There are three phases of emotional awareness:
Learning how to deal with emotions:
after they arise,
at the time they arise,
and before they arise.
Before we begin describing the phases, the basic assumption is that the emotions in question are emotions with which we would like to change our relationship. Occasionally, emotions may be dubbed “negative,” this doesn’t imply the emotion is negative, rather that the affect the emotion has on our life is not what we desire.
As we begin our journey, we start by learning how to deal with an emotion after it arises.
The situation would unfold like this: we have some experience in which we encounter a negative emotion (anger, guilt, shame, etc.), and it is only after the moment passes that we realize so.
At the moment we have the realization that we experienced an emotion we would like to change our relationship with, we must allow oursleves to enter into a process of reflection.
In this process we take a moment to think about what happened and investigate why; additionally, we must ascertain what we wish to do differently.
Essentially what we are doing through this reflective exercise is allowing ourselves to create a new “baseline” for how to handle the same emotion when it arises next.
At The Time
When we have repeated the process of awareness through reflection a few times – we have equipped our brain with a new set of thoughts and actions to access when the same emotions arises next.
So this means that, next time this emotion arises, we are ready to engage in real time intervention.
When we become aware that an emotion is present —at the time of its occurrence, we enable ourselves to intervene the automatic ripple effect of thoughts / actions to the new “baseline” that we have been working on.
The switch we are making in this step is shifting from autopilot to conscious engagement; we are moving from simply reacting to our emotions to choosing our response.
Conscious engagement is a really powerful tool. It’s empowering to know that we can redefine our relationship with emotions. And that we are not victims of our emotions; we are capable of choosing our response.
The final phase is reflecting before the emotion arises. To do so, we must engage in thought exercises.
Thought exercises are “what if” scenarios we craft as an intellectual dialogue to – deliberately – understand what we want – should this situation come to be. And so when it does – we have a “baseline” we can access.
Mediation is often considered a great tool to engage in thought exercises.
It is important to note that it often takes a very long time to actually get to this last phase. Not because it is difficult to conjure thought exercises, but because the awareness that we are discussing in this phase isn’t about “one time efforts” -it’s about a way of being.
It is fair to say, that the journey of emotional awareness is filled with many moments of realization, each incredibly empowering.
And perhaps, it is fair to speculate that the ultimate realization we may encounter in this journey will be transformational; perhaps even akin to the thought that:
Maybe we’ve been searching among the branches for what only appears in the roots.*
Content adapted from Buddhist teachings.
*Quote from Rumi