All human beings experience strong emotions, like sadness, anger, insecurity, jealousy, self-doubt, regret, yearning, etc. We all have them, but as a child we don’t necessarily learn how to deal with strong emotions. Not at home, nor in school. While we do learn how to read, write and calculate, our inner world remains as untrodden territory. Our strong emotions, however, have a major impact on our lives.
That is why Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village community consider understanding our strong emotions to be one of the most fundamental practices. Understanding our emotions is essential to understanding ourselves. By befriending our emotions, we befriend ourselves, or as Sister Dang Nghiem says: we become soulmates to ourselves.
In this personal account, Sister Dang Nghiem compares strong emotions with a wave, a storm, a food (nutriment), and a habit (addiction). An emotion by itself does not have a long life span. But our reaction to an emotion can be long, making the emotion grow bigger and stronger—like a wave or a storm, to finally overwhelm us. So, it is essential to understand how we react to an emotion. Awareness is key. If we are not aware (of our emotions), we are lost. We will be tossed around like small boats on the high waves, and blown away by heavy storms … and still then, we often have no idea what is happening to us.
If we are not aware of our emotions, how can we take care of them? How can we heal and transform? Our mindful breathing, and mindful steps, as Sister Dang Nghiem says, can bring us back to ourselves, to our body and to our mind. Only when we are present, can we see what is going on around us, and inside of us. Only when we are present, can we love, care and embrace. Through the practice of mindfulness we become steady and stable, and when a strong emotion comes up we can smile to it with equanimity (mental calmness).
Sister Dang Nghiem wrote three very personal, powerful and practical books about strong emotions and the path of healing:
Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh wrote an important book about this topic called Taming the Tiger Within