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On handling negative emotions with purpose

If we dwell on negative emotions too heavily, they can consume us. "At least one must keep one's head out of it so as not to be eaten up entirely by emotional ape-men," C. G. Jung wrote in a personal letter. But, at low levels, they may simply endure as conditions of our being. "Ressentiment is not rash, but sluggish; it is a mood or a low-energy state in opposition to the vehement nature of violent rage, horror, or grief," wrote Thomas Brudholm. "More interestingly, the diminution over time that seems to be an essential feature of the passions contrasts with the excessive duration or endurance of emotions and memories taken into ressentiment."

Intense negative emotions exist for a reason and are not necessarily bad. They may need to be named and released, not cured or erased. The Zen teacher Alan Watts said: "Such words as anger, depression, fear, grief, anxiety, and guilt suggest uniform states which tend to persist if no action is taken to change or release them. As fever was once considered a disease instead of a natural healing process, we still think of negative feelings as disorders of the mind which need to be cured.
" Releasing them lets us move on, said Martin Laird: "If we can name the thought (anger, fear, pride, etc.) instead of spinning a commentary about the thought, which is our usual response, we stand a much better chance of simply letting go of the thought and returning to our practice."

And even for the moment we experience that feeling, the moment before it subsides, may be important. Sam Keen said, "When the elemental emotions are shrouded or repressed, we cease to experience the sublime nature of all life and we begin to respond to our environment in purely utilitarian ways. Our inborn sense of reverence is occluded, and the dignity of being is replaced by the frenzy of doing. We exchange our sacred birthright for a cultural myth because it promises a secure identity, a necessary role, and a sense of belonging to the tribe." When we choose to experience the feeling consciously, we can direct our actions. Daniel Condron advised that "the more you speak your thoughts as they arise, the more control you have over your thoughts and emotions. The emotions are a way to complete the thoughts; they are not the cause of your thoughts." He continued: "The emotions are not a way to re-act to the world but instead are a way to act or take action in the world."


Thomas Brudholm. Resentment’s Virtue: Jean Améry and the Refusal to Forgive. Philadelphia: Temple, 2008. p. 105.

Letter from C. G. Jung to Jolande Jacobi, 26 August 1943. Printed in C. G. Jung. Aspects of the Masculine. (Collected Works.) Translation by R. F. C. Hull. New York: MJF Books, 1989. p. 126.

Alan Watts. Nature, Man, and Woman. New York: Vintage Books, 1991 (Copyright 1958). p. 92

Sam Keen. In the Absence of God: Dwelling in the Presence of the Sacred. New York: Harmony Books, 2010. p. 79.

Martin Laird, O.S.A. Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. p. 82.

Daniel Condron. Superconscious Meditation: Kundalini and the Understanding of the Whole Mind. Windyville, Missouri: SOM Publishing, 1998. pp. 151-2, 154.


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