IN my last piece of this column, titled “The Heart Is Superior To The Brain”, I’ve posited the thought that one ought to pursue the path of the heart, being the ruling organ.
It behooves inferring then that we take due diligence in whatever we fill our heart with – because whatever we sow in our heart, we reap.
If we sow anger, no denying we reap a host of undesirable (or even fatal) effects – increased levels of cortisol (stress hormone), rise in body temperature and blood pressure, cognitive ability is depleted, decreased immune system efficiency, cancer and other diseases, and worse, we might end up killing the person who is the object of our anger.
A couple of years ago whilst I was yet in my former job, I experienced being backstabbed with some malicious lies by a colleague and a friend at that.
This colleague of mine, apparently jealous of my impressive performance and good relations with my boss, concocted some petty malicious allegations against me and spread them behind my back.
I only came to know about his treachery belatedly when I already transferred to another employment.
Upon knowing about the malicious hearsays through some common friends and unable then to confront him anymore, I was admittedly raging in anger.
Inevitably as it seemed, I imagined purposely going to my former colleague, suing or filing a case against him, invoking the heavens to annihilate him, or even outrightly killing him. There was real anger in me.
For quite a time, I harbored such animosity in my heart, and every time his face comes to my mind, my blood pressure shoots up and I start imagining all forms of misfortune befalling on him. Seemingly, not even my long years of seminary formation could assuage my anger.
Until I came across, on You Tube, Gregg Braden, American scientist and New York Times’ bestselling author known for bridging science and spirituality, expounding a heart-based mindfulness exercise to create life-affirming emotions like compassion or gratitude.
Thus, following Braden’s formula, I tried to imagine my former colleague, “placed” him in my heart, and replaced my feeling of anger for him with compassion.
Having in mind the literal meaning of the word “compassion” which is “to suffer together”, I started trying to “understand” my colleague’s behavior, situation or “suffering”.
Mind you, this gave me that “Aha!” moment. It paved the way for me, not only “understanding” my former colleague’s plight, but also FORGIVING him. Healing thus ensued.
From my experience, I’ve realized how preciously exigent it is to get rid of negative emotions in our heart.
In psychology, Robert Plutchik (1980), in his “Wheel of Emotions” theory, generally identifies 8 basic emotions: joy, trust, fear, surprise, sadness, anticipation, anger, and disgust.
Plutchik further paired these emotions according to opposites: Anger is the opposite of Fear; Disgust, the opposite of Trust; anticipation, opposite of Surprise; and Sadness, of Joy.
Examples of negative emotions are: Anger, Annoyance, Fear, Anxiety, Sadness, Guilt, Apathy, and Despair.
Inarguably, as I’ve already stated in passing in the opening lines of this piece, negative emotions can verily cause an avalanche of hideous effects to our health – high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, immune system deficiency, cancer (some studies show the correlation of anger with breast cancer in women and prostate cancer in men), etc. – our relationships, and our well-being.
But, getting rid of negative emotions does not necessarily mean that we have to kick or push them away. Psychologists generally agree that negative emotions are an incredibly normal, healthy and helpful part of life.
As humans, we will experience a full range of emotions throughout our lifetime in response to rapidly changing situations.
No emotion is without a purpose. It’s when we begin to explore and understand the purpose behind each emotion that we learn new ways to respond and support our emotional growth and sense of well-being.
Elaine Mead, in her article in positivepsychology.com, enumerates some five proven benefits of negative emotions, namely: 1) sadness can help you pay more attention to detail; 2) anger can be a strong motivator to seek mediation; 3) anxiety encourages new ways of approaching problems and challenges; 4) guilt helps you change negative behavior; 5) jealousy motivates you to work harder.
Similarly, Arthur C. Brooks, American social scientist and Harvard professor, in his biweekly column in The Atlantic titled “How to Build a Life”, aptly wrote:
“If we want a life full of deep meaning, true love, and emotional strength, it’s going to involve the risk of discomfort, conflict, and loss.
This means there will be sadness, fear, anger, and disgust. If we eliminate negative emotions and experiences from our lives, we will be poorer and weaker for having done so.”
No doubt, negative emotions do cause stress. But again, solving the problem is not only removing the stress – it is only part of the solution.
More than just overcoming negative emotions or simply removing stress, it is wisely imperative to replace them (or re-fill our heart) with positive ones.
Thus, Bruce Lipton, American stem cell biologist and bestselling author of “The Biology of Belief”, rightly put it:
“Stress hormones shut off the immune system. So stress causes diseases in people.
But the solution is not simply removing stress. If I just remove stress from my life, where am I on the scale? It’s zero. If you want wellness, it’s not just the absence of stress. More importantly, you need the joy and the love to go and to grow. So, stress alone is not the problem. What we need is more love, more life and happiness.”