“I really hate you right now. How can I know this is thought and still feel the way I do?” — Angus to Rohini
Emotions are so powerful they light up our physical senses. They create such a compelling experience it is hard to see the silent hand of thought in the process. It really looks like external events or people are the direct cause of our hurt and anger.
My husband and I decided to debrief an upset we experienced recently so we could get a deeper understanding for ourselves and hopefully provide some helpful and practical information for others.
We are both coaches. I am also a therapist. We have been involved in spiritual pursuits for over twenty-five years. We support others with experiencing greater levels of psychological freedom and less suffering in their lives. We each have radically improved our inner and outer experience as we deepen our understanding of how thought creates our reality and can limit us from experiencing our true nature. And, even with all of this, we can get caught up in a swirl of hurt and anger that even our teenage daughters would recognize as ridiculous and much ado about nothing.
Of course, this is easy to say after the fact. Now we have both stabilized and are back in the warm, good feeling of our relationship, but shouldn’t we, after being married for over twenty years, studying spiritual psychology for nearly as long, and both of us teaching clients spiritual principles, shouldn’t we be immune to this kind of upset? Evidently, not!
Enter my husband Angus:
The big thing for me is I recognize I can get stuck in a groove of negative thinking. This is a pattern that has been a feature of our relationship. When you do something I perceive as critical, I sometimes access a stream of upsetting thoughts that just bubble up inside of me. I feel like I really hate you.
When I go down that rabbit hole, I end up staying in that place simply by continuing to focus on my angry thoughts and by giving them air time in my head. When I choose to tune into that thinking, I get even more upset and down. The level of charge I have can only maintain itself if I throw fuel at it. In this context, throwing fuel means throwing thinking at it. By bringing focus to the negative thoughts, it keeps those fires burning.
In this recent situation, I was conscious of my mentors sharing with me how knowing you will eventually stabilize when you are angry will somehow make the experience easier, but that just wasn’t cutting it. I was telling myself that, but it wasn’t enough to stop me from focusing on the anger.
There is something very seductive and addictive about staying in that place of upset and hurt. It felt like the feeling had power over me. I got so down and distraught I couldn’t see my way out of it. The idea that I would stabilize didn’t hold water. This idea comes from my wisdom. That is the language of my settled state. My angry state has a whole different language. It doesn’t speak the language of my wisdom. It doesn’t understand it.
When I am in this unsettled state, it feels like it is impossible for me to find my way back to my settled state. There is no process that will take me back there. I’ve proven this to myself time and time again. There is a whole slew of different techniques that I’ve tried over the years, but I cannot force myself to settle. I can’t use my intellect to take me back to a feeling of calm. This state is alluring because it feels so real. It looks like my perspective is accurate. I can think of all sorts of reasons why I should stay in my righteousness, and stay in my need to hate and judge. The idea of stabilizing and resetting back to my state of calm looks like mumbo jumbo.
The truth, for me, surrounds the idea that there are two poles — my natural state and my agitated state. My natural state is defined by an experience of calm, balance, and equilibrium. I know I am there by how I feel. When I am in my natural state, I feel contentment and joy. I feel settled. The analogy I like to use is of a tray of water. When the tray is shaken, the water is choppy and flies all over the place. The natural state of water is to settle — to come back to calm. That is how I see my emotional machinery. It’s natural state is to come back to calm. My thinking can destabilize my emotions and create agitation and anxiety, but my thoughts and their corresponding emotions will always settle just like the water.
This week I was extremely tired. I did not get enough sleep, and I got more and more exhausted. I became quite irrational and was far more sensitive than I usually am. I was overwhelmed by the simplest of chores that I normally wouldn’t even give a second thought to. Suddenly those chores became amplified in a negative way. My inner dialogue was, “God, yet another thing I have to do. When am I going to be able to rest? When am I going to be able to chill? When am I going to be able to relax?” I got agitated. My mood dropped. As it dropped, I tried to cope by looking for ways to discharge my upset, and the expression of those feelings became more reactive and charged.
What finally helped to shift things for me was when you and I had a conversation. Although, at first, I was still reactive, you being in a place of calm helped me to stabilize. I eventually could see compassion. I could see the loving. My emotional temperature changed, and slowly but surely I started to settle down.
When I am in an unsettled state, it is very easy for that upset to expand and grow. I wonder, is there a way out? What do I do when I am in that unsettled state? How do I get out of it?
I think that question “How do I get out of this unsettled state?” is problematic. It sends you in the wrong direction. Basically, it is just like any other thought that adds fuel to the fire of your unsettled thinking. This, thereby, amplifies the intensity of the feelings. The question for me is not, “How do I get out of this unsettled state?” It is, “How do I love and accept myself in this unsettled state?”
That makes me think of that Einstein quote, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” It is impossible to think about being in a settled state when I am in a totally unsettled state because those two conditions are poles apart. There is no common ground between those poles in terms of the frequency of my thinking. One frequency directs me in more destructive terms and the other directs me in more positive and loving terms.
To think that I can steer myself back from an unsettled state to a more positive state is like asking a wolf to tend a flock of sheep and herd them into their pen. It is at complete cross purposes.
The only answer is to love myself especially when I am upset, and realize this is part of the human condition. I can be aware that I am experiencing a storm that will settle, and know I will find myself back in calm waters. This is the only thing I need to know. I don’t know how long it will take, but it is not going to go on forever. And, it is okay to forget this, but I have to admit throughout the entire episode this week, I was thinking about the fact this isn’t my normal state. However low I got, and no matter how dark my thoughts became, there was an awareness of a compass point and an autopilot that would take me back to calm.
Take away learnings:
- Don’t panic when you get upset. No matter how intense your upset is, it won’t last forever. You are temporarily not in your natural state of calm.
- Don’t try to make yourself not be upset. That is like asking the wolf to bring the sheep home. It will only result in you getting more ensnarled in your negative thinking. Instead, take care of yourself, and don’t express your upset destructively. Hurting yourself or others only creates more suffering.
- Do love yourself unconditionally. Accept yourself no matter what. Be kind to yourself and have compassion for your humanness.
- If there is someone who can be a loving presence for you, their warmth may support you with finding your way back to your natural state of wellbeing, but proceed with caution. Just as their good mood might support you, your negative mood might bring them down.