Disturbing emotions not only disturb our own state of mind, they also disturb the minds of others. – Dalai Lama
What does that mean?
Our lives intersect the lives of others. When we are with others, if we have any empathy at all (most of us do, to some extent), we can get a sense of how the other person is feeling. Subtle clues and uncharacteristic actions, these can be indicators that we pick up and notice.
Once we have noticed, we have been influenced in some manner. What we choose to do after that is up to us. If they are happy, we can share in their joy, which enhances it. If they are sad, we can share in their sorrow, diminishing it.
Disturbing emotions, like hate and anger, can be felt just as clearly, and can influence others just as easily. When someone becomes very angry, you and all those around you can feel it, and are influenced by the disturbing emotion. This is what the saying means to me.
Why is emotion important?
I imagine you’ve either experienced it or seen it. Someone gets unexpected good news and becomes excited and happy, and pretty soon everyone around them is excited and happy. Ever been someplace droll with some friends and the stereotypical “bubbly personality” drops in? Pretty soon everybody is feeling chatty. The opposite is when someone gets unexpected bad news and suddenly everybody nearby is feeling bad, sad or otherwise pretty down.
This quote is about the flip side of the coin. Ever been at a party and have someone with a bad attitude stop by? Perhaps an ex-boyfriend or random drunk, but their arrival throws a wet blanket on the whole party. Everyone felt it, and their happiness had been disturbed.
Emotion is an electrical storm in our bodies. Our nerves and our senses can pick up on the feelings of others (some people do it better than others). When we have helpful emotions, others benefit from them. When our emotions are less helpful, others still are influenced.
Where can I apply this in my life?
I don’t believe we can live our entire life as a bright ray of sunshine for all the world. Life is a roller-coaster ride, with ups and downs. I believe the quote says basically the same thing. To me, the trick is how one deals with the inevitable negative emotions, the harmful emotions, the disturbing emotions.
I want to differentiate normal sadness, loss, grief and other “down” emotions from negative emotions. To me, sadness and happiness are part of the normal cycle of life, while negative emotions are not. That does not mean that negative emotions aren’t natural, but they have no place in normal life.
What do I mean by that? To me, anger, hate, vengeance and the other “deadly sin” emotions are a detriment to normal life. Yes, a flash of anger directed at the driver who cut you off is normal. Nursing that grudge for months, much less a week, is not. Feel the negative emotion, then let it go. Get on with your life, and smile. How often does an angry person smile?
I’m sure you have, either at work or as a kid, been in a situation where you were in a room and someone who was very upset walked in. For me, it was usually my dad when I’d acted up at school. I knew the moment mom told him. The whole atmosphere changed. You didn’t need to hear the conversation to understand the “disturbance in the force” (to mangle a Darth Vader quote).
I have also been in a few meeting rooms where people were chatting contentedly, waiting for the meeting to start, and even before the door opened, everyone knew something bad was coming. Whether it was an angry program manager, or a cancellation notice for the program, we could feel it from down the hall. I hope you’ve never been there.
Now imagine you’ve had a bad day and you’re fuming over some affront (real or imagined, it doesn’t matter, you’re angry!). How does your disturbing emotion impact the others in your immediate circle? How does your family react when you get home, did you just ruin what’s left of their day? Or perhaps you met with some friends at your favorite hangout. I bet you were popular, right?
In either case, you were impacting the emotional state and the mindset of other people, right? Was that a very nice thing to do? I know, sometimes you just need someone to listen to you while you vent, but you’re still a world class downer in the mean time, aren’t you?
For me, the proper path is to let go of the hurt that underlies the anger. Perhaps they didn’t know what they were doing. Perhaps they did, but you’re going to be the better person by ignoring their bad behavior. Or you refuse to sink to their level. Perhaps you feel pity for someone so screwed up that they think that what they did somehow scored “points” for them. Forgive and forget. What works for you?
By letting go of the point of origin, you can more easily let go of the emotion. And by releasing the disturbing emotion, you not only free your emotions and your mind, but you free those around you as well. We are all connected in some way I don’t understand. I try not to be part the problem for anyone else. How about you?