How can we use our emotions positively on our spiritual path?

If your relationship is to, say, Christ, you could take a picture of Jesus and then think about the qualities of his life, and the qualities of his compassion, and the qualities of his beauty of being, and the qualities of his reminding people about God. You could look at that being, and it would generate in you, if you allow it, some emotional responses. These emotional responses are called relational. They are warm, human responses of love, of caring, of tenderness.

Then, if you stay with that picture of Jesus and keep being with Jesus, you will go beyond those into a deeper way of being with him, of just being with him in the presence sense. And that presence includes more and more of all of what is, all emotions all at once. But you go through the emotional doorway. You use your emotional heart as a vehicle for getting into that deeper way of being with God. That’s one way.

The other kinds of emotions that are generated, emotions like anger, sadness, the whole range of them – what one cultivates is a spaciousness or an awareness that allows you to acknowledge the feelings. It comes back to the word “appreciating” again. Acknowledge the feelings and allow them, and see them as part of the human condition. They’re all generated – they’re subtle thought forms, emotions are really subtle thought forms – and they all arise in response to something. They’re reactions that come. If someone does something, you have a certain emotional response, and you have a certain reactive domain that you get – you’re cultivating a quietness in yourself that just watches these things coming and going and arising and passing away.

You learn not to act out your emotions, but just to appreciate and allow them. That’s part of the way in which you use them spiritually. Spiritually, you don’t act out your emotions, you just acknowledge them. You don’t deny them though. You don’t push them down. You acknowledge that, “I’m angry,” but you don’t have to say, “Hey, I’m angry!” You acknowledge it; you don’t deny it. That’s the key.

So, the way you would use emotions is, in devotional practices, aiming them towards God. For the other kinds of emotional realms, you witness them and you sit with them, and you watch them change and come and go, and don’t deny them, and allow them; because that’s part of your human condition. When we talk about service, you will see how we deal with suffering, and you’ll see that it awakens intense emotions, and your heart is breaking, and you have to let your heart break. But you’ve cultivated another plane of reality, which is one that notices and allows it. A quality of equanimity that lies with it.

Emotions work best when you also have another plane that is not emotional, going simultaneously with it. Because getting lost in your emotional reactivity only digs your karma hole deeper. But allowing your humanity, that’s really a big part of it. Allowing your humanity.


-Ram Dass