“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” ~ Wayne Dyer Emotional alchemy is the ultimate psychological leveling mechanism.
It’s a way of turning the tables on feelings that have the potential to overwhelm us; to flip the script lest the script flip us. It’s a meta-tool that we can use to leverage grace, sagacity, and wisdom into our lives, despite emotional toil. Emotions are part of life. There’s no avoiding them. And actually when we attempt to avoid or suppress them, it can be doubly dangerous. It can become a kind of festering poison that grows and grows, until it boils over into an explosion of emotion that we simply cannot control.
The key is to feel the emotion, but act despite it. Be fully present with the emotion, honor it, and then act in a way that the emotion doesn’t become our puppet master. Easier said than done, sure, but as Epictetus said, “Life is hard, brutal, punishing, narrow, and confining, a deadly business.”
1. Feel the fear but act with courage
“What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.” — Charles Bukowski
The key to fearlessness is to feel the fear; be with it, own it, learn what it has to teach, and then flip the tables on it and act courageously rather than fearfully. A courageous act trumps any amount of fear. Indeed, as Brandon Stanton said,
“The way to learn courage is to be afraid of something and then do it anyway.”
Imagine a firefighter standing outside of a burning building with a baby on the top floor. He would be a fool not to fear the inferno. Fear is the natural and proper response to a deadly situation.
But if he doesn’t act courageously despite the fear, then the baby dies. So he must feel the fear, but then act with courage, in order to do the right thing. With enough practice, the fear can even be used as a tool that focuses our courage into a laser point of fearlessness.
2. Feel the anger but act with humor
“A tragedy is a comedy misunderstood.” — William Shakespeare
Sometimes anger is the proper response toward a situation, like with murder, rape, child abuse, and ecocide, for example. Or like Jesus, filled with righteous anger, flipping over tables and flogging greedy bankers. But most of the time, anger tends to blind us to the heart of a given situation.
It overwhelms our logic and causes us to lash out pettily and frantically. Suddenly we become five year olds ranting, raving, and raging against reason, out of control. It can happen to the best of us. The key to tempering the fires of anger is to feel the anger; honor it, allow it to fill you with hot smoke, and then flip the burning script into a comic strip.
Laughing at our own anger tempers the tempest. It takes the oxygen out of our raging fire, so that we can see clearly and eventually act calmly. Imagine experiencing road rage, feeling it boil your blood, but then acting with humor by laughing out loud at your anger instead of flipping someone the bird. At first it will feel fakes, but eventually it will be genuine. It’s easier said than done, and takes much practice, but it can be quite effective with just a little practice.
3. Feel the grief but act with steadfastness
“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” ~ Helen Keller
Grief can be a crippling emotion. Yet this emotion, more than any other, should not be suppressed.
It must be worked through, reconciled, and the pain of it honored as a precious side effect of having lost something we love. Indeed, the pain is like a trophy proving to the cosmos that we loved.
We should hold it aloft, atop the mountain of our grief, and declare, with both humility and pride, “I have loved, therefore I have truly lived!”
Transforming the coal of our grief into the diamond of our strength is no easy task, but it is a necessary step in self-mastery. Much pressure is involved, which is our reconciliation regarding loss. We must feel the grief but act with steadfastness in order to truly honor our loss and not fall, crippled and holistic, into the existential black hole.
4. Feel jealousy but act with compersion
This is a tough one. Probably the most counterintuitive of the four strategies. Jealousy can be a gut-wrenching emotion that can easily tip us over into other emotions like anger, grief, and even fear. It’s one of those emotions that slaps our ego around and gives our insecurities a reason to rear their ugly heads. It’s especially bad when the person that we’re jealous over has made a serious commitment to us and has betrayed our trust.
Soul-wrenching stuff. Turning the tables on this emotion is extremely difficult. Almost as difficult as forgiveness; which is possibly one of the most difficult things a human can do. The concept of compersion is right up there, and for some people, may even be more difficult than forgiveness. This is because practicing compersion asks us to be happy when a loved one finds love with another. It’s the ultimate challenge of our love, asking, “If you truly love him/her you will be happy that they finally discovered love with someone else.”
Sure, you would rather that love had been discovered with you, but that’s life. If you can honestly say you love them, then you will still love them even if they find love with someone else. If not, you probably didn’t really love them to begin with. Or, your love was based upon ownership rather than relationship. As with all things excellent, the art of emotional alchemy is not easy. It takes daily practice and deep soul searching. It takes the ability to face our emotions honestly so that we can act honorably. It takes much self-overcoming lest we inadvertently become overwhelmed.