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Emotions & Awareness:
Letters from Espanola





Something that I study deeply is the play between emotions and consciousness.

I study this because I have had to do a lot of healing work in my own life through  the years. Over time, I have come to realize that developing one's spiritual awareness is not the same as becoming emotionally mature.

Emotional maturity and spiritual realization have a connection with each other. In some ways, they depend upon each other. But they each have their own unique process, and you cannot substitute one process for the other.

When a person suffers a trauma, for instance, there can be a tendency to quote spiritual principals in order to stop the feelings from surfacing … which can be difficult and unpleasant.

In my Catholic upbringing, those words might have been, "This is God's punishment for your sins." From a more Eastern perspective, one might hear, "It's your karam," or "It is the will of God."

But the words are used to suppress the emotions. As if, "God's Will" means everyone should become numb in the face of difficulty.

This is where the pursuit of spiritual awareness becomes counter-productive to emotional well-being. Cosmic law does not preclude the importance of human emotions. Feelings are a part of this magnificent and priceless human body. And emotions have a very distinct purpose.

Emotional maturity means the ability to allow the feelings to completely reveal themselves, because every emotion carries a message with it. Emotions tell us what is important to us. They let us know when our dignity has been violated. They shout at us to get away from danger. They communicate what feels safe, nurturing and comforting.

And one very strong emotional process, grief, is actually the way that we heal from deep wounds. Grief is the body and mind's system to recover from loss. By allowing grief to unfold, with all of its sorrow and uncertainty, the nervous system can eventually adjust itself to the loss.

True loss changes a person. Grief is the physical and mental process which allows a person to integrate that loss, and eventually move forward with life.

Emotions, when handled with respect, give us information that we did not have before, as long as we sit and listen to them. That information may change the way we see something. It may transform the way we interact with other people or certain situations. Feelings communicate our environment to us, so that we can adapt appropriately.

Thus, when we ignore our feelings, we silence a part of ourselves that has something important to say.

Watching my life and the lives of others, I see that people sometimes become afraid of their feelings, because they do not want to change. We silence the feelings, to keep ourselves exactly where we are.

Emotions can be frightening when they jeopardize our sense of security and safety. If our feelings might lead us to change in ways that we do not wish to change, we lock them in a box and do not let anyone, including ourselves, know they exist.

This is where emotions have a very necessary relationship with consciousness. Emotions, by nature, are about "me." "My" experience. How "I“, feel. What "I" want. But awareness gives us the broader view. A view of how we exist interdependently with an entire creative structure. And how that creative structure is governed by a compassionate consciousness who guides our steps and evolves our souls.

Touching that vastness can give us the courage to feel what we are afraid to feel. To change in ways we are afraid to change. In this regard, spiritual awareness provides a platform through which emotional maturity can develop. Connecting with a kind and omniscient creator gives us a sense of security to deal with difficulties, even when the events of our lives feel challenging and unpredictable.

Awareness also provides a good container for our feelings. Emotions, on their own, can become tyrants of control. If we cannot guide and manage our feelings, they can taje over and rule our lives, and even impose themselves on those closest to us, trying to rule their lives, as well.

Expressing emotions at the wrong moment, to the wrong person, can damage or destroy a relationship. Making decisions based on feelings with no higher perception involved can lead to problems down the road. Just because I want something does not mean that the situation will turn out the way that I want.

And so, from this perspective, awareness creates the containment field that allows our emotions to communicate important information, without taking over.

Simply put, emotions are an important part of the picture. But not the whole picture.

On the flip side, when we use spiritual discipline to repress or deny feelings, we miss vitally important information. Ultimately, wisdom is when we handle the relationships and choices in our lives from the vaster view that awareness brings. In that view, emotions play a part but do not command the whole.

Something I have discovered over the years is that the Guru Granth Sahib provides great training when it comes to this connection between emotions and consciousness.

The language in a shabad can sometimes come across as very emotional. Lamenting about how much of a fool I am. Or crying out in longing for my Lover Lord.

Yet, the shabads switch between these tones of intense emotion, and infinite positivity. The shabads do not deny the voice of feelings, but interweave them with a vastly Infinite view. The language allows the feeling to express itself, and then elevates those feelings to the Divine. The emotional voice is given complete expression, and then the feelings are guided to connect with the perspective of cosmic consciousness.

This, to me, represents the pinnacle of emotional maturity and spiritual wisdom. When the feelings have their voice, and consciousness has its voice, and all these voices work together to bring us to a place of surrender. In this respect, the Guru's shabads provide a wonderful psychological training to neither suppress our feelings, nor stay stuck in them.

But to feel them, and then consciously elevate them.

When I look at the world, and the suffering that people go through, so much of it comes from the pain and trauma that people hold in their bodies. That pain gets passed down, generation to generation, blocking the flow of life.

The Sikh Gurus gave humanity these shabads as a medicine to heal that pain. And I sincerely believe that there is a training within these shabads to support people to feel that pain and then take it to a higher plane, where the trauma can get healed once and for all.


February 4, 2014

Conversation about this article

1: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, USA), February 04, 2014, 12:42 PM.

Re author's statement: "Just because I want something does not mean that situation will turn out the way that I want." Corresponding to this statement, a German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, said: "We do not want a thing because we have found reasons for it, we want 'reasons' for it because we want it". But Guru Nanak explains: "Records of deeds cannot be effaced, they are preordained by God" [GGS:937]. Guru's statement is not in the narrow sense of rewards and punishments; it only serves as means to stimulate weak human understanding. Human beings, being in duality, evaluate everything in terms of 'good' and 'bad'. All great men have spoken in the language best understood by the people. And so did our Guru. Nature is often hidden but very difficult to overcome. Let no person trust his/her victory over nature too far, because nature lays buried for long and revives on occasion of temptation. By way of example, the addictive cigarette smoking or alcohol drinking in a human being, even though he/she realizes its evil effects.

2: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, USA), February 05, 2014, 12:37 PM.

Emotions and consciousness in case of hardship -- All we need to do is to keep up with our naam simran. Our Gurus have emphasized that separation from God is the basis of all suffering in human beings. This realization is the first step. But all human beings start expressing their emotions (feelings) as if they are unloading the process which was the result of their suffering. To suffer hardship is the quality of a strong spirited person, and adds to his/her spirituality and should be considered an aspect of God's grace. Guru Nanak says: "Many suffer from hunger and pain, but O Lord, it too is your grace ..." [Japji, pauri 25].

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Letters from Espanola"

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