Working with Scattered Emotions

By George A. Boyd © 2022

Q: I have been noticing my emotions are becoming scattered after doing meditation. What can I do to remedy this?

A: Scattered emotions occur when you are attempting to reconcile different points of view. They are common when, for example, you may have joined a new spiritual group and it has different morality, cosmology, and spiritual aims than the former group to which you belonged. What has to happen is you need to establish a synthesis that allows you to hold each divergent perception in context, and to discern when each perception is appropriate.

Q: I sense that my emotions have deep roots, but I cannot penetrate to their core. It is like a barrier presents itself to me when I try to get to the bottom of my emotions. Am I blocking or sabotaging myself in some way?

A: There are seven major layers of emotions. Most people get stuck at the fourth layer, when they hit the wall of their defenses. It’s important to grasp the range of your emotions:

  1. Reactive emotions – At this level, environmental stimuli trigger emotional reactions. For example, you find yourself getting mad at someone who cuts you off when you are driving.
  2. Retrospective emotions – At this level, you are reacting to an event in your lived experience. You commonly experience this level as regret for something you did or said, or getting mad at yourself for doing something stupid. The marker of this level is you are ruminating about something that happened in your past.
  3. Motivational emotions – These are the desire-laden emotions that motivate you to carry out action. These emotions drive you to seek out pleasure, reward, or happiness, or press for successful achievement of something you desire. For example, you might strongly desire to visit the Grand Canyon in Arizona: you are counting the days until you can take your trip.
  4. Defensive emotions – These emotions arise when you attempt to hide specific behavior about which you feel ashamed, or when you attempt to fend off attacks on your character or reputation. For example, you might deny that you were at a party where a crime took place, because you are afraid you might be accused of wrong doing and arrested.
  5. Core emotional pain – These emotions reside in your personal unconscious, or Shadow. They contain the core issues of emotional pain that take the form of shame, guilt, rage, desires for revenge, fear, lack of trust (paranoia), self-hatred, and wanting to die (suicidal ideation). For example, you might recognize your alcohol drinking is beginning to spin out of control, but you keep this a secret from others—the defensive layer of emotions may deny, distract, minimize, or rationalize your behavior to keep others from knowing you are an alcoholic.
  6. Altruistic emotions – These emotions come from your deeper nature; they transcend the core emotional pain of the personality. They are founded upon love, kindness, compassion, and caring. These emotions become a part of the expression of virtuous character. For example, you might find an injured dog and nurse it back to health.
  7. Sacred emotions – These emotions connect you with your spirit and your Soul, The emotions that arise from the spirit include devotional love, gratitude, faith, and spiritual longing to return to God. Emotions that arise from the Soul are unconditional love, compassion, mercy, courage, and munificence. Sacred emotions emerge in meditation and prayer. For example, you might worship God when you are in your religious gathering.

Many meditators can readily recognize reactive, retrospective, and motivational emotions arising when they monitor their emotions. When they hit the layer of defensive emotions, however, they may feel like they are hitting a wall or barrier.

This emotional wall aims to protect you from becoming aware of the core issues that make up your emotional pain. Some people experience anxiety, nervousness, and discomfort when they try to move through this layer of the emotions.

If you can transcend this layer of resistance, you can directly encounter your deep wounds, and can begin to heal them. In Mudrashram®, we have our students use Emotional Vipassana, the Mandala Method, Process Meditation, and the Rainbow Technique to work with these issues that dwell in the Shadow. We teach these techniques in our intermediate meditation courses, the in-person Mudrashram® Master Course in Meditation and the by-mail and online Accelerated Meditation Program.

In many spiritual groups, they teach you methods to assist you to move your attention beyond the Shadow, and they focus you on developing a virtuous character, being of service to others, and expressing your sacred emotions. We teach several of these methods to transcend the issues of your Shadow in our intermediate meditation courses.

Q: What layer do scattered emotions come from?

A: We like to use a different model when explaining scattered emotions. Instead of layers, you may wish to consider the seven postures of emotions, which examines the interface between emotions and how they influence your behavior. These seven emotional postures are:

  1. Focused – When you operate in this posture, you know what you want and you go for it directly.
  2. Scattered – This posture arises when you are in conflict about what is the right thing to believe, or the right thing to do.
  3. Defensive – You adopt this posture when you perceive that you are under attack: you believe that your body, possessions, family or loved ones, your livelihood, or your reputation are threatened.
  4. Playful – You may enter this emotional posture when you are having fun: you engage in playful banter and you may tell jokes and puns.
  5. Dramatic – You slip into this posture when you feel you must strongly advocate or argue for something you believe in. In this posture you may defend your own point of view and attack the viewpoint of others; alternately, you may attempt to persuade others to adopt your point of view. When you are operating in this posture, you speak with urgency and poignancy, as you are protecting what you hold is meaningful and important to you.
  6. Serenity – When your emotions settle down, you move into this posture. Here your emotions are calm and peaceful. You are present and mindful. You experience living in the present moment.
  7. Exultation – You move into this posture when great art or music uplifts you, when you experience the beauty and majesty of Nature, or when you have a spiritual “peak experience,” where you feel that you are one with the Cosmos.

We say that aspirants and disciples commonly work on reactive emotions (layer one), retrospective emotions (layer two), defensive emotions (layer four), and core emotional pain (layer five). They aspire to increase the amount of time they can devote to developing good character (layer six) and to channel their sacred emotions (layer seven) through ministry and service.

They strive to work out and transcend the conflict of scattered emotions (posture two) and the stress of defensive emotions (posture three), and spend more time in the emotional outlook of serenity (posture six) and experience the ecstasy of exultation (posture seven).

Q: Are there specific things I might do to work with these layers and postures?

A: For working with the troublesome layers of emotions, there are some things you can do:

  • Reactive emotions – Monitor your behavior, and notice what triggers you. Dialog with the part of you that reacts and get to the bottom of its concern—Rainbow Technique is helpful for this.
  • Retrospective emotions – Use Process Meditation to work out these issues; identify what you could have done better, and forgive yourself for any mistakes you made.
  • Defensive emotions – Identify what is under attack. Take steps to lower you risk and get out of harm’s way when this is possible. Diffuse your reactions of anger and revenge through Process Meditation and Mandala Method.
  • Core emotional pain – You can use Emotional Vipassana, Mandala Method, Process Meditation, and Rainbow Technique to engage each specific issue. If these core emotions are too overwhelming to work with using these self-help methods, you may wish to seek out psychotherapy.

For difficult emotional postures, you can use the following approaches:

  • Scattered – Identify what are the conflicting beliefs, values, desires, and perspectives. Use dialog methods like Voice Dialog, Gestalt two-chair methods, Psychodrama, or the Synthesis Method to identify both polarities of the conflict. Use the Synthesis Method to identify what transcendent synthesis satisfies the conflict and finds a way to honor both perspectives—this creates, as it were, a win-win scenario, where the conflict is resolved.
  • Defensive – Identify a course of action that allows you to navigate out of the threatening position in which you find yourself. It is important to find ways to resolve your situation that do not involve lying, deceptive, violent, or criminal behavior. Working with a trained counselor can help you identify workable solutions that do not make your situation worse.

Realize that the immortal core of your nature—your attentional principle, spirit, and Soul—transcend your emotional pain and conflict. When you can shift into operating from these higher perspectives, you can work on your emotional issues, and you can express the deeper levels of altruistic and sacred emotions—and you can function more often from the emotional posture of serenity and commune with the inner wellspring of bliss and joy through exultation.

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