with us. We are now side by side
with them, in mutually empowered communion, enjoying both their
individuality and their interrelatedness with us.
Put together the best of feeling into, feeling for, and feeling with, and
what do we have?

~ 83 ~


Numbness is a partial or total absence of feeling or sensation. When
we register it, we only feel it in the sense of noting its presence and
whatever sensations or echoes of sensation might characterize it.
Though we might feel something sadness, anger, fear, shame, and so
on in association with our numbness, and may, to whatever degree,
make such emotional qualities all but synonymous with our numbness,
we are not really sensing our numbness as an actual feeling, but rather
as an absence or near-absence of feeling.
Theres physical numbness the absence of sensation due to shock or
nerve damage; theres cognitive numbness the absence of registered
signicance or healthy perspective regarding difcult or unusually
challenging circumstances; theres spiritual numbness the absence of
palpable connection with anything beyond the personal or the strategy
of rising above anything painful (i.e., spiritual bypassing); and theres
emotional numbness the absence or blunting of feeling in situations that
normally would elicit strong emotional responses from us.
Numbness is a survival strategy, whether adaptive or maladaptive, and
needs to be responded to as such, rather than being taken as an occasion
for self-deprecation, especially given the usual automaticity of its arising.
Its not as if we rationally decide to numb ourselves!
If we have just cut ourselves badly while slicing vegetables, the numbness
that forms around our wound makes our pain more manageable,
increasing the odds that we will properly tend to it; this clearly serves us.
If we suffered severe trauma as a child, the likely emotional numbness
that arose then taking shape as dissociation, excessive superciality,

~ 84 ~


amnesia, exaggerated interest in fantasy, and so on clearly served us

at a survival level, allowing us to keep on functioning at least to some
degree, but that very same numbness does not serve us as adults, other
than to remind us that there is much encased in and below it, namely
the very wounding that generated our numbness, the hurt of which
calls to us through all that we do, no matter how long we ignore or try
to ignore it.
Numbness is not a feeling per se although we could arguably call it
a kind of frozen feelingness but rather simultaneously a suppression
and container of feeling. It is a coping strategy, a kind of disembodiment,
an endogenous ight from and attening of pain. It must be approached
with great care, given the extreme vulnerability that it so often blankets
or encases but approach it we must, if we are to truly live.
Do whatever you can not to numb yourself to your numbness.
Do your very best not to reject, disown, look down upon, or otherwise
bypass it. Listen very closely to it, attuning more than your ear to
what is within and below it. Acknowledge the presence of numbness
without shaming yourself for having it. Turn toward it, entering it with
undivided attention and great care, noting its characteristics: its shape,
color, texture, density, directionality, temperature. Get as intimate with
it as you can. Look inside it deeply enough, and you will meet your own
gaze, however young that might be.
Feel into your numbness, feel for it, feel as it, feel through it. There
is so, so much contained in our numbness. Make your way through it,
however slowly, until you reach its heart, which is far from numb. There
you will encounter, among other things, the originating factors of your
numbness; do this fully, thoroughly, openly, caringly, and you will nd
yourself more alive, more loving, more here, more your full self. Thus
does frozen then become uidly alive now.

~ 85 ~


Do not turn away from your loneliness. Do not reject it; do not treat
it like a wallower. Go to it; take its hand, and with great care bring it
onto the danceoor.
What you wont dance with, what you refuse intimacy with, what youre
so ambitious to shed, is precisely the dance-partner you need (or at least
need to approach), drawing out of you the very aversion, tension, and
pain thats crying out for illumination and love.
Become more sensitive/attuned to your loneliness, noticing in as much
detail as possible its desperation, its craving for release from itself, its
commitment to and investment in playing the unwanted or unloved one.
And notice the intensity of your pull to get away from those sensations
that characterize your loneliness. Fleeing, feeding, lling, emptying,
sexing, seeking novelty anything to provide some relief.
But what if you were to just sit there, sit with your loneliness, not doing
a damn thing other than giving it your undivided attention? You might
then come to realize that in your loneliness and especially in your
dramatization of it you actually are closed off (and unavailable) to
that for which you really are aching.
As we enter into this process, we might also recognize our loneliness as
a frightened, neglected child that has grown accustomed to being treated
as a problem. A painfully troubled softness that we harden and distort
by treating as an inconvenience. The more it cries, the more we push it
away or try to silence it. The more it contracts, the more we isolate it.
But we could instead turn off the TV or computer, stop drugging or
overbusying ourselves, and simply sit with our loneliness, letting it settle
and rest in our lap, listening to it with an opening heart and curious
~ 86 ~


mind, noticing its shape and breath, its bodily terminals, its tones, its
textures, its shifts and seasons.
And shift it does, as we continue to give it undivided, compassionate
attention, slowly perhaps, but surely. In this, our loneliness is akin to an
abused child entering the steady, well-grounded presence of genuine
love and kindness. We can thus hold our loneliness and let it melt in
warm-armed solidly present embrace, holding it close but not so close
that it cannot breathe freely. Letting go of our desire to be elsewhere,
we let our loneliness pervade us. Letting the desperation go, letting
the compulsion to seek go, letting the ambition to let go a spiritual
should thats so easy to should-er also go.
Then our loneliness is not a rejected child, a loser, a mist, a bog of
neediness, but rather a vulnerable fullness warming us, a tender ticket
to our depths, a far from dysfunctional catalyst for remembering WhatReally-Matters.
And so we sit, letting our loneliness transmute into aloneness we
may still be physically alone, but we are nonetheless palpably connected,
especially at the heart, with so many others. Alone we are then, alone
enough to be vividly and impactfully together with the primordial
presence of Being, and yet also together enough to appreciate and savor
our solitude, realizing that only when we are truly capable of enjoying
being alone are we capable of really being in relationship.
We could do worse than to date our loneliness.

~ 87 ~

Contemporary culture is deeply entrenched in chronic overwhelm,
unattended overwhelm, overwhelm without any signicant relief in
sight, overwhelm that continues to pick up steam, overwhelm that is so
hugely and deeply pervasive that its signature pressurizing and distressmaking mostly only get token challenges.
Collective overwhelm has become the norm to such a degree that
adaptation to it remains only supercially questioned in most places.
It is fully here, insidiously ubiquitous and voraciously viral, occupying
colonizing so many faces and places that it often is only partially
recognized for what it is. Collective overwhelm is more common than
the common cold and more infectious than any previous plague.
If future shock (the result of too much change in too short a time, as
described by Alvin Tofer in 1970) was collective overwhelms past,
upper-obsessed depression is its present, attening and pressing us
down (hence de-pression), driving us into compensatory ight (and other
distractions from our suffering) until we crash. The future generated by
this is not necessarily something to look forward to one possibility
is a technologically hyperadvanced yet densely regressive singularity
(a superficially diverse but nonetheless homogenized and largely
dehumanized humanity) for which amnesias infectious anesthesia is
the drug of choice. Prolonged depression can only be kept down for
so long.
We can dene collective overwhelm as a pandemic depressive state
which combines excessive stimulation (both positive and negative),
unrelenting pressure, massive information overload, and neither enough
time nor sufcient suitable means for proper psychological digestion
and integration. Such a state keeps us in energetic debt, borrowing from
~ 88 ~


our reserve tanks until were basically running on empty; were behind in
the payments, and were paying far too high a price to keep up the pace
to which weve committed ourselves. Running out of highway...
Fear (anxiety, angst, dread) and anger (irritation, frustration, rage) are
collective overwhelms predominant emotional correlates, operating on
so much adrenaline that the only respite from them for far too many of
us is eventual exhaustion and, more often than not, a tagalong apathy
that features us being numb to our numbness.
Is collective overwhelm the darkly budding supernova of humankinds
nal gargantuan fossil fuels bash and feeding frenzy, a madly avalanching
force peaking and choking on its own exhaust? Or is collective overwhelm
a preparatory shake-up, a prelude to an unprecedented psychospiritual
awakening? But whatever it is, its here in the full-edged metastasizing
raw, running more and more of the show, generating more and more
momentum, feeding itself on itself. Collective cancer. And its tipping
point? Already passed. Metamorphose or go comatose...
Its extremely overwhelming. No wonder the reported incidence of
depression has shot up 1000% in the last ve or so decades; no wonder
theres such widespread anxiety; no wonder theres such a massive intake
of pharmaceutical medication; no wonder theres so much hell on earth,
regardless of our advances. The time for denial is over. And so is the
time for complaining.
What we have as a species feared is already here, looming ever larger,
and it isnt just slouching toward Bethlehem; its eating its way into and
through just about all of us, its appetite as endless as its blind, and it
apparently has no more interest in its own survival than does cancer.
Its peaking, which may have already happened, promises one hell of a
party, with not enough of a tomorrow for much more than a planetary
Yet all is not lost. In fact, there is much to be gained here, but only if

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Emotional Literacy
we get off the overwhelm express, ceasing to let ourselves be fed or
seduced or engulfed by it. Yes, it will continue to affect us, sometimes
intensely so, but we do not have to let it occupy us. This begins with
seeing it for what it is.
If we dont pay close attention to collective overwhelm, we become a
host for it, a mere means through which it can seed and expand itself,
in a kind of cellular and organismic imperialism. The good news is that
if we play close attention to collective overwhelm and name it for what
it is, we can start ceasing being a host for it. We may not have stopped
the vehicle, but we are no longer riding in it. Its noise and smell and
presence still impact us, but not to the same extent as before. We then
cease to serve it, even if it is but a breath or two away.
Thus do we recognize it not only all around us, but also within us, at
least as a potential, and do not let it get behind the wheel, while not
demonizing or otherwise dehumanizing those who are still under its
spell. Were then akin to a physician who doesnt waste away trying to
change the minds of physicians who are rigidly loyal to the model of
conventional medicine, but who instead creates an alternative model of
physician-ship that presents a more integral way of practicing medicine,
in a manner that skillfully invites other physicians to broaden their
horizons, helping them to recognize the ways in which their current
way of practicing medicine is overwhelming them.
To effectively deal with collective overwhelm, we need to make sure that
we are not under its spell before we can deal with it on a larger scale.
So how can we do this? First of all, as described above, we need to be
sufciently familiar with it so as to recognize and name it; this means
not just having a conceptual grasp of it, but also having the capacity to
sense its signs moment to moment. The cultivation of such a capacity
requires an integrative approach, through which our physical, mental,
emotional, spiritual, and social dimensions are all engaged, worked with,
and allowed to function as a whole.

~ 90 ~


Second, we need to do whatever helps to cut through depression, and

do it full-out. No more pressing down of our pain, no more shoving
our vitality down dead-end drains, no more energetic attening. Whats
called for here is a tting mix of the following: aerobic, heavy-sweat
workouts; efciently grounding, self-transcending meditative practices;
emotional literacy and unblocking, and life-serving expression; intimacy
training and deepening; self-exploration that does not waste any time
connecting the dots and not just intellectually between our past
and present; and an in-depth sharing of this with others, until such work
is not just personal, but interpersonal, liberatingly relational.
And third, develop the endurance and patience to stay the course. Whats
required is not just a weekend of good work, nor a month of it, nor even
a year of it. Its a lifes work, and needs to be treated as such. Yes, there
will be plateaus, but these should not be occasions for going no further,
but rather for rest and rejuvenation, so that we might keep extending
our edge, continuing to make haste slowly, letting all the damage awaken
rather than merely embitter or fragment us.
Spiritual stamina is essential; dont postpone developing it. Go to the
heart of collective overwhelm, beyond the fear and anger and numbness
and shock, and there youll nd an enormous grief; take it in, expanding
your heart as much as you have to, cutting channels for the grief to ow,
to cut loose, to tear open your sky, until its cry is your cry, and whats
below and beyond all the pain starts to shine forth, inviting us into what
we never left but only dreamt we did.
This is the healing through which we die into a deeper life; this is the
healing that calls to us through all that we are and all that we do. Yes, it
may overwhelm us at times, but its the kind of overwhelm that cleanses,
puries, heals, awakens. We might as well move toward it. At this point,
what else is there to do?

~ 91 ~


Catharsis, especially full-out catharsis, remains a controversial topic in
psychotherapeutic practice. For starters, there is confusion regarding
what is actually meant by catharsis is it just emotional discharge,
or is it something more? But before addressing this, lets briey look at
the history of the notion of catharsis.
Catharsis is derived from the Greek word katharsis, meaning to cleanse
or purge. Aristotle thought that drama produced a catharsis in its viewers
by arousing in them pity and terror, and then purging them of the same
emotions. Yet katharsis had other meanings in ancient Greece, including:
pruning (as of trees), clearing (as of stones from land), cleaning (as
of food), and clarication (as achieved through explanation). The
notion of catharsis as purgation is found in Dantes fourteenth century
masterpiece, The Divine Comedy, in which the ascent to Heaven has
to be made through Purgatory, so as to ready souls for their desired rise.
And is not such a journey, traversing as it does realms of darkness and
intense suffering, suggestive of personal pruning, clearing, cleaning,
and clarication, as well as of actual purging?
In the 1890s, Freud said that catharsis in the form of emotional
discharge could benefit patients by helping them to empty
themselves of repressed/suppressed emotions (as in the literal draining
of a reservoir). Though Freud later rejected catharsis as a primary
change mechanism, it nonetheless persisted and evolved in various
nonconventional approaches to psychotherapy, as exemplied by
Wilhelm Reichs pioneering work and the radical emotive therapies that
arose in the 1960s and 1970s (like Primal Therapy, Bioenergetics, Gestalt
Therapy, and the more extreme extensions of these infamously featured
at the Indian ashram of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh).

~ 92 ~


As a cleansing or purication, catharsis is an ancient practice, conducted

worldwide through healing rituals, exorcism, and confession. An
example of a healing ritual is the Barong dance/ceremony of Bali, in
which an enormous amount of aggression and fear is released (in both
dancers and audience) through an archetypal confrontation between
forces of darkness and light, as embodied by dancers deeply possessed
by such forces. Accompanying this is ceremonial percussion-heavy
music, helping keep the trance intact. Near the climax of an authentic
Barong (facsimiles are staged for tourists), obviously entranced men
uninhibitedly plunge daggers against (and to some degree, into) their
bodies, but there is no bleeding or injury, presumably because of the
suggestive power of their altered state of consciousness in their
trance, they have complete faith that the Barong, representing archetypal
good, will protect them from any harm.
Exorcism, the ancestral prototype of contemporary emotionally
expressive psychotherapy, is dramatically cathartic, aimed at driving
out whatever demons are possessing the aficted person, even if
that means overpowering him or her. Anyone wedged in a therapeutic
impasse could be said to be possessed by a particular behavioral pattern,
but there are times when such possession takes on a quality that brings
forth hair-raising shivers from those watching, as if an outside presence
has literally taken over the person being observed. Whether such a
takeover represents the dramatic surfacing of a hitherto submerged
subpersonality or behavioral complex of that person, or the actual entry
of an alien energy, does not matter so much as how that particular
presence is met.
It is generally most useful in such circumstances to openly face and
directly talk with what is apparently possessing that person as though
it were indeed a discrete entity allowing it to uninhibitedly express
itself. Only then can its departure be benecially managed (at which
point theres often an immediate change in the persons voice, body
language, presence, and perhaps even features). Departure here means
relief, release, healing, and sufcient separation so as to make space for
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Emotional Literacy
eventual integration, implicit in which is the recognition and it is far
from just an intellectual recognition! that even the most alien
energy is part of one.
Though usually less dramatic a process than possession rituals or
exorcism, confession can also be cathartic, be it done in a Native American
sweat lodge ceremony, in Catholic practice, or in psychotherapy. Simply
talking about our difculties to a compassionate listener can sometimes
elicit a deeply healing emotional release. And if there is no one available
to thus listen, writing about our difculties may bring about a similarly
cathartic release. As what has been held within is permitted unguarded
expression, the very energy that was being employed in the service of
suppression becomes available for more Life-giving purposes. In talking
it out, in writing it out, we are like young children absorbed in outloud
self-talk, spontaneously dramatizing roles representative of their internal
workings. Like such children, we are permitting our private self public
exposure, if only to ourselves, through our confessional practices.
So what is catharsis? When people in intensive psychotherapy are crying
deeply or raging, their emoting may be referred to as catharting but
is this necessarily catharsis? To simply equate catharsis with emotional
discharge robs it of a more specic and inclusive meaning.
Catharsis usually does involve emotional discharge, but only insofar as
the feelings being expressed are normally repressed or suppressed. The
actual value of such expression is another matter part of the problem
with cathartic methodology in psychotherapy is its often unquestioned
valuing of emotional release, without sufcient attention being given
to context and issues such as the possible need for containment as
opposed to release. If what is needed is a rming of personal boundaries
as opposed to a releasing or even dissolution of such boundaries, catharsis
may or may not be called for, and even if it is deemed necessary, it may
need to unfold in a manner that asks as much for subtlety and slowness
of release as for outright energetic discharge.

~ 94 ~


In emotional-release work, we need to ask not only what is being

released and of what value its release is, but also if such release may be
obscuring something else that needs to be addressed, such as escapist
or dissociative tendencies. Enthusiasts of letting it all hang out not
only provide easy targets for keen anti-ventilationist sensibilities, but
also tend to oversimplify emotional release practices, as if engaging in
them could not be other than inherently healing.
Even so, studies indicating that cathartic procedures are ineffectual or
even counterproductive do not really demonstrate that catharsis is not
necessary or has no appropriate place in psychotherapy, but only that
certain cathartic procedures namely, the ones under study are
ineffectual, counterproductive, or unnecessary.
In one such study, subjects who had been frustrated in the attempted
completion of a task and were then mistreated by a confederate of the
experimenters tended to progressively increase the intensity of electric
shocks administered to the confederate. The cathartic benets (as
measured by reductions in blood pressure) of having delivered earlier
shocks to the confederate apparently did not defuse their aggressive
intent (hence this studys negative view of catharsis). However, what was
cathartic in this case may not have been cathartic in a more than merely
supercial sense. We do not know, for example, how cathartic it actually
was for subjects to deliver shocks to the confederate, and indeed if it
even was cathartic (i.e., was there really any emotional release?). A blood
pressure decrease is not necessarily indicative of catharsis, unless of
course we just reduce catharsis to physiological signs.
In another study, nondirective counselling sessions (talking only) were
found to be more effective in reducing the expression of anger than was
hitting a pillow with a bataka (foam rubber bat). However, some of the
bataka wielders did experience a reduction of subsequent anger expression.
Reanalysis of the experimenter notes indicated that these particular
subjects had also allowed themselves spontaneous verbalizations as they
whacked the pillow. This suggests that the combination of emotional
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Emotional Literacy
expression and tting phrasings is more effective than nonverbal
catharsis alone.
How, why, and in what context cathartic means are used are essential
considerations in any meaningful study of catharsis, as is the skill, heart,
presence, and motivation of the therapist.
At its worst, catharsis is just an indiscriminate and inappropriate
emotional unloading or dumping either on an actual person,
or on a representation of them featuring nothing more than an
overvaluing of (and overreliance on) emotional discharge. However,
even contextually insensitive catharsis is not necessarily always without
value particularly in its ability to mobilize stuck energy but
resorting to it whenever we are feeling emotionally reactive simply makes
a habit out of it, a habit whose expression we may easily confuse with
being open or honest.
Some therapists see catharsis as the release of aggressive or hostile
feelings toward displaced targets (persons, things, perhaps even ideas
or ideologies). For them, catharsis is simply a blowing off steam
phenomenon devoid of any investment in a particular outcome. This,
however, is more suggestive of an adult temper tantrum which
at times may well be needed! than of an actual undamming of
Such a discharge of energy which may amount to little more than
emotional masturbation might provide some relief, but generally only
rubs us the wrong way, leaving us drained of the very energies we could
have used to fuel our entry into a more connected or integrated level
of being. Of course, cathartic procedures need not be thus conned,
and can be used in psychologically sophisticated contexts (as in skillfully
guided psychodrama).
Furthermore, even if cathartic processes actually do lead to more of
what they are supposed to reduce like anger this does not
~ 96 ~


necessarily prove the inefcacy of catharsis, since (1) an increase in what

should be reduced may sometimes actually be benecial; and (2) what
has been increased is not necessarily the same thing as it was prior
to its increase.
Also, a so-called reduction in emotion (as in anger-reduction) may
be a misnomer, in that a lessening of symptoms which are usually
self-reported does not necessarily preclude the possibility that
the originating problem is still present, suppressed to the point of
exhibiting little or none of its presence. Is weeping that brings on a fuller
or deeper weeping a failure or proof that catharsis doesnt work?
A deeper, more healing kind of catharsis than emotional outpouring in
of itself involves expressing feelings in context. Such connected or pluggedin catharsis is not just emotional discharge or purging, but rather is a
contextually tting, unguardedly felt expression of our core (or at least
currently gripping) pain.
Such feeling-release is in sharp contrast to disconnected catharsis the
discharging of the energy of disconnected pain, pain marooned from
its originating factors. Getting angry because someone in a lm is being
beaten is feeling thats dissociated from its true context, but getting angry
because you are viscerally recollecting your father beating you when
you were a child is feeling in context.
Connected catharsis, with its attention to context and integration as
well as to release, is at the heart of cutting-edge psychotherapy. To
engage in it which is far from a one-shot healing is much more
of a surrender than a doing, incorporating an openness that, when fully
embraced and cooperated with, actually empowers us, if only by moving
us closer to our core of Being.
Such openness which is at essence a dynamic, self-illuminating
yielding is the stance of an explorer, a seeker of those depths in
which are stored more than just our old wounds. When the waves, the
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sometimes enormous or overwhelming waves, of rising feeling come,
they are neither fought nor ed, but instead are allowed, at the right
time, to take over, with no concern for their destination. In trusting
this process (assuming that it is being skillfully guided), we not only
ride the waves, but become them. Their power then becomes ours, not
to have, but to be. Here, catharsis is not just release, not just a break from
our suffering, but a liberating process.

~ 98 ~


Not only do emotion and cognition share and also take shape
through much of the same neurological territory, but they are
also linguistically intertwined, particularly through the mappings and
articulation of metaphor.
Consider the container metaphor. I may be lled with emotion or
emotionally drained or overowing with emotion or bottling
up my emotions. There are two main container images of emotion:
(1) Emotions as uids in a container (I poured out my feelings or
Emotion is welling up inside me); and (2) emotions as the heat of
a uid in a container (I was seething with emotion or Im about to
blow my lid). A lack of emotion or at least of emotional display
corresponds here to either a lack of uid in the container (as in
feeling empty or feeling drained) or to a decrease in the heat of
that uid (as in Hes so cold to me).
The more intense the emotion, the experientially greater is the pressure
in the container we may nd ourselves in a steamy relationship;
we may burst into tears; we may vent or pour out our passion,
nding it very difcult to keep it in any longer. I might ask you to
contain yourself when I sense youre on the verge of losing it. Or
I might recommend that you get to the bottom of whats troubling
you emotionally. Such spatially oriented suggestions hint at the apparent
depth of our metaphorical container the deeper the container, the
more uid it is capable of holding.
Such quantitative increase indicates a corresponding increase in intensity
(as conveyed by My feelings for you are getting deeper or My

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emotions are building up or My emotions are overowing), and it
also may also bring to our conceptualization of our emotions the positive
connotations of depth, in which inferred depth is taken as equivalent to
sincerity and realness (as in Deep down inside I feel... or From the
bottom of my heart, I...).
If I say, In my depths, I really do care about you, I am, in most cases,
either conveying something that is unfeigned, wholehearted, genuine,
or am trying to do so. Thus, our innermost feelings (or those that
are apparently furthest from the surfaces and top of the container) are
generally taken to be our true (or truest) feelings.
The equating of inner with more real with regard to emotional life
may overlap with spiritual life or at least with the conceptualization
of spiritual life wherein our inner life may be taken as the primary
locus (and/or focus) of spiritual practice. Look within, we are advised
by various spiritual authorities, for apparently the truth is inside
(and we may, of course, have to dig deep to get to it!).
What is closest to the surface is then commonly viewed as being less
authentic layer after layer of false or neurotically constructed
selfhood may have to be worked through or cut through or
unpeeled, until we appear to have arrived at our so-called interiority
(which very well may turn out to be none other than just more of the
I-manufacturing machinery of our subjectivity, now perhaps even
camouaged as soul or atman or some other transegoic entity!).
How could I come out of my shell or jump out of my skin (or
even be beside myself with fear) if I was not already inside? And
if Im inside, then how could my emotions also not be inside?
After all, isnt that where I feel them? Such is the logic central to the
container metaphor of emotion, wherein emotion is conceived of as
an endogenous mass, whatever its form.
Other metaphorical expressions that apply to emotion also similarly
~ 100 ~


conceive of emotion as an object or thing. For example, emotion may

be represented as a natural force (Emotion engulfed me or I was
ooded by feeling); an opponent (I wrestled with my emotions or
Im trying to conquer my emotions or My emotions got the best of
me); a valuable or fragile object (Im guarding my emotions or My
heart broke); or as a living organism (You hurt my feelings).
Metaphors for emotion often suggest that we can be run by emotion.
If Im busy being ruled by my emotions, I may thus not be able to
help being swept away or consumed by them my storming
out of the room is simply indicative of my being driven by my
emotions. My emotions may also be written all over my face, even
if Im attempting to conceal them. These apparently autonomous
happenings easily can give rise to the sense that emotions are not
under our control, which commonly leads to the conclusion that they
should be under our control.
My wild or untamed emotions therefore may, in their unleashing,
be viewed more as animality than as civilized behavior. In this light,
emotion can easily be seen or categorized as being irrational. Then
rationality itself commonly gets viewed in exaggerated contrast to
emotionality, so that dispassion is favored over passion after all, if
Im intoxicated with emotion, how clearly (read: rationally) can I think?
Being high on emotion generally has far more dangerous implications
than being high on rationality! (Thus does appealing to the emotions
gets listed as a fallacy in logic and ethics texts, which simply reinforces
the valuing of dispassionate analysis over passionate advocacy.)
Another metaphor associated with the apparent irrationality of emotion
is emotion is a trickster. If you have been misled or deceived or
fooled by your emotions not to mention being consumed or
taken over by them then of course how can you be held responsible
for what you have done at such times? How easy and how convenient
an alibi it can be to claim that our emotions clouded our judgment!

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If we hold emotion as being untrustworthy, or as less trustworthy than
reason, then we are likely to treat it as we would treat anything else
of such status, looking down upon it from our apparent headquarters
(except perhaps when we feel heady with certain emotions, as
exemplied by million-dollar moments).
Lets dig a little deeper here: If we conceive of emotions as residing
somewhere inside us and if we also conceive of them or at least of
some of them as being dangerous or untrustworthy, then we may
nd ourselves in the position of trying to distance ourselves from this
inner threat. But just how far can we actually go from what is also
us? If we push it down (as in the stufng or swallowing of
our feelings), who are we then? When we keep our emotions down,
exactly with what are we identied?
Are we then dwelling nearby the lid of the container, on guard for
uprisings, breakouts, eruptions, explosions, or other such unbecoming
behavior from below? Physically, we may work at keeping a stiff
upper lip or a relatively impassive countenance, recruiting sufcient
energy to prevent a loss of face (or at least a signicantly recognizable
loss of face). Keeping our cool. And mentally? We may indulge in
hyperrationality and disembodied abstraction, using our powers of
cognition and recontextualization to remain emotionally dissociated,
so as to minimize the danger of falling apart or making a spectacle
out of ourselves.
Yet even to engage in such behavior is a confession of already conceiving
of oneself as being in parts there is the container, there are its
contents, and there are the reactions to those contents.
And, furthermore, there may be a number of possible viewpoints
regarding these parts, all of which, when given sufcient attention,
tend to refer to themselves as I. The I that wants to cut loose with
anger; the I that wants to do so less impulsively; the I that wants to
muzzle and mute anger; the I thats weighing the pros and cons of
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these options; the I that wants to do something altogether different

any one of these may at various times assume or command the
throne of self, without any signicant awareness of the actual setting
and scripting thats animating the show.
Such self-fragmentation, however, cannot be signicantly addressed until
a transegoic capacity begins to be embodied. Prior to this, I is not only
a disjointed collective of would-be selves, but also seems to be inside
a container (the body, and, especially in Western cultures, the head).
If our apparent center of experience seems to be thus within, then
so too our emotions, it seems, must also be inside the very same
container, especially given that we feel them there, in our heart,
our guts, and so on (when someone gets under our skin, we are
feeling something inside). It is only with the advent of a legitimately
transpersonal perspective that this inside/outside dichotomy can be
given enough illumination to be able to begin giving up the ghost (and
even then going within may still be taken literally or romanticized,
as often happens in spiritual practices that make too much of a virtue
out of introspection).
Yet inside and within dont have to be limited to processes or
practices of internalization; going within can also be equivalent to
going beyond. Reecting in-depth on what is apparently within
decreases egocentrism, freeing us to more fully engage with more
dimensions of our environment.
In such reection which involves a decentralizing of our personalized
locus of being emotion ceases to be an endogenous entity, a migrating
mass within, and becomes instead a vividly vital process that both
honors and outdances all the metaphors (including mine!) that seek to
contain it.

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Each emotion has its own terrain, its own hallmark sensations, its own
facial and somatic signals and peculiarities, regardless of the necessarily
fuzzy boundaries between it and other emotions. Even so, at the heart
of every emotion is a singular meta-emotion, a primordial feeling at
once palpable and self-illuminating, manifesting as the sensation of
undifferentiated presence.
This feeling the feeling of Being never leaves us. But we leave it,
drift from it, forget it. Away wanders our attention, fastening itself to an
enormous array of objects, both inner and outer. Fasten-ation. Attention
that is velcroed to objects is attention that is inattentive to us.
But still the feeling of Being persists. It doesnt begin here and end there.
Its not in time, nor in space, having no temporal or spatial coordinates.
It is, however, still a feeling not a feeling of anything in particular, but
still a feeling. Being may appear to be its object, at least linguistically,
but in fact is neither its object nor its subject.
That is, the feeling of Being is actually inseparable from Being. To
directly feel Being is to however slightly recognize oneself as
Being. Such recognition, such primal intuition, comes into clearer focus
as we develop intimacy with our feeling dimensions.
However lightly it may register with us, the feeling of Being is never all
that far from self-transcending love, love without an object, love that
includes all, love that is at once supremely indifferent and immeasurably
None of this is a paradox to Being. Paradox is just the minds reaction
to and translation of the inherent Mystery of Being.
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Cultivating intimacy with that Mystery leaves us in the position of

knowing nothing and recognizing everything.
Silence speaks most eloquently through the feeling of Being. Everythings
said without anything needed to be said. Silence is the answer that
dissolves every query, the answer that literally makes light of even the
deepest question. Universes come and go. Silence remains.
And so too does the feeling of Being.
Listen. What do you hear? What is the sound of sound? When there is
no sound, what do you hear? And when you stop trying to make sense
out of it, what remains? Listen even more closely, including to the space
between your thoughts, and the space between the end of your exhale
and the beginning of your next inhalation. Is there not a reality-unlocking
knowingness close by, dissolving your would-be translations, leaving
nothing in its wake but you, lit up in your little boat of consciousness
and feeling, at once shipwrecked and safely moored?
Even now, no matter what your condition, emotional and otherwise,
the feeling of Being runs through it and all of its permutations, like the
string of a necklace through its beads. Sacred connection in the raw.
Get friendlier with whatever emotional state you are now in, get very
friendly with it, divesting it of its egoic agendas and riding it into the
feeling of Being and soon something more real than answers will
seize our attention by the heart, rendering us incapable of distraction.
When we invite our suffering onto the danceoor, we are taking the
hand, however leprous or clammy or shy, of our feeling self. If we wont
dance with that one, if we wont touch and care for that one, well simply
reduce the feeling of Being to a concept, a goal, a mere abstraction on
which to hook our spiritual ambition.
Dance with anger, and you might have to go a few rounds with rage,
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but eventually that rage may, if worked with skillfully, mutate into joy,
the joy of being nakedly alive.
Dance with grief, and you may have to curl up in an agony of deep
sorrow for a while, but sooner or later your very rawness of heart
will both ground you and give you a sky vaster than you can imagine,
connecting you to all that is.
Dance with fear, and you may have to spend some time with terror and
maddening expectation, but keeping that dreaded one close to your heart
will eventually bring about a miraculous transformation: The monster
will fade, leaving a quality of loving acceptance that is but the human
face of a peace that surpasses all understanding.
Dance with shame, and you might well have to take a spin in guilts
sleazier hangouts, but staying there, befriending both the parental and
childish sides of guilt, will divest it of its fear, until it is but shame
unplugged, and then not even shame, but only forgiveness in its merciful
Dancing with it all, we make our way Home.
Before thought, feeling
Before feeling, sensation
Before sensation, presence
Before presence, This.
Thoughts feelings sensations
Together weaving personalizations
Shrinkwrapped bundles of selfhood
Branded to the bone with shoulds
Before personality, soul
Before soul, spirit
Before spirit, This.
Breathing us out of the blue
Leaving us broken yet whole
No longer separating journey and goal

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Before now, a deeper now

Before time, This.
Never not already here
Where else could It be?
Is It not what were dying to see?
Its supreme mystery dissolving all history
Feel It now, feeling with your all
Feeling is the rst and last tongue
Revealing more than can be said or sung
Feeling the connecting electricity for us all
The feeling of Being homing us
Whatever the scene
Whatever the dream

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My feelings are all over the place.
I was consumed by emotion.
He demonstrated positive affect.
Most of the literature on emotion does not differentiate between affect,
feeling, and emotion, using the terms interchangeably. Even when
distinctions are made between these terms, there is little agreement as
to what they mean. There are so many widely varying denitions of
emotion that it cannot be said with any conviction that there is a
standard denition of emotion in Western thought. (And in Eastern
thought? There is not even a term for emotion in Buddhisms root
texts.) The denitions given below are intended to be as integrative as
possible of the varying views and competing ideas regarding affect,
feeling, and emotion.
Affect is generally used as a nonspecic term indicating the presence of
emotion. Also, affect is sometimes used by basic emotions theorists
(those who claim that there are emotions were born with) to mean
innate emotion. My use of the term, however, is specic, and distinct
from the notion of emotion.
Affect is simply the purely biological, intrinsic aspect of emotion. Be it
of fear, joy, anger, or sadness, affect is a hard-wired given (whether
it arises involuntarily or not)), an innately structured, non-cognitive evaluative
sensation that may or may not register in consciousness.
Affect may manifest very differently in different people (and also
differently in the same person at different times), but as a physiological
reality, its dening characteristics are much the same. Consider, for
example, anger as an affect: A sudden rise in pulse rate, adrenaline

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release, and blood ow to the hands and torso may not be noticed,
acknowledged, or outwardly demonstrated (as easily happens in those
who are emotionally repressed), but it nonetheless occurs. For instance,
a man may be angry at his wife and yet not consciously register that
fact, as research concerning marital conict has shown. Affect therefore
may be unconscious (or perhaps preconscious). When we dont register
its presence because our attention is literally occupied with other
things we of course usually deny that it is there, even if our partner
or friends have the nerve to insist that it indeed is.
Feeling is affect made conscious. That is, the presence of feeling shows
that awareness of affect is occurring. So if we are angry, we know that
we are angry.
Each feeling varies not only in intensity and duration, but also in quality,
contextual inuence, and the degree (and depth) of consciousness
brought to it. The evaluative capacity of affect is physiologically based,
but that of feeling is to whatever degree also relationally rooted,
since the consciousness animating it is also usually consciousness of the
object of that feeling, however indistinct (or verbally out of reach) that
object may be.
To speak of feeling is to speak of the feeling of, and to also speak of
feeling for, feeling with, feeling to such prepositional adjuncts
imply the presence of something other than just the raw feeling,
something that coexists with and is essential to the arising (and actual
existence) of that very feeling. Hence the relational nature of feeling.
Emotion is more difcult to dene, for it includes not only feeling,
cognition, social factors, and related action tendencies, but also the
interplay between all four, making for a complex ux that eludes any
neat mapping.
Emotion could be said to be feeling with an attitude, arising from
an evaluative capacity that is informed not only by psychological and
social adaptation, but sometimes also by the capacity to reframe that
very adaptation.
~ 110 ~


Put more simply, emotion is the dramatization of feeling. Though this

implicates cognition, emotion is not reducible to cognition.
Physiology is to affect as personal history is to emotion.
A certain memory (arising from the vaults of our past) may trigger a
wave of intense emotion in us, which may then be prolonged through
applying additional focus or a different lens, like that of suspicion or
hope. For example, anger as an affect suddenly erupts into being, its
pulsating lava arousing and inaming us in a second or two; the feeling
of anger, inextricably enmeshed with its apparent object, lasts a little
longer, as we realize that we are angry; the emotion of anger, however,
can last much longer, so long as the tting memories (along with the
current issue thats angering us) are kept in mind, in full view of our
wounded I.
Where affect is reaction, emotion is adaptation.
In short, affect is a given; feeling involves our conscious experience of that given; and
emotion is how we frame and what we do with that given.

~ 111 ~

The English word emotion is far from universal, despite the fact that
most literature on emotions generally takes the concept of emotion
for granted, as if it is without question a universally understood term.
However, there isnt a corresponding term for emotion in many other
languages of the world (Tibetan being but one example). To reach as
culturally independent a perspective as possible, the views peculiar to
a particular language and culture must not be granted automatic or
unquestioned authority in the study of emotion.
This, however, doesnt necessarily mean that universalist approaches
to emotions, like those that propose innate or basic emotions, are
always biased toward the language in which they are articulated. What
matters here is that we not deny or insufciently address what actually
is universal, or possibly universal, in the genesis of human emotional
Emotion is also a relatively new term in English, not appearing until
the end of the sixteenth century, as a derivative of the French emouvoir,
meaning to stir up. Among those concepts that clearly appear to be
lexically embodied in all languages, feeling is included, but emotion
is not. In short, the concept of emotion is culture-bound.
So what might be translated as anger from another culture may in
fact not mean anger in the sense commonly assumed in English. For
example, translating the Micronesian song as justiable anger reduces
song to a variety of anger, which puts the English word in a privileged
position relative to the Micronesian word, when it may actually be no
more valid to thus categorize song, than it would be to describe anger as

~ 112 ~


no more than a subcategory of song. What if song itself was taken as a

universal, and anger as an anthropological curiosity?
However, the absence of an emotion term does not necessarily prove
that the emotion it refers to is actually absent Americans, for example,
experience song, without conceptually encapsulating and naming it as
such. And English speakers certainly experience schadenfreude (taking
pleasure in anothers misfortune), even though theres no word for it in
English. What matters here is illuminating the construction and presentation
of so-called emotional experience.
At the same time, it is crucial to recognize that the enormous diversity
of different emotion lexicons, with all the attending difculty of
mapping emotion words from one culture onto those of another, does
not necessarily mean that the actual phenomena to which such words
refer exist only as social constructions!
These phenomena which are nonlinguistic psychological/affective
realities exist whether or not they are verbally designated, as when
Westerners experience, but do not label as such, the emotion of sweetly
passive dependence known as amae in Japanese culture. Furthermore,
emotion words can, through their connotative power, have a considerable
inuence upon what may be associated with emotion, if only by
bringing a certain attitude (such as anger is wrong or dont lose
face) to such phenomena.
We might assume that since emotional experience is thought of differently
in different cultures, it must therefore also necessarily vary from culture
to culture (or be culture-specic). But how do we know? Perhaps what
varies is simply what is done with such experience. This doing is itself at the
very heart of emotion and emotional reality (and, to further complicate
matters, this doing can itself be objectied and modied, as through
contemplative or meditative activity).
The spatially-oriented language that is commonly used when talking
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about emotion for example, in the metaphorical sense of emotions
being uids in a container tends to undermine the reality of emotion
as a process (or activity) rather than as an entity. Most of the time, we
conceive of emotions as things, which can then be, at least in theory,
isolated and studied. (Also, conceiving of emotions as residing within
us is arguably culturally bound; for example, in Japan emotion is often
viewed not so much as a subjective phenomenon as an intersubjective
phenomenon, existing as a kind of atmosphere associated with particular
social circumstances.)
Emotion may be an Anglocentric artifact, but it does not have to
The lexical ancestry of emotion, anchored in the Latin movre
meaning to move suggests something transcultural. If emotion
is conceived of not as a thing, but as an ever-uxing, living process, an
organic activity/wholeness that both includes and transcends its parts,
then its denitional boundaries become more exible and permeable,
thereby permitting it to outgrow its original cultural connes.
Through such a view, emotional differences dont make enough of a
difference to reinforce unnecessary separation between us. When the
raw feeling present in every emotion is intuited as being present in all
beings, and that feeling is held with lucid compassion, we are all brought
a little closer.

~ 114 ~


Theories of emotion cannot be neatly categorized, since they, like
emotions themselves, frequently overlap. Further complicating this is
widespread disagreement as to what an emotion actually is. Even so,
such theories can be, at least to some extent, organized into four main
camps: psychophysiological, behavioral, cognitive, and integrative.
These camps also follow one another historically over the last century
or so; rst comes the psychophysiological, then the behavioral, then the
cognitive, and nally the integrative. This, of course, does not necessarily
mean that the older theories have been left behind; the cognitive
approach to emotion, for example, is still widely espoused.
Modern theories of emotion generally begin with William Jamess
famous proposal that the actual feeling of an emotion arises from, rather
than generates, its physiology. That is, the actual perception of physical/
visceral changes (like an amplied pulse rate or muscular excitation) leads
to, and therefore precedes, a particular emotion we therefore do not
cry because we are upset, but instead feel upset because we are crying.
Danish anatomist Carl Lange arrived at a similar interpretation at roughly
the same time. Though his position was not identical to Jamess he
placed more emphasis on autonomic responses than did James their
combined position became known as the James-Lange theory. The
difference between emotions, according to this theory, simply lies in the
fact that they each are generated (and accompanied) by different, and
presumably distinct, bodily responses and sensations.
Physiologist Walter Cannon gathered evidence that contradicted the

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James-Lange theory. His position was anchored by ve major points: (1)
Emotional behavior is not eliminated by surgical removal of the viscera
(nor by blocking sensory impulses reaching the brain from the heart,
lungs, liver, and abdominal organs); (2) patterns of autonomic arousal
do not appear to differ signicantly from one emotion to another; (3)
the perception of visceral changes is too diffuse to be able to lead to a
particular emotion; (4) internal changes do not occur quickly enough to
be a source of emotional reaction; and (5) articially inducing the visceral
changes associated with a particular emotion (as through the injection
of adrenaline) does not necessarily produce that particular emotion.
According to Cannon, the answer to what differentiates one emotion
from another existed entirely in the brain, given that his research seemed
to indicate that all emotions bear the same autonomic nervous system
(ANS) characteristics, and therefore cannot be differentiated on the
basis of their physiological signs. Though it is now known that not all
emotions have the same ANS characteristics, this does not mean that the
physiological differences between emotions will necessarily be actually
perceived and experienced as obvious differences. Imagine trying to
distinguish envy from guilt only on the basis of visceral differences!
Nevertheless, even though visceral responses are, as Cannon showed,
too slow to be the factor that determines what emotion one experiences
in a given moment, visceral feedback can contribute to emotional shifts
over time, particularly when one is already established in a certain
emotional state. Interestingly, somatic feedback which James had
considered important in determining emotion is fast enough and
specic enough to contribute to the creation of emotion. Feedback
from facial expressions, for example, can signicantly inuence how
we feel, as actors and actresses especially know.
So far, we have looked at the possibility of identifying emotions
physiologically. Given that this approach is, except for the coarsest sort

~ 116 ~


of differentiation, far from workable, we might then ask by what other

criteria emotions could be distinguished from one another. One seemingly
obvious answer, fenced with no-nonsense empirical certitude (as in
any domain where everything that matters is, by denition, entirely and
clearly observable), is: by their behavioral expressions. John Watson,
generally acknowledged as the founder of behaviorism, conceived of
emotions as unlearned reaction patterns, and of emotional development
as simply the acquisition of conditioned emotional responses.
In much the same spirit, B.F. Skinner stated that behavior was no
more free than were basic physiological processes, and that one obstacle
to realizing this lay in the assumption that ones emotions (rather than
environmental stimuli) determined ones behavior. In short, conscious
emotional experiences (and especially their attending introspections!)
were not recognized by behavioral psychology as being legitimate
phenomena for scientic study.
The gross reductionism and naivet of behaviorism aside, can we identify
an emotion through the observed presence of particular behaviors?
It might seem so can we picture rage without any eriness, any
display of facial and verbal erceness and heatedness? However, one
can display none of the behaviors supposedly characteristic of anger,
and still nonetheless be angry. Instead of glaring, shouting, or getting
steamed up, I might in my anger smile sweetly, speak calmly, or subtly
deny you something you need. I might do something remarkably petty,
or something deeply altruistic. We can, in short, do just about anything
to express a particular emotion.
And what of the case when one has two conicting, simultaneously
occurring emotions, but only allows one of them to manifest itself
through overt behavior? (An example: I am both scared and angry, but
displace my fear with an angry outburst, reducing the arousal level of
my fear through my expression of anger. Thus does my anger temporarily
erase my scaredness.) Does this mean that the other emotion does
not exist? Also, I could display behavior that is clearly indicative of
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a particular emotion, and yet not be experiencing that emotion at
all. Reducing emotion to its behavioral manifestations which are
potentially innumerable is therefore no clearer an indicator or
proof of a particular emotion than are its physiological data.
Unfortunately for behaviorism, much of what is essential in understanding
the genesis of emotions is behaviorally unobservable. At the same time,
however, it is important to include behavior when considering the nature
of emotion, because the actual expression of emotion (whether that
be mechanical or voluntary) can not only reveal much about emotion,
but can also alter emotion.
The inadequacy of the behavioral model helped revive the issue of
where our emotions come from, if only by returning some attention
to the physiological model, which was foundering on the reefs of the
James-Cannon debate. Social psychologists Stanley Schacter and Jerome
Singer, believing like James that physiological arousal was crucial
in the formation of emotional experience, and like Cannon that
physiological feedback lacked sufcient specicity to distinguish among
emotions, conducted an experiment that demonstrated that emotional
differentiation was not a function of physiology, but of context.
In their experiment, subjects were injected with adrenaline (which
produces effects characteristic of ANS arousal), and then exposed to
either pleasant or unpleasant situations. The resulting emotions reected
the situation happiness arose in a euphoric situation, and unhappiness
in a less than pleasant circumstance, despite the fact that all had received
the same injection.
So physiological reactivity appeared to have nothing to do with
differentiating between emotions. Emotion, it seemed, must result
from a cognitive assessment or interpretation of physiological arousal.
Despite its serious aws, the Schacter-Singer study brought attention to

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the role of cognition in emotional arousal. But, we might ask since

we usually are already experiencing an emotional response to a particular
situation before we can cognitively label our arousal what is generating
such a response in the rst place?
In the causal sequence leading from a stimulus to an emotional feeling,
what exists between the stimulus and the initial emotional response?
Before I have labeled my anger as anger, or even recognized it as such,
what has occurred? The answer to this, said Magda Arnold, was appraisal,
a mental process that occurred unconsciously, but that could be reected
upon after the fact. According to Arnold, such appraisal generated an
action tendency (which might or might not be activated), which in turn
accounted for the actual felt emotion.
However, demonstrating that interpretations of situations strongly
inuence the emotion experienced does not necessarily demonstrate
that cognition is always a necessary precondition for emotion. Casting
or reconceptualizing emotions in cognitive terms just overemphasizes
the contribution of cognitive processes in the arising of emotion.
In 1980 Robert Zajonc, objecting to the prevailing view that emotions
were but byproducts of cognitive appraisal, published a paper called
Feeling and Thinking: Preferences Need No Inferences. In it he
argued, on the basis of research involving the presentation of previously
unseen and previously subliminally exposed visual patterns, that the mere
exposure to stimuli even if such stimuli are not consciously registered is
enough to generate preferences. That is, whether or not I like something
does not necessarily depend upon my conscious recognition of it; emotion
therefore can form without the aid of cognition.
This, of course, does not rule out the presence of cognitive activity in
the arising of emotion, since many cognitive processes occur without
conscious awareness. Zajoncs argument that emotion precedes and

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occurs independent of cognition was as questionable as arguments
proclaiming the primacy of cognition in emotional experience. Much
of what he said about emotion was actually not about emotion, but
affect. The affective discriminations (like-dislike ratings) upon which he
bases his theorizing may precede cognition, but it is when cognition arises
that affect becomes emotion (because cognition casts much of the contextual
template needed for the construction of emotional experience).
Nevertheless, Zajoncs work did manage to partially derail cognitive
psychologys reducing of emotion to a mere byproduct of self-reective,
cognitive appraisal. His showing that emotional processing can occur
unconsciously (and that emotional excitation can be induced by noncognitive and non-perceptual procedures) helped to undermine the
notion that emotion is just a kind of cognition.
However, while it is true that both emotional and cognitive processing
can occur unconsciously, this does not necessarily mean that both
involve the same sort of processing. Also, despite the fact that emotional
experience often may involve nonverbal processing, much of the
theorizing about how emotions come about has arisen from studies
employing verbal stimuli or verbal reports.
The reliability of using verbal reports which are based on reection
and introspection to measure emotion is highly suspect, given that
many aspects and causal agents of emotion may not be accessible to
reection and introspection, or may be distorted because of previously
imprinted and perhaps inadequately acknowledged inuences, the
most dramatic examples of which are traumatic incidents from ones
Our emotions are probably most easily inuenced when we are not aware
that such inuences are occurring. The fact that much of emotional
processing occurs (or may occur) unconsciously rules out introspective
awareness as the precursor or the only precursor of emotional
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Thus far weve looked at emotion in terms of its physiology, behavioral

manifestations, and cognitive aspects, and also at the dangers of
reducing or explaining emotion solely (or mainly) in terms of any one
of these three. Of special concern is the tendency to t emotion into
the view of cognition that takes cognition to be basically just thinking
and reasoning. This view not only grossly oversimplies the nature of
emotion, but also, by dryly abstracting it, promotes disembodiment,
emotional disconnection, and further immersion in the virtual waters
of the computer metaphors around which cognitive psychology tends
to be largely (and too uncritically) constellated.
If we view humans as information-processing systems an image
drawn from computer technology then it is not a particularly big
step then to view a persons emotional state as an informational unit.
Yes, emotion does ordinarily contain information, but it is much more
than that, not only because it is more of a process than an entity (or
self-contained dollop of data), but also because of its multidimensional
nature. (The metaphorical manner in which we commonly conceive
of our emotions suggests that we hold emotion to be more than just
information, incorporating as it does physiology, behavior, cognition,
and intention).
As much as emotion may be dependent upon or inuenced by cognition,
it is not simply a kind of cognition, as is demonstrated, in part, by brain
(1) The perceptual representation of an object and the evaluation of
the emotional signicance of that object are separately processed by the
brain. That is, cognition and emotion apparently function by means of
separate (but not necessarily non-interacting) brain systems. This does
not, however, mean that there is one, all-purpose emotional system.
(2) The emotional signicance of an object may be evaluated by the brain
before the brain recognizes what that object is. In short, preference may
precede inference. Or, put another way, emotion may be too quick
for cognition. An example would be the fear felt when suddenly faced
with a large, menacing carnivore in the wild; before that carnivore was
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recognized as being a particular kind of creature with certain behavioral
leanings, a bodily response to it would have already occurred.
(3) Following the rst point, emotional memory and cognitive memory
involve different brain systems. Interestingly, the amygdala (which is
centrally implicated in emotional arousal and memory) appears to mature
before the hippocampus (which plays a key role in explicit or cognitive
memory); the hippocampus doesnt developmentally establish itself until
roughly age two, which explains our inability to remember at least
intellectually experiences from very early childhood.
Memories of, say, anoxia (or severe oxygen deprivation) during birth
cannot be remembered just by thinking about them, but rather by
undefendedly facing and ultimately surrendering (with highly skilled
guidance!) to current feelings like claustrophobia or anxiety that
may represent such long-ago anoxia on an emotional-cognitive level rather
than on a purely instinctual/visceral level.
Particularly traumatic memories may not be allowed to surface
in their fullness, being instead symbolically represented to everyday
consciousness, as in the form of, for example, paranoia or obsessive
thinking. Here, cognition serves to suppress raw pain, diluting or
avoiding its intensity by translating it into something more manageable
or at least apparently more manageable. Not surprisingly, moving from
the translation back to the original is far more than a merely cognitive
(4) Once that emotional appraisal mechanisms (as in the amygdala) have
been activated, responses occur automatically. Cognitive processing, on
the other hand, usually offers mere exibility (and therefore more of
an option for a reappraisal of the situation at hand).
Though emotion may incorporate some reasoning, it is not just a
certain kind of reasoning, or species of cognition. And nor is emotion
necessarily lower or more primitive than reason, despite numerous
philosophical and scientic assertions to the contrary. The separation
between reason and emotion (especially impassioned emotion) is now

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known, through neurological research, to be not so much a literal gap

as a fantasy, a ction that, to a signicant degree, supports and reects
the long-held dominance and presumed superiority of mind over
body, male over female, and abstract over sensual.
This dominator model (as opposed to a partnership model, be it about
human relations or mind-body relations) has included in its rationale
for its stance the superiority of the necortex over phylogenetically
older parts of the brain, such as those that supposedly generate, house,
and amplify emotion. An unquestioning acceptance of such a model
characterizes those who still insist on placing reason above emotion,
whether their orientation is personal or transpersonal (and placing
emotion above reason, as those who are prone to romanticizing the
passions are inclined to do, is equally absurd).
Even the evolutionary view of the brain, namely that it has gone
through three stages of evolution reptilian, paleomammalian, and
neomammalian (the so-called triune brain) is now suspect: There
apparently are areas in the brains of all vertebrates, even the most
primitive, that meet the structural and functional criteria of what
is called the neocortex in mammals. Furthermore, the theory that the
brain actually has a limbic system (out of which emotions supposedly
are generated) is very poorly substantiated; there is little evidence that
emotion is a single cortical faculty and that a single system of the brain
evolved to mediate this faculty. Emotion is just not that simple!

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Theres been a lot of debate about whether or not basic emotions
that is, innate emotional states which have evolved to help us
successfully cope actually exist. Much of the argument for the
existence of basic emotions is based on research indicating that certain
facial expressions of emotion are universal. Basic emotions, rooted in
innate neural programs, are, argue their proponents, simply modied
by culture and experience.
Not so, counter others, arguing that there are not basic emotions, but
instead basic response components that are organized by higher
cognitive processes. These response components can, of course,
be biologically determined, but emotion itself, according to them, is
psychologically constructed. In contrast to basic emotions theorists,
they claim that facial expressions do not express emotion, but rather
simply function as social signals.
However, just because plenty of facial expressions are social signals does
not mean that all facial expressions are merely social signals. For example,
grimacing due to exertion (as in the effort to relieve constipation) may
well have no social implications whatsoever. That some basic emotional
expressions may be unlearned that is, genetically predetermined is
demonstrated by studies of children born deaf and blind, in which they
all show emotional expressions (including blushing from shame) similar
to normal childrens expressions.
The debate about basic emotions is largely based on an unnecessary
division between biology and psychology (and also on a largely
unacknowledged confusion between affect and emotion). The fact that
an internal appraisal is mental does not necessarily mean that it is not
also biological.
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That so, so much of what we do emotionally and otherwise is

automatically determined and processed may not t well with our notions
of ourselves as being in charge of our lives. Not only can emotional
responses occur without the involvement of the higher processing
systems of the brain, but even such higher processing systems may
themselves be signicantly predetermined by our prevailing (and perhaps
largely submerged) conditioning. The good news is that we can awaken
from such automaticity, through a tting blend of meditative practice
and the development of more emotional literacy.
So are there basic emotions? I would say there are basic affects, but not
basic emotions. For example, anger is too contextually bound as an
emotion to be categorized as anything other than a complex construction;
the borders separating anger from non-anger are fuzzy, and the various
subcategories of anger (annoyance, fury, jealousy, irritation, sarcasm,
and so on) are too widely varied to neatly t into an anger grouping.
Given that the script for each subcategory would have to include all
of the features of anger so as to qualify as a genuine subcategory
of anger and given that this is often not the case, it is plain to see
that anger is not some discrete, neatly-boundaried entity, but rather a
very complex phenomenon lacking sufcient, universally agreed-upon
criterial features to qualify as a basic emotion.
There are simply so many ways to show, cause, experience, and explain
anger (which we might not always even label as anger), that it, as an
emotion, cannot be contained in anything other than a contextually
embedded conceptualization. Even to argue that emotion is innate
presumes that the concept of emotion is a cross-cultural given, when
in fact it is not. If affect is what is given, then emotion (and I speak
here not just of anger, but of all emotions) is, in part, what we do with
affect, and that doing, be it conscious or unconscious, is psychosocially
determined and therefore context-bound.

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