There is nothing more mechanical in our life than negative emotions.
P. D. Ouspensky
Negative emotions are things like fear, anger, envy, greed, sloth, and also pleasant things like enthusiasms, passions, and certain forms of love. They are based on identification and imagination --- they keep us asleep.
The pleasant type are characterised by a tendency to turn into their opposites --- for example when we end up hating people we were formerly `in love' with. Real emotions do not turn into their opposites.
Properly speaking, the emotional centre does not have a negative half. Negative emotions are tremendously powerful, despite being completely useless to us. We can poison our lives extremely quickly with them, destroying life-long friendships with a few words, or making disastrous choices because we are out to prove something.
When we study the Food Diagram, we can see that man is rather like a chemical factory, refining food, air, and impressions into much finer, more volatile energies. These finest energies are used by the higher emotional centre, and the higher intellectual centre.
When we express negative emotions, we plunder this store of finer substances. We can use up the factory's entire production for a day with one emotional outburst. It is possible to use even more energy, even damaging the factory beyond repair if we go too far (rather like the effect power surges have on computers). With this energy thrown away, we have no fuel available to think our highest thoughts, or to experience our highest feelings.
So the first part of work on the emotional centre is non-expression of negative emotions --- to stop this energy leak. This practise is exceptional in the Work, in that it is permanent, and available to all. (The methods and form of the Work are continually evolving, so it is usual for an exercise to be set for a specific length of time, in specific circumstances to specific people, and then only on the basis that they understand exactly why they are doing it.)
The second part of work on the emotional centre is transformation of negative emotions. This is advanced work.
Briefly, we can see that the problem with non-expression of negative emotions is that we are still having the emotion --- we are just not expressing it. If we are self-remembering at the moment when an impression enters that would normally cause a negative emotion, it is possible to use the resulting energy for ourselves, rather than seeing it disappear off down well-trodden paths. This is also known as the Second Conscious Shock. In the Work, long practice at non-expression of negative emotions and self-remembering are necessary before this becomes possible.
A cold, a headache, a late night or a missed meal are all enough to drastically alter our behaviour. We may be irritated by far less than usual. We may feel tearful at the slightest pressure. To work with this, we need to be more aware of the life of our instinctive centre. We need to remember our fatigue, our aches, and our appetite, so that we can digest impressions correctly. One way of doing this is to be small, to slow down, and be quieter. This gives our organism more time to operate, alleviating the unpleasant feeling of pressure everyday life creates in us when we are a little worse for wear.
First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.
Negativity towards others is often caused by us seeing in other people exactly what we dislike about ourselves. This negativity is usually accompanied by thoughts such as, `I'm not like that at all!' and `How on Earth could they do/say/think such a thing!' Such negativity will paint the victim as a `something', where the `something' label allows us to think of the victim as being different to ourselves---labels such as fool, drunkard, monster, and so on.
These attitudes prevent us seeing what we, as humans, are really like; they prevent us from learning about and understanding the full variety of human expression. This we must do if we wish to become balanced men. We can tell that our reactions to others' shortcomings are subjective, because usually we are only bothered by certain things, and are able to remain calm in the face of other faults.
We need to remember that negative emotions are a general law on this world. That is to say, virtually all people will express them, will glamorise them, will accept them as the normal. The violence of our `civilised' societies stands testimony to this. After thousands of years of history, man can walk on the moon, can harness the power of the atom, but still is unable to avoid going into a rage when his food is not cooked properly.
So we should not be surprised when people are negative, and should not condemn them for it. We are all negative. To even begin to free oneself from this law takes great and continued efforts.
One problem arising from the `normality' of negative emotions is that work on them sometimes involves behaving differently to conventional wisdom. Sometimes people do appear to behave badly towards us, and it is very easy to feel negative towards them. If we voiced our anger and frustration, people would assure us that they would feel exactly the same in our shoes.
At times like these, it is especially important to remember why we are trying not to express negative emotions. We are not doing it to `be nice', or because it's `bad' to express negative emotions. We are doing it because we wish to study ourselves, and to save energy and time. We are doing it because we wish to wake up.
We must observe the fact that we enjoy our negative emotions. Being in a towering rage can feel dramatic and exciting. We feel energised, passionate, and more alive. Sometimes we are moved to eloquence as our tongue lets fly, and caution goes to the wind. The truth is, when the Work tells us not to be negative, our unspoken reply is, `But I don't want to stop being negative!' Giving up negativity is part of the price we pay for awakening. We have to give up something if we wish to make space for something new in our lives. We can hardly be receptive to higher forces when we are busy flaying someone alive with our tongue.
Also, we have to remember that being negative does not just mean having exciting passions. It also means being ruled by self-pity, depression, loneliness, boredom, dissatisfaction, inadequacy, and envy. We should not fool ourselves that saying we do not want to stop being negative means we could stop if we wanted to. We have no control, and cannot chose not be negative. Until we recognise this, we have no hope of changing.
Work on negative emotions becomes easier when we see that our repertoire of negative emotions is quite limited. Although our circumstances change throughout our lives, and we continually encounter different situations, the basic causes of our resentments do not change. This will be things like not being recognised for one's true worth, or thinking that one needs a change in one's life.
One student had been feeling bored and unappreciated in his job. He realised this was a negative emotion when he remembered that he had felt exactly the same about his college degree, several years ago. Although the justifications were couched in different term, the inner relationship to his main occupation had not changed. Recognition of these emotions can be enormously liberating, because we start to see where they are making the decisions in our life. We have an opportunity to live more intelligently, to stop fear and anger doing all our talking.
To be in a passion you good may do,
But no good if a passion is in you.
It is important to distinguish expressing negative emotions from standing up for oneself. Non-expression of negative emotions does not mean allowing people to exploit you. If someone is rude to you, or dominates you, or starts to bully you, you have to defend yourself, or you will store up only more of the same for yourself in the future.
When we notice people probing for weaknesses, a shot across the bows at that moment can prevent a full-blown war in the future. It is possible to be firm and direct without becoming identified, without becoming negative. We can see this in the way a good mother treats a naughty child, or in the way a good dog-owner disciplines their pet.
Every situation has a certain amount of power. Sometimes you are in control, sometimes the person you are dealing with is in control. We should not become negative when we discover people using power; rather we should learn the rules of the game, and play it intelligently, according to our aims in a particular situation.
To know when to stop is to preserve ourselves from danger.
Sometimes in our lives, certain people become huge obstacles for us. Their shadow seems to fall across our whole existence. Every word they say acquires immense significance. We live in terror of them, and entertain all sorts of absurd fantasies about what they will say or do next.
In these situations, we can end up with the unnerving feeling that we are in a play. We start to see every moment of our lives in relation to this drama. In this state, we may still be reminding ourselves that we should not be expressing negative emotions. Perhaps we do not allow ourselves to voice our feelings or change our circumstances, because we do not want to be negative, because we do not want to `fail'.
We need to be intelligent here, and consider our own capabilities. It is almost certain that there IS a charm for our fears, that we can change our inner relationship to this person. But remember that non-expression of negative emotions is just one line of work. If a situation really is making the rest of our work and our life impossible, we ought to consider the `failure' option, be that walking away, or something else. We may need to learn more before we can deal with certain kinds of situation successfully.
It is very important to understand the difference between talking about negative emotions, and expressing them. It can often be useful to describe our negativity to someone else, so that they can help us see the attitudes behind this.
What is not useful, however, is when this discussion turns into a repeat of all the identification with unpleasant emotions originally experienced. Then we are simply re-expressing negativity, we are throwing more energy away, we are strengthening that certain undesirable something within ourselves. With enough repetition, this can become a negative attitude. This situation is actually far more common than the first.
We have all witnessed people describing their woes, and the intensity and passion with which they explain themselves. To describe an incident in one's past when one was negative dispassionately requires effort, because negativity is mechanical, and to avoid it, we have to cease being mechanical with respect to the circumstance that originally lead to our negativity. Often this involves changing our relationship to an event. It involves seeing something new, such as seeing that the person we are negative towards has done nothing unexpected---nothing we wouldn't have done in their shoes.
If we start to work in a group, we will certainly encounter and express negative emotions within that group. Sometimes we use work terminology to `score points', or to hurt people we are working with, or to impress the teacher. This occurs because the Work ideas have to enter through the lower parts of centres, and they become food for misuse by these parts in the same way as any other ideas does.
Another form of negativity is resentment of the teacher or the Work when things start to get harder for us. Seeing this negativity can help us see that going to meetings is not the same as being more awake. When we realise that all of our petty resentments and motivations appear in a group situation, just as in real life (if not more so), we will begin to realise that the Work is not in the meeting room or the teacher, but is inside.
- The Psychology of Man's Possible Evolution (Lecture 4), P. D. Ouspensky
- The Cosmology of Man's Possible Evolution (Lecture 5), P. D. Ouspensky