For a long time scientists believed your emotions are already a part of your cerebral make-up at birth, that they’re already intrinsic to your brain’s structure, — but they aren’t! They’re constructed through your continuing responses to life experiences. You have more authority over regulating your emotional reality than you might believe. Emotions are not built into your brain; you cultivate them as your means for reacting to difficult or promising life situations. They’re not predispositions, they’re learned modalities. Your emotions are forged out of estimations, suspicions, and hunches; they’re your best guess scenarios for how to react to challenging circumstances. They’re the result of guesses that develop through your remembrance of how you dealt with past hopes and defenses. These chosen responses then form into reactive emotional layers, or emotive overlays that rule your present. Your remembered past encounters with charged events call up your past chosen reactions to serve as your mode for being with whatever is.

Whether or not you are aware of it, you always have a choice on how to respond. You can be a victim to your emotional drivers, or you can change the program. Emotional reactions are out of your control only when your pre-programmed response mechanisms in your brain track distinct neural routes that trigger automatically, beyond your consent, most often during present or potential challenging situations that remind you of comparable past circumstances.

It’s possible you honestly hope to change your emotional ways. Or, maybe you’ve learned to rely on your emotions and have established them as essential coveted reactions that support you in being, — “the way I am.” You might indeed secretly prefer to be a crybaby to being in control or rational, as it gives you a way to be a victim, — that helpless person you’ve come to identify with. Your crying or misery may have become your way of surviving in difficult situations, serving as your means for calling to you the things you need through sympathy or support from others.

Maybe you secretly enjoy losing your temper, —your emotional outbursts of anger giving you control over others. Or, maybe your anger gets you out of doing things you don’t want to do. These emotional response scenarios always have a past story attached to them. “I’m this way because of this or that happened to me!” The unseen driver in these situations is your believed identity, — “who am I?” Or, “who am I striving to become?” Once you believe you are someone, or hope to be someone, your emotions are manufactured to serve or defend those motivations.

The way you are doesn’t just happen through your response to any single event. The way you express yourself is built over time, through repeatedly affirming chosen responses to similar life experiences. Your brain responds to repetition through soft wiring neural pathways that act as your constructed mental modalities. Eventually, you may not even know that you’re acting out as a victim, or as that out of control angry person. Your neural emotional maps do it all for you. Fortunately, the brains capacity for creating neural pathways can also work for you. The feature for change is the same fundamental method that created your habituated emotional responses, — repetition.

The first step to changing your emotional programing is to step back mentally through becoming self aware, through developing your meta-cognitions, — being aware of what your awareness is focused on. The more often you accomplish that, the easier it becomes. Remember, repetition soft wires your brain. Eventually, with enough practice at being self aware, you automatically favor self-awareness over mindless reactions. The second step to changing your automated emotional programming is to use your meta-cognitions as a means to feel your emotions without prejudice of preference: Just feel the emotions, with no resistance, and no judgment. The key ingredients here are a humble, honest and open receptivity to what is. Favor listening sincerely over emotional indulgence. Once you can feel the emotion sincerely, you can take your third step — discriminate. What does it feel like when you give up all resistance to the emotion, without indulging in it? If you accomplish this phase, the emotion may actually disappear altogether, leaving you with an empty space where it once was that can serve as a question in your mind. The fourth step is to listen carefully through your capacity to feel honestly for an alternate way of responding to the situation that called up your emotion; for a response that bears no weight on your heart. If your feelings dream up a positive, freeing response, you’ll sense an associated lightness of being that promises joy in its actualization. If that doesn’t happen, — listen a little longer. There’s always an arrow in the healing process. Once you’ve found it, take your fifth step, —act on it! This act is the beginning of your new neural mapping, and the path to creating emotional freedom.

If you commit to your meta-cognitions, you can through deliberate self-attentiveness recreate a potential response to what is, through not acting on the programmed or automated feedback. But, not through refusing the emotion, as that would only worsen you’re emotional pressures. Instead, favoring an alternative response, a conscious response that can set you on a fresh path to a positive life expression.

Text by Aaravindha Himadra, written on a retreat on Orcas Island

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