Can you remember the subject Emotional Literacy, from either primary or high school? Probably not, because no such subject exists. Our education systems are largely places for developing the intellect — the thinking mind — often at the expense of the body, the emotions and the spirit.

Most of Howard Gardner’s eight ‘intelligences’ (musical–rhythmic, visual–spatial, verbal–linguistic, logical–mathematical, bodily–kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic) get neglected in favour of the big three (reading, writing and arithmetic).

What this means is that our culture — and we as individuals in it — were left to ‘wing it’ with regard to our emotional lives. As such, it’s unlikely that we developed either sophisticated or effective ways of expressing or relating to our inner worlds, or even a half-decent understanding of what emotions are, and what they are for (unless we were fortunate enough to grow up in a family that had an intuitive understanding of — and unusually healthy ways of relating to —  them).

In our culture, if someone calls you ‘emotional’ it’s usually not meant as a compliment. Emotions are bad-mouthed in many ways, and considered problematic, or in some way inferior to the so-called logical or rational mind. Indeed, most of us have learned to hide or disguise our emotions, and we’re probably not comfortable even admitting to some of them. For example, you might feel ashamed of your anger at a friend, or of your genuine sadness or grief (aren’t we all meant to be happy). It may even feel inappropriate to express your contentment or joy (isn’t the workplace meant to be a place for productivity and seriousness).

A lifetime of suppressing these so-called inappropriate feelings may leave us emotionally numb and disconnected from our bodies. We may have considerable difficulty identifying our emotions or we may not be able to feel at all. Or we may find that our emotions create havoc even when we’re alone.

Over the coming months, I’ll present a number of ways to begin developing healthier relationships with the full gamut of emotional experiences we might have. The general principles are pretty simple:

  • welcome your emotions
  • recognize when you try to dampen or suppress your emotions
  • recognize when you try to run away from or escape from your emotions (dissociation)
  • don’t try to get rid of or change your emotions
  • be willing to ‘hang out’ with your emotions
  • listen to your emotions
  • see if you can be a good friend to your emotions
  • offer your emotions whatever kindness you can

In the meditation, we’ll use sadness and fear to get grounded and clear, and we’ll use anger to generate a strong and capable sense of self.