Bridge over troubled waters: Emotional pain is physical pain and the flight from both leads us into deeply entrenched patterns of behaviour. Developing awareness of the present moment without becoming overwhelmed by emotions requires detachment, the authors write. Picture: 123RF/ION CHIOSEA
Bridge over troubled waters: Emotional pain is physical pain and the flight from both leads us into deeply entrenched patterns of behaviour. Developing awareness of the present moment without becoming overwhelmed by emotions requires detachment, the authors write. Picture: 123RF/ION CHIOSEA

Since the origin of our species, the need to feel safe, valuable and loved has made us focus attention outward. But according to Gary Zukav and Linda Francis, spiritual growth is replacing survival as the central objective of the human experience.

"The new human species looks at the external world of things, interactions and experiences as a mirror that reflects an internal world of intentions, emotions and thoughts," they write in The Heart of the Soul.

"[We] are learning how to look inside ourselves and find the roots of our insecurities and to pull them."

Creating authentic power, defined as the "the human experience without the limitations of fear, self-doubt and self-hatred", confronts people with their unhealthiest parts: those that blame, criticise, judge, resent, envy and hate.

A proactive, lifetime endeavour to create this requires intention, effort and becoming conscious of emotions.

"Even if you are not aware of your emotions, they are always being produced," Zukav and Francis write. "Your emotions are the best of friends. They do not leave you. They continually bring to your attention what you need to know."

Instead of trying to change circumstances or people, the book encourages readers to examine the emotions they experience. Looking inward is an important step in the process of spiritual development because only by taking guidance from painful emotions can people make permanent changes.

"Your emotions are signposts that point to parts of yourself that require healing," they write. "Ignorance of your emotions results in your being controlled by parts of yourself that are generating your emotions."

Emotional awareness is the process of focusing on the experience of an emotion and "continuously studying the changing array of emotions within you". This is visceral because all emotions have physical sensations.

Emotional pain of any kind is a reminder to stop and look inside because paying attention to these sensations is the foundation of authentic power.

"Spiritual growth requires you to become aware of everything that you are feeling all the time," Zukav and Francis write. "The more intense an emotion is, the more painful are the sensations in your body and the more compulsive are your thoughts …

"If you notice one – sensations in your body or your thoughts – and you know what to look for, you will be able to discover the other too. [But] when you are not aware that your body is hurting, you cannot do anything about it."

The more familiar people become with their emotions, the more easily they see how they remain the same, even as circumstances change.

This is when they step into awareness of the present moment to access all the power and possibilities it provides.

"If you are not aware of what you are feeling in your body and what you are thinking, you are not aware of the present moment," they write. "When you are not aware of your emotions, your attention is focused on the circumstances around you.…

"Emotional awareness is the healing remedy for a fixation on external circumstances [and] relaxing into the present moment, even when the present moment contains painful emotions."

One thing that prevents people from developing emotional awareness is the fact that emotional pain is physical pain. So they try to change, avoid or escape to external circumstances. The book’s central section explores how we do this in many ways.

Some people get angry and entitled; others daydream or get bored. Some become workaholics and perfectionists; others become impenetrable optimists or seek to please. Some become addicted to food or sex; others to alcohol or drugs.

But all painful emotions are expressions of fear. People who think they feel nothing are bound by the fears they think they don’t have.

"When an activity is used to divert attention from painful emotions, it is compulsive," Zukav and Francis write. "To discover the origin of compulsion, you must stop doing what is compulsive and experience what you feel when you do."

Developing awareness of the present moment without becoming overwhelmed by emotions requires detachment — remaining aware of emotions while the events of life unfold. It’s the difference between being swept up in a raging river ("when you are not detached from your emotions, you cannot separate yourself from them and they possess you") and watching it from a bridge ("detachment allows you to see your emotions as they form, develop, intensify and change").

Emotional ignorance is the same as saying to a river, "You should not be flowing here. You should be flowing over there."

The book’s main message is that people have to stop pursuing external power. Attempting to rearrange the circumstances that trigger painful emotions is a waste of energy because changing the outside world will not change patterns of response.

"You will continue to encounter circumstances that trigger painful emotions until you look beyond them to the interior dynamics that create your emotional pain," they write. "A glorious life requires the courage to face the most difficult challenge that a human can face — the pain of powerlessness, of feeling unloved and unlovable — and to change."

The more people resist this truth and the circumstances in their lives, the more they create stress. But when they accept their lives — greet them without resistance — they can determine what needs to change to create the circumstances and experiences they desire.

Again, the first step in changing the dynamic that creates an emotion is to experience the emotion in full. "Your inner landscape is richer than your outer landscape, no matter how magnificent the sunrise you are seeing might be or how awesome the night sky above you or how immense the turbulent ocean rushing towards you," Zukav and Francis write. "Remaining with your inner experience is the choice to pursue authentic power." 

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