I often get asked about the relationship between emotions and disease. There is a lot of interest in the subject and many people intuitively know that there is a close relation between how they feel and their state of health.
To me the short answer is – emotions may have a significant role to play in the development of a disease, but they are not the cause. The cause of a disease is what creates the imbalance in the first place – mostly a desire to hold on to things or people and of not wanting to change.
Emotions are interesting and very complex constructs. We all have so called primary emotions, which are survival tools that help us fulfil our needs for food, water, oxygen and procreation. They are fear, anger and grief – but also joy and love. Primary emotions are very strong and they motivate us to action. Based on these primary emotions are secondary and tertiary emotions – more organised constructs, that are controlled by a higher developed part of the brain. What happens is that the ego is using the capacity of the body to generate emotions – which literally means “to move out of something” for it’s own purposes. And at the core of each egoic reaction is a fixation – a “desire” – a want, not a need.
So for example, anger may be the primary emotion that enables us to find the strength to pull out of a dangerous situation. Rage on the other hand is a secondary emotion that is using the ability of the body to produce the emotion “anger” for an imagined purpose – for example to avoid feelings of fear or insufficiency. Jealousy could be called a tertiary emotion, rooted in a fear of being left behind and creating a whole story around why we would be more entitled to receive the attention than another person.
Emotions are not feelings, but they are related to them. In fact, emotions make use of feelings, to colour their purpose. Basically there are only 3 kinds of feelings – positive, negative and neutral. Joy feels pleasant, fear feels unpleasant. Our tendency is to move away from what we experience as painful – that is the instinct nature is giving us. However, the desire to move towards the pleasant, more agreeable is a desire of our egoic mind and translates into “searching” or not accepting what is. It is the basis for the process of ego formation, which takes a desire – an “I want that” or “ I do not want that” and builds a reaction around it. When we touch something fiery hot, the body uses the feeling of pain as a signal and the dynamic emotion of anger will enable us to quickly pull away. Later it uses the emotion of fear to solidify what we have learned – fire is hot, don’t get too close to it.
This is simply an evolutionary impulse, a survival mechanism to keep us sound and safe. It is an instinctual action based on a need.
But the egoic mind – which is another word for “me” – has also learned that the pleasant is a much nicer feeling than just neutral and has become addicted to it. Neutral is perceived a boring for the mind and not desirable. More so, an unpleasant feeling is to be avoided at all cost. So it overrides the natural vacillation between feelings of unpleasant – neutral – pleasant in favour of a desire – and a search – for the latter, oblivious to the fact that a grasping for the pleasant always conditions the unpleasant. So in order to justify the addiction for what is perceived as pleasurable, the unpleasant that goes with it is being largely being ignored or avoided. This is an illusionary state, it is not based on what is real or true – and it means that on some level of our being we are in resistance.
Resistance translates into contraction. It is a biochemical reaction on cell level and a whole cascade of energetic, emotional, mental and physical changes. Another word for resistance is stress. A stress reaction is nothing else but a putting up resistance and responding with a fight or flight reaction. The instinctual survival mechanism uses a stress reaction to pull out of danger and the egoic mind uses the same reaction to get what it wants.
The physical, mental, emotional and energetic changes of a stress reaction when we encounter a sudden obstacle on the road while driving are the same as those we experience when we experience a conflict with a superior at work. In the first instance the stress response may last a few seconds, in the second example it may last days, weeks and months and even tough it may not be perceived as strongly, it adds on to all the other conflicts we accumulate in a lifetime.
So being in contraction means that life energy, blood and emotions cannot flow freely. They become stagnant, create disturbances and after a while they result in functional changes. This can go on for a long time, as the body is a marvellous intelligence that can compensate for our foolishness. But when we listen to our body, we sense a feeling of unease. Something is not right, something does not flow or something feels blocked. It is just that our egoic wish of wanting what is pleasurable, even at the cost of feeling a little queasy, might persuade us to just ignore these signals and tell us things like “ no gain without pain” and we come to think this is normal. However, if the feeling gets stronger, we may use food, alcohol, nicotine or other distractions to avoid it further.
And this is how emotions and the origin of symptoms or even a disease is related. Please understand that I have over-simplified to paint the picture – it is far more complicated than that, but I have come to the conclusion, that indeed – this is what is on the bottom of it: an egoic drive for what is perceived as pleasant, ignoring the unpleasant. This is what is called the illusion and to create and uphold the illusion, the egoic mind has learned to make use of all the miraculous and awesome possibilities of our body.
Letting go means becoming aware of all of this. Seeing it and accepting it – letting go is the opposite of ego-formation. It does not grasp – it releases. It is the answer of how to deal with damaging emotions. But that’s another story.