Living Unbound: Dissolving Emotional Reactions In Reality

Our mind, through years of conditioning, has defined what it thinks is needed for us to be happy. We then define who we think we are with these thoughts. The mind works hard at keeping up its images, based on who it has been conditioned to think it is, and it becomes very unhappy when these images are threatened.

We’re  not talking about the basic, linear type of thinking that adds and subtracts and remembers grocery lists and birthdays. We’re talking about the mind that piles labels and stories on top of simple actuality: “If I don’t solve this algebra problem, I will fail my math test, and then I won’t get into any college; I’ll never get a job, and I’ll be a failure!”

Conditioning has us believe we cannot function without the mind. Guess who came up with that story? However, many of us have experienced driving to work, getting into our car and reaching the office, suddenly realizing we drove all the way without once thinking about the drive. We took left and right turns, stopped at stop signs and traffic lights, changed lanes, slowed down, sped up; yet we don’t consciously remember doing any of this.

The mind would like to think it runs our lives and has us convinced we cannot do anything beyond the boundaries of what its conditioning has defined for us. However, somehow we managed to get where we were going without the mind’s running commentary on our driving; though chances are good that our driving was on automatic because we were listening to mind’s commentary on other matters.

Similarly, we do manage to eat and breath and walk and sleep without the mind saying: “Okay, now take a bite, now chew, now breath in, now breath out now move the muscles to move your right leg, make sure the left arm moves with that”, and so on. Yet, thinking mind has us convinced that a thinking-based world is reality.

Separating emotions from mental labels:

The first thing we’ll begin to do, is to separate an emotion from the label that conditioned mind attaches to a situation. This is literally the key to discerning the real from the unreal, as you will soon experience for yourself.

We associate many thoughts and words with emotions arising. In fact, most emotions wouldn’t arise, and couldn’t persist for more than a moment or two, without conditioned thinking artificially preserving them. We generally don’t separate the emotional from thinking-mind’s evaluation about the situation, and so, we confuse the conditioned label with reality. For instance, we might say “I feel like a failure”.

Failure is not a feeling, failure is a concept. Conditioned mind has defined what it thinks success is, and when actual circumstances don’t fit into that definition, it applies a label: “failure”.

The first thing to do in order to become more conscious of all this, is to separate the emotion from the mind’s evaluation, and the evaluation from what is actually happening. This is very simple, and can actually become automatic before very long.

First, identify the emotion you’re feeling.

So, we can rephrase that statement to “I feel angry /sad/afraid/ashamed/disheartened because I am not making as much money as I think I should be making.

  • I feel angry/sad/ashamed = Emotion
  • Amount of money = Reality
  • Not enough = Label (Someone working in Wall Street may feel like a failure because she earns only $1 million per year, but feels she should make $10 million, like the truly successful people do. Many of the rest of us feel we should make a few thousand more than we do, and hence like a failure, and so, the label “not enough” is relative.)

Similarly, “I feel misunderstood“. 

Misunderstood is an evaluation; a label. This is an example of the mind deciding what level of understanding another person has of us, based on what we think constitutes “being understood”, and how this concept matches up with what conditioned thinking thinks should be taking place.

So a better way to say this would be, “I feel sad/annoyed/anxious because I feel people don’t understand what I am trying to say”.

  • I feel sad/annoyed = Emotion
  • What I say = Reality
  • People don’t understand = Label (What people understand and don’t is relative. The ways in which we are expecting them to understand us is relative. Both are based on conditioned thinking; our conceptual thinking, based on our lifetime of conditioning, and their conceptual thinking, based on their lifetime of conditioning.)

And so, as we go about our day, we will consciously try to separate and identify the emotion from the label the mind attaches to the situation. Doing this, we’ll soon notice our emotional reaction is virtually never, ever about what is actually taking place; our emotional reaction is always a reaction to the  label that conditioned thinking has used to filter the actual circumstance.

Right from the moment we wake up our emotions are determined by the thinking-mind labeling how it thinks the day is going to be, based on its conditioned memories and imagination. Thinking mind identifies the emotion that we have associated with what we think the day is going to be like: sad/happy/eager/excited/bored, and continues identifying the various emotions and labels experienced during the day, without ever being conscious of the fact that it is not reacting to actual circumstances but to its own labels.

  • I feel sad/angry/bored, etc. = Emotion
  • The events of the day = Reality
  • How I think the day is going to go = Label

If possible write them down; every time you feel an emotional reaction, note the emotion, the actuality and the label that caused the emotion. The mind has a way of distorting things when it thinks we understand its tricks, and so, writing down the reaction, the actual circumstance and the label that caused the emotional reaction is a very powerful technique for liberating ourself from the tyranny of conditioned thinking.

So this is our first step. Separate the emotion from the label, and the label from the actual circumstance.

How important is this?

It’s fundamental. The distance between where you think you are now, and Living Unbound, is measured almost entirely by emotional reactions to conditioned labels. Thinking is a useful tool, but it makes a truly terrible master. This simple technique will help restore the natural order of reality; the simple harmony of living in actuality.




Additional Practices: