Healing Emotion

Much can be, and has been, said on the subject of emotion. The word emotion itself means to express or get out. Yet often times emotion leads to unsatisfactory results. We feel drained instead of invigorated. Surely this natural function of the bodymind has a possible healthy purpose. Here we shall examine what that purpose, or function, is, where we went wrong, and how to remedy the situation; this will lead us to healthy emotion.

Emotional expression is something we are born with, in that we are capable of it without instruction. This expression settles in when we are primarily involved in learning how to move (see Language of Movement). Movement is learned by imitation, so we naturally have some crossover in emotional imitation. Since people in general do not have healthy emotion, and we imitate people – namely our parents, siblings, and other caregivers – we imitate this deviation from healthy emotion right from the start. (Let us not put blame on these folks, for they are in the same boat with us.)

A few basic examples are useful to ponder as we consider where we strayed. One easy illustration is ‘controlling’ emotion – which really means stopping it. Of course we need control, just as with bowel movements, which we also learn at this time. However, with our bowels we are allowed relief at a proper time; emotions are postponed indefinitely. This is evident in common phrases like "There’s nothing to be scared of . . ."; or "It’s going to be alright," etc. If we learned also an appropriate time and place for expression of emotion, this control could become useful. There would be a lot fewer temper tantrums as well.

Another example is ‘labeling’ emotions, generally as good or bad, acceptable and not acceptable. When this happens – say, when a little girl is allowed to cry but nothing else – then all expression is funneled into one outward manifestation. This is not a satisfying expression and drains the system of energy.

Both of these examples are forms of my third example, ‘denial’of emotion. This includes any attempt to discount emotion, such as "I’ll give you something to whine about!"; which basically says our emotion is wrong, or should not exist. When emotion is met by this kind of violent reaction, it gradually shuts down, or is denied. This repression of emotion takes a great energetic toll on the bodymind. These three examples should suffice to make a beginning in our journey.

One of my favorite sayings is "The only negative emotion is an unresolved emotion." Truly resolution defines emotion. Until it ‘comes out,’ it is not yet emoted. This strange energy of unexpressed emotion is a poison to us. The way to relief is to lance the boil, so to speak. There are many methods for getting ‘caught up’ with old emotions; I will not detail them here, but bodywork is fundamental to most of these methods. They must be resolved because any current expression will be tainted by them. The key in this, and please read this carefully, is not to analyze during emotion. Many lines of esoteric teaching tell us that thought opposes emotion, and you will find this is true. The emotion must be allowed to run its course. Then, if you wish, you may analyze (you will find things much clearer then as well). In reality, analysis is usually an attempt to abort expression, albeit unconsciously (that is, by imitation).

So now we have covered, in basic formulations, where we went wrong and how to fix it. We now come to the why: Why have emotion at all? What good is it? Since we know that emotion is part of our machinery, we will look for its normal, or healthy, function. I will begin with Five Element Theory, which provides a simple, yet complete understanding of emotional integration. The five basic emotions are fear, anger, joy, compassion, and grief. If we see each ‘element’ as being in relationship to the others (and not as good or bad), and needing balance in this relation, we are moving in the right direction. Each element can be ‘symptomatic,’ or have too much energy, as when anger becomes rage. Each element can be depleted, as when joy becomes sadness. Or they can be in balance, in which we could call fear ‘respect’ (this gives a new meaning to ‘fear of God’). If we look carefully, we can distill every emotion to one of these five and then seek balance. Five Element Theory has much to say about this balance.

Where would we be without healthy anger? We would have no boundaries. Without fear we have no sense of scale. Without joy we are depressed (this topic will be addressed in another paper). These emotions are as necessary as the air we breathe; in fact they are related to and are in the air. Without them we are choked off (yes, there is a direct correlation with asthma and other diseases). This leads into our final point: What does healthy emotion look like? Here we must be clear by using objective results. In the last paper we spoke of "expression of negative emotions" (see Identifying Stress) as a leak in the bodymind. Let’s explore what this means in the context of healthy emotion. We all have experience of two basic modes of expression: one kind gives energy, the other drains us. Notice that I didn’t say "feels good" – this is because expression of negative emotions often seems to feel good. There is a movement of energy with negative emotion, but it is energy moving out of us. So it is important not to look for results during expression, but afterward. After crying, for example, are you exhausted or refreshed? Healthy emotion always refreshes us. This is an objective result.

After practice, careful observation, and a tabulating of results, you will begin to notice a definite ‘taste’ to both healthy emotion and negative emotion. We need to use this taste because of the speed of emotion (see Somatics and the Unconscious), which is infinitely faster than ordinary thought. In this way we will develop an ability to emote in a healthy way and control our leaks. The effects of this on our physical health will be quickly and clearly evident.