Recently, I watched two young boys having an argument. One was very angry and was shouting at the other. The other boy lifted his head high and said: “Stop shouting at me. Anger is the enemy of the body.” I could tell he was proud of being able to remember this statement about anger to help him in his argument. I wondered where did he learn this, and did he understand it?
It got me thinking about emotions and how we express them. Anger is an emotion, just like any other. Everybody feels anger, joy, hurt, frustration, jealousy, fear, excitement, love at different times in their life. They are part of the experience of being human. Our emotions are never the problem. It is when we allow them to overwhelm us, or repress them, that they can become the enemy of the body. When we feel overwhelmed, we are not able to think clearly and are unable to take the actions or make the decisions we need to make. If we repress our emotions, we can become numb. It is like picking up a glass of water. If you put it down quickly it won’t feel heavy. Hold the glass for a few hours and it begins to feel heavy. Hold it for 24 hours and your arm will feel numb, as though it is paralysed. Our emotions operate like this.
Say for example, you have had a difficult day in the office; your boss has unjustly said you are not doing enough. You bite your tongue but feel resentful that he has wronged you. On the long drive home, traffic is very heavy, and cars keep pulling out in front of you. Inside you are seething but you don’t act on it. You get home and the only post waiting for you is final demands for overdue bills. While having dinner with the family, one of the children knocks over their glass of water, and you explode. This is what Aristotle was talking about when he said: “Anybody can become angry- that is easy. To be angry with the right person, to the right degree, for the right purpose and in the right way, that is not within everyone’s power.” We must learn to master our emotions, to feel them, acknowledge them and act appropriately.
Emotional Intelligence became a subject of great interest in the West in the 1990s and was been identified as a key factor in success or failure in life. It is defined as the capacity to understand your own emotions and the emotions of others, and to use this awareness to achieve your goals.
Our sacred texts in India have many examples of emotional intelligence at its best. The Bhagavad Gita, one of our most loved books, is a wonderful example in identifying the nature of emotions and teaching how to come out of emotional instability. Arjuna, a warrior of the highest standing, is set to lead his army into battle when he is completely overwhelmed by his emotions. The enemy he faces includes his own people- cousins, his grandfather, and his guru. Although it is a righteous war and he is duty bound to fight, his mind has gotten in the way. He turns to Lord Krishna: “. My mind is in quandary and whirling in confusion; I am unable to hold myself steady any longer. O Krishna, killer of the Keshi demon, I only see omens and misfortunes.” (Bhagavad Gita 1;29–31)
Lord Krishna helps him to understand that it is the five senses that trap us in the mud of emotional upheavals. His attachment to his family is causing his distress and clouding his judgement. He must master his emotions and fulfil his duty, without attaching to the fruits of his action.
On an everyday level, we can make a simple comparison to a loving mother seeing her child head overseas for the first time. Her heart may be broken, not knowing when she will see her child again, but her duty to her child will make sure she has a smile on her face as she bestows her blessings and good wishes. She will be aware of her emotions but for the good of her child, will not let herself be overcome.
As I said earlier, we are emotional beings, and what The Bhagavad Gita urges us to do, is to be completely human, to allow ourselves to feel our emotions fully, but not to be led by them. No emotion is an enemy of the body, it is the untamed mind we must guard against. If we can become a witness to our emotions, we will always express them in the correct way and our decisions and actions will lead us to a successful life. I leave you with these words of the writer, Alan Watts: “If, for a change, we would allow our feelings, and look upon their comings and goings as something as beautiful and necessary as changes in the weather, the going of night and day, and the four seasons, we would be at peace with ourselves.”