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Can You Control Your Emotions?

Updated: Apr 14, 2021

We often tend to judge the way we feel, telling ourselves that we should or shouldn't feel a certain way, but can we really control our emotions?

Can you control your emotions

It was a glorious Sunday morning and I was on my way to my Zen temple in New York. I was going through some challenging times in my life and I was feeling overwhelmed by my emotions. I was totally absorbed in my thoughts, asking myself why I felt a certain way and judging myself on how I shouldn't be feeling that way.

I went to the temple and we had our Sunday liturgy and Zazen (Zen sitting meditation). My mind was wandering a lot that morning. From time to time I would feel my emotions bubbling inside me, distracting me and taking away the focus I was trying to place on my breath.

I was trying to control my emotions so hard and not being able to do so was letting me feel as if I failed in something that I should be able to do.

Part of a Sunday Zen temple ceremony is something called Dharma talk. It is a talk given by a Zen Master, and interestingly, the talk that morning was on emotions.

The Zen Master started by asking:

Do you believe you can control your emotions?”

And then he paused and let people contemplate the answer. And then he asked another question, which was: “Have you ever been to a celebration not feeling completely happy and have you had moments in your life when you were supposed to feel sad and you didn’t?”

I asked myself these questions and the answers to both was a sound Yes. It was at that moment when I realized that we don’t control our emotions. And the moment I realized that, it was as if weight was lifted off my shoulders and my heart opened more. I felt an incredible feeling of self-acceptance, self-compassion and self-understanding. Emotions come and go like a wave and the only thing we are in control of is our response to these emotions, and the actions we take as a result of them.

Negative emotions

The main reason for the suffering we experience in our life is that we want things to be different.

Life is a sequence of moments. As we are experiencing these moments, we are consciously and subconsciously trying to avoid discomfort and get closer to comfort. Discomfort and comfort have different meaning for each of us and yet, the direction we move is either going away from something or going towards something else.

Whenever we feel ourselves experiencing or going through a challenging moment, instead of trying to go away and escape from it, we can pause and gently ask ourselves: “How can this situation be my teacher? What is it showing to me? How can I fully experience what I am experiencing right now without wishing it to be different? How can I allow what I'm going through right now to be a portal to a deeper self-discovery and connection with myself?”.

And once we ask all these questions, we can become quiet, and listen, and listen, and love ourselves. The answers will come. The quieter we become, the more we’ll be able to hear.

Positive emotions

When we are experiencing something positive, we tend to cling to that moment and we want it to last forever.

Whenever we experience a situation that makes us happy in one way or another, we have a tendency to replay that situation in our mind again and again, and we tend to want to recreate it. There is nothing wrong about remembering pleasant memories and wanting to be happy. At the same time, if we grasp onto these past memories too tightly, we are again living in the past. If we are trying too hard to recreate these happy moments again in the way they happened in our past, we might be losing the opportunity to experience even happier situation in our future.

The secret to making the most of such experiences is to acknowledge that we are enjoying a pleasurable and happy situation as it is happening, to be grateful for it, to be aware that it will not last forever and to give yourself permission to bask in the glory of that happiness for as long as it lasts, knowing and trusting that there will be even more, and even happier moments in your life.

In either of those cases we can't really control how we feel. How amazing is that and how human it makes us feel!

So, dear one, enjoy everything that you are feeling - now, tomorrow, next week and at any moment in the future, because we can't go into the same river twice, all moments are transient and all we have is the here and now, and what we make of it



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