Staying emotionally ‘clean’ is important for disease prevention. That means letting emotions come and go while giving them expression in the appropriate time and place. It means not ignoring them until they become suppressed or letting one ‘hang around’ too long. Emotional hygiene is just as vital as eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep and exercising.
Rumi’s poem “The Guest House” is a perfect poetic interpretation of this:
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
For some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
In the course of our day, we can expect to feel a full range of emotions: anger, sadness, worry, fear, and joy. Physical symptoms are sure to arise if these are suppressed and we never feel anything. Getting stuck in one particular emotion is just as harmful. It is like a piece of fish that is old and begins to contaminate everything around it.
In either kind of emotional imbalance, our thoughts can become distorted. We might lash out at someone for no apparent reason or laugh or cry at inappropriate times. I am not a psychologist, but Chinese Medicine incorporates the emotions into the etiology of disease. Therefore, I am well versed in how emotional dysfunction can create dis-ease on a physical and mental level.
Make a mental note of your emotions for a full day. When you feel angry, instead of acting on it (which is the natural tendency), stop and take three breaths. While doing so, notice any physical sensations you are experiencing. Become aware of your thoughts. See how long your anger stays, and notice when it leaves. Throughout the day, do the same for sadness, joy, fear, and worry. You might want to keep a journal and record your emotional states over the course of a day, week or even month. It could be something you do at the end of the day or in the morning.
This practice allows us to become familiar with the emotions that keep us grounded in our humanity. They help us make choices for our highest good and best interest. Emotional hygiene means ‘sweeping our house’ of emotional stagnation. This could mean talking to a friend, going for a vigorous walk, or attending a play. It could also mean seeking help from a qualified professional counselor or a spiritual adviser. Before we can take any action, we must be aware of the need for it.
Let me know how it goes. Perhaps you have your own way of becoming conscious of your emotional barometer. If so, it would be interesting to hear what it is.