8 Steps for Working with Emotions

Life is too short to live on the surface all the time. Our depths are where all the richness is, even though it can be scary to dwell there. My Zen practice is about being brave and doing things that are hard to do. My Hula practice is just the same. Much inner growth can come from the practice of fearlessness. I'm not saying that anxiety doesn't ever arise. It does, but there is a way to work with it.

I've been learning about emotions and how they are designed to alert and move us to do something. If an emotion "gets stuck," a mood can settle over us. Regulating emotions isn't about repressing them or acting them out. It's about recognizing and working skillfully with them when they arise. There are eight core emotions: anger, sadness, fear, shame, jealousy, disgust, happiness and love.

And there are 8 steps to help you regulate these emotions.

  • First, identify the emotion
  • Second, rate the intensity on a scale from 1 to 10.
  • Third, identify the trigger—the situation from which the emotion arose.
  • Fourth, notice the interpretation—what you tell yourself about what happened.
  • Fifth, check how your body feel about what occurred.
  • Sixth, note the actions you want to take.
  • Seventh, note the actions you actually took.
  • Eight, notice the aftereffects.

Next, apply these basic steps to your emotions by writing them down in a journal.

Last week, at my writing group, we had an opportunity to write for five minutes on four questions. There we could read our responses aloud if we wanted to. There questions could be answered deeply or superficially—either was ok. Here were the questions:

  • What is an important goal for you?
  • What is something very fun that you'd like to do in your remaining time on earth?
  • What helps you bear the cold days of early spring?
  • Write about an important personal issue.

I decided to be brave and go deep with my writing—though five minutes isn't much time to write about subjects that could easily take much longer. But I felt safe diving deeply because I've been meeting with this group of women monthly for several years now.

When I returned home that evening, I felt that something had opened in me. I felt so energized. I decided to do the 8 step process and write in my journal. It was quite revealing. The trigger for my happiness was my feeling that this group of women listened deeply with empathy to thoughts I've revealed to few.

The power of listening is such a gift to others. I felt so nourished by how they listened without judgment or a misplaced desire to "fix me." What a wonderful way to transform the feeling of a cold wintry evening into a bright warm dawn.

Malama pono (take care of body, mind and heart),

Sensei June Ryushin Tanoue