Today’s Solutions: February 03, 2023

Taking charge of feelings so they don’t rule your life

Tijn Touber | March 2006 issue

Screams, curses and lamentations… That was what was coming out of Jill’s mouth. For 15 solid minutes she made clear to me that no one understood her and that her life was unbearably difficult. She was furious with the misfortune that plagued her. It was unending. And then suddenly, in the middle of the tirade, she stopped yelling. She put on a friendly face and asked me if I wanted a cup of tea.

I was dumbfounded. What had happened to her angry indignation? Then I heard someone fiddling with a key in the front door and understood the reason for the sudden shift: Her roommate had returned unexpectedly. Amid her screaming bout, Jill had heard footsteps and was pretending nothing was wrong.

At that moment, I discovered it is apparently possible to make a radical shift in mood. As easily as Jill “switched on” her anger, she was able to “switch it off.” Can everyone do this?

Tom could. I met Tom back in the days when we spent a lot of our time in pubs and the legendary Dutch “coffee shops” where marijuana is allowed. At one point, Tom just about lived in a coffee shop. For years he did his very best to smoke as many joints as he could, thus postponing all the tough decisions on work, money and relationships for as long as possible.

I recently ran into Tom. He told me he had suddenly had enough. One morning, while he was rolling a joint, he had a clear thought: “Starting today, I only want to see the beauty and opportunities in my life.” In one day Tom became a different person. His wife says: “Since then I haven’t once seen him depressed or grumpy, even if he’s been up and down with our child all night.” Tom flipped the switch.

The stories of Jill and Tom show that emotions can take you for a ride but that there is another part of you that remains unmoved. And yes, you’re capable of flipping the switch any moment and turning off your dark, angry emotions.

So do you suppress your feelings when you switch them off? Yes, I think you do. But is that so bad? Isn’t it much worse when you suppress yourself by allowing your emotions to get the upper hand? Emotions are fun and exciting to play and experiment with as long as you know you have (rather than are) them. When you feed your emotions, writes Eckhart Tolle in his book A New Earth, they are like “pain-bodies” that get bigger and bigger until they completely swallow you. Tolle even compares emotions to parasites because they feed on your energy.

Do you become cool and calculating if you choose no longer to feed your pain-bodies? If you choose not to pick a good fight or stir things up? No, because the more distance you can take from your emotions, the less they will run you. The less you’ll tend to suppress them. Only then can you play with your emotions: switch them on and off.

The only thing you have to do is find the one who’s at the controls.

The only thing you have to do is find yourself.

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