Emotional intelligence requires the capacity to feel our emotions, the ability to express them effectively, and the ability to distinguish between emotions related to the present and the past as well as those created by the cravings and fears of ego-identification. This level of awareness requires discernment between needs that are genuine and require satisfaction, in addition to awareness of desires based on ego-identification’s cravings that cannot be satisfied.
We wake up from the mind by disidentifying with our thoughts, stories, and beliefs. By contrast, to have freedom from the grip of emotional identification, awake awareness has to wake in and embrace our emotions. Like thoughts and physical sensations, emotions are part of the subtle consciousness of the body. Emotions help us pick up information we need to survive, relate, and empathize. When the emotions aren’t being confused and exaggerated by mistaken identity, they’re returned to their natural condition and we are able to be sensitive and openhearted. Emotions are like skin. Just as our skin is sensitive to physical contact, our emotions are sensitive to contact with other people. From open-hearted awareness, we do not transcend emotions but remain sensitive without shutting down or getting lost in the vicious cycle of thoughts and emotions that create ego-identification.
The brain can be imprinted by trauma involving strong emotions of loss, abuse, fear, violence, and tragedy. Emotional signals like fear and grief are meant to be strong, just like physical pain signals, so that we can avoid danger. Ego-identification, however, creates a vicious cycle of secondary suffering. Feelings of hurt and anger stemming from a single incident can turn into trauma or resentment that lasts for years. As a side note, there are two nonconceptual techniques that help heal trauma: EMDR (Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reintegration) and SE (Somatic Experiencing).
Awakening from emotional trauma cannot happen from an ego-identified point of view. Therefore, the psychological technique of intellectually understanding the history and causes of emotional issues does not by itself lead to their full resolution. Nor can we rely on merely observing our emotions from a mental or meditative distance, because this restricts us from experiencing life fully. Both mindfully witnessing and intellectually understanding the traumatic incidents that created our wounded feelings and subpersonalities is helpful, but we must keep going. We have to find a way to return to inhabiting our lives.
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