It sucks, doesn’t it?
You’re having an innocent conversation when the topic shifts. Then you start to feel a wee bit uncomfortable…
You suspect you’re being challenged in some way, and notice your defenses begin to rise.
Then, boom! Suddenly, you’re in full-on fight or flight mode.
Your hands start to shake and blood rushes to your face. Or maybe you get a burning lump in your throat that makes it impossible to speak.
You want to cry, or scream, or slink away and hide.
You known your reaction is unreasonable. But you can’t seem to turn off the torrent of debilitating thoughts and emotions.
Yes indeed, your “buttons” have been pushed. The ones that expose all those old, unresolved wounds. The ones that make you feel threatened, scared, and out of control.
Well, take heart. Emotional baggage is nothing new and there are simple solutions.
Crush the drama
At one time, I packed around trunkloads of the stuff.
I felt inadequate, trapped, and vulnerable. So my solution was to play small and avoid attention.
When that didn’t make me feel better, I turned to self-medication — demon alcohol my drug of choice.
Sure, it provided a little false courage, but it also made me behave like an ass. Dependency soon followed, along with all the usual consequences. A failed marriage, lost jobs, needy relationships, and mountains of shame.
When my issues began to affect my young son, I knew I couldn’t continue in the same vein. I took a long, hard look at their impact on his future if I didn’t get my shit together.
It was an ugly sight.
But it brought me clarity. His happiness was more important than my addiction. And that gave me the strength and courage to change.
I started on the self-discovery path, attended 12-step meetings and learned to meditate. And I devoured every book that might help with recovery. From comparative religion to hypnosis and psychology to quantum mechanics.
What I discovered was a common thread running throughout.
A thread that all the ancient masters and philosophers learned to weave into their lives.
They developed practices and rituals that liberate our mind from the painful past. And in these practices, opened a portal to a natural state of freedom and happiness.
Their lessons led me to a new world. A world of exciting careers, healthy relationships, fitness, prosperity, and a rich spirit.
Today, the past still tries to intrude, but I can quickly shake it off. Here’s what I learned to crush the drama of emotional baggage.
1. Uncover the hidden agenda of anger
Chronic, unreasonable anger is a secondary emotion that covers raw, primary emotions. Typically, ones that make us feel vulnerable or threatened, like fear or scarcity.
Its hidden hook is to create a surge of energy that gives a temporary sense of power and control. But the effects are short-lived and do nothing to address the underlying emotions.
And until the primary emotions are healed, your behaviour remains the same.
The Buddha teaches that anger is one of the “three poisons.” Thoughts and feelings that create the full gamut of human suffering.
He also provides an antidote for poisonous anger. The cultivation of attitudes beneficial to yourself and others, such as:
Compassion shows our similarities. That we all desire the same things — to feel safe, protected, loved, appreciated, and valued.
It reveals our likeness, and diminishes differences.
Forgiveness recognizes that the problem isn’t outside. It’s within our faulty perceptions.
And it relieves us of the burden of judgement — a task only the Omniscient can perform accurately.
Loving-kindness produces experiences that help us dissolve harsh negativity and soften our hearts.
It opens us to the reality that it’s our own thoughts that create inner pain, not the actions of others.
The beauty of the three antidotes is that they heal the underlying emotions.
And with practice, you’ll be free from the need to create the situations that caused your anger in the first place.
2. Flush away fear with a fresh vision
Imaginary fears are typically made by anticipating a future worse than today. Or through the process of conditioning. That’s when we learn to be anxious about things that have no inherent danger.
In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu tells us that fear is a phantom that arises from thinking of the self. And, that “There is no greater illusion than fear.”
To break free of this phantom, he advises us to develop a new perspective. A vision that doesn’t see the self as self.
In other words, you need to envision and develop your best self. The one that’s trustworthy, confident, and able to cope — a self that’s bigger than your fears.
Once you have a clear vision of your best self, you can begin to expose yourself to fearful situations. Gradually, of course.
You’ll accumulate evidence of your ability to cope, and start to believe the vision. Then you’ll start to see yourself as confident.
And when you’re confident, you can push through any fear. A good thing, because there’s a treasure-house of wealth waiting behind them.
3. Bust the BS of your inner critic
No doubt you’re familiar with the inner critic.
It’s that nagging voice that constantly puts you down. The one that shows up when you’re under pressure, look in the mirror, or fail to reach a goal.
Harsh and relentless, it’s superb at making you feel inadequate and incompetent.
Often the by-product of childhood trauma, it’s an identity thief. It steals your authority and determines your thoughts, feelings, and actions.
But, it’s not you.
It’s the voice of the small, egoic self you invented for protection. And most of what it says is pure BS.
Listen closely to hear its convoluted gibberish. Inaccurate snippets from the past mixed with catastrophic fantasies of the future. It’s utter nonsense.
The Vedas give us a practice to break the illusion of identification with, or attachment to, the ego. Mindfulness.
It develops focus in the present moment. You become aware of your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations while tuning out the ego. And when aware, you can direct your thoughts to the choices that nurture your greatest welfare.
The Vedas suggest meditation (plus ayurveda and yoga) to develop mindfulness.
Meditation let’s us observe the parade of critical thoughts and negative emotions. And to hear the difference between the voices of the inner critic and your authentic self.
It’s like a mild, cosmic tranquilizer. It reduces fear, reactivity, anxiety, and urgency. It produces a tranquil, but alert, mind to brush off the BS — so you can get on with what’s important.
4. Toss out your rule book and kiss guilt goodbye
Imaginary guilt comes from the idea that you’re not living up to expectations. Or that you’re personally responsible for the damage/unhappiness/disappointment of others.
When guilt rises, somewhere in your mind, you believe you’ve broken an important rule.
Like other emotional baggage, most of our rules originate in childhood.
They colour our perception with someone else’s ideas. And they run in the background of your mind as automatic thoughts. Which are usually prefaced with “I should.” As in, I should be better/thinner/smarter/richer…
But the question that needs asking is, says who?
The Stoics understood that perception is inherently judgemental. We use it to give meaning to our world. Because any object or event or relationship is neutral in itself — we alone give it meaning. Which is largely based on our rules.
To escape the pain of intangible guilt, you must toss out the old, hand-me-down rules. And write new ones aligned with your life and your goals.
Use mindfulness to watch and challenge rule-bound automatic thoughts.
Release the ones that produce unnecessary guilt. Then replace them with new rules that restore your personal control.
5. Reverse the painful burden of regret
Based in the past, regret is a combination of emotions and thought patterns. A combo that constantly replays the mistakes of previous choices.
It dwells on dissatisfying results and on the choices that you could’ve/should’ve made — a.k.a. lost opportunities. It’s an act of resistance to current circumstances and prevents you from moving forward.
To reverse this resistance and create a regret-free future, practice acceptance. It frees your mind from the bog of impossible what-ifs.
Many ancient manuscripts encourage the potent act of acceptance. Epictetus’ “dichotomy of control” is a standard-bearer for the practice.
He states that what you did or didn’t do in the past is no longer within your power to control. But, what is in your sphere of control are the choices that you make in this moment.
Acceptance requires letting go of the need to be right all the time. Remember, you’re only right according to your own perception. In any given moment, there’s over seven billion other versions of the same event.
Acceptance, and letting go of being right, let’s you do our best in the here and now. It frees your attention for wholehearted engagement in the present moment. And naturally, this creates a better future.
Don’t mistake acceptance for weakness or resignation. It’s an active choice. One that changes focus, releases the past, and frees your energy to deal with the issues that you can control.
6. Heal the secret sickness of shame
One of the most corrosive emotions, shame is loaded with internal accusations. That you’re fatally flawed, unworthy of love, and incapable of fitting in.
It isolates you and convinces you that you’re incorrigible, beyond help or redemption.
Shame’s excruciating mantra is “I am bad.”
And being too ashamed to admit feeling shame, you hide it from the world and yourself.
You become deceitful, playing right into shame’s strength.
Its destructive powers grow in deception and secrecy. And often manifests as addictions, aggression, bullying, depression, eating disorders, and violence.
In the Book of Luke, Jesus was teaching to a crowd where a woman hid. Hemorrhaging uncontrollably, she was considered unclean and shameful. So, in secrecy, she touched Jesus’ robe.
Knowing His power had extended, He forced the issue, demanding to know who had touched Him. With nowhere to hide, the woman had to admit why she reached for Him.
He made her speak her shame out loud.
Not to make her feel more ashamed, but because He understood the healing power of confession.
Confession involves owning your shameful thoughts and feelings, then sharing them. With someone you trust of course , not on social media.
This creates a connection with another human being. It helps you accept your own humanity. And it exposes the fear at the heart of shame — that of disconnection and exclusion.
Connection is crucial to well-being. It builds self-compassion. And releases the compulsion to hide behind numbing, aggressive, or destructive behaviour.
Once you expose your secret shame, its control dissolves.
Tap into the liberating influence of confession with someone you can trust. Like a therapist, counselor, teacher, spiritual leader, support group, or good friend.
7. Step out of stress and walk away from worry
Stress and worry have become normal in today’s fast-paced lives. And when the pressure’s on, time for our personal health and fitness is often the first to be sacrificed.
The Stoic poet Juvenal coined the term “a healthy mind in a healthy body.” And he gave it top position in a list of virtues to be sought for a life of peace.
Modern science concurs with Juvenal’s assertions. There are multitudes of studies that link regular exercise to good health. It’s known to improve fitness, promotes disease prevention, and aids mental and psychological well being.
Regular aerobic exercise decreases tension and improves mood, self-esteem, and sleep. Even just a 10-minute walk can begin to relieve anxiety and depression.
For a healthy body and healthy mind, make exercise a priority.
Strive for daily exercise, fresh air, adequate sleep, and a healthy diet. Start small and build your practice over a period of 3–6 months until it’s routine.
The way forward
“Non sum quails eram.” That’s Latin and means, “I am not what I used to be.”
It’s the motto I had engraved on my one-year AA chip. I like it because it stands for my choice to create a new life, sober and free of emotional baggage.
Because ultimately, the most profound ritual is to exercise the power of choice.
You can choose to continue to feel miserable, a slave to the imaginary demons of the past.
Or you can choose to declare your independence and live with personal strength and power. A joyous example of freedom and achievement for those you love and care about.
The choice to be free of the past was the best I’ve made. It turned my life around. And best of all, today my son is a delightfully happy, healthy, and confident young man.
I hope you see the value in dumping your emotional baggage too.
Learn the ancient happiness rituals. Apply them daily. Receive the rewards.
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