What is the place of emotions in Yoga? Should we try and control them? Should we experience them to their fullest?
Let’s take a look at both cases.
Living the emotion to their fullest.
When we are happy, this seems like the thing to do. After all, why not live life to its fullest? And yet:
परिणामतापसंस्कारदुःखैर्गुणवृत्तिविरोधाच्च दुःखमेव सर्वं विवेकिनः ॥१५॥
pariṇāma tāpa saṁskāra duḥkhaiḥ guṇa-vr̥tti-virodhācca duḥkham-eva sarvaṁ vivekinaḥ ॥15॥Yoga Sutra II.15
To one who possesses discernment, everything is suffering indeed. Because suffering is inherent in change. The anxiety and fear of losing what is gained. The resulting impressions left in the mind that create renewed cravings. And this leads to the constant conflict between the three gunas (qualities), which control the mind.
Even the happiest moments of our life generate an inherent anxiety : that this moment will end. The instance of the greatest excitement is frequently followed by a an equally proportional low. Why? Because our minds and body are constantly searching for equilibrium.
Remember how we talked about playing ping-pong with our lives? We react to life because our emotions often throw us from one end to another. And they do this constantly.
So, should we control those emotions?
But control too is an emotional state! Between a river and the dam, the river will always win. Perhaps not immediately. Perhaps in a couple of decades. Perhaps in 50 years. But unlike the dam, the river has time on its side. And one day or another, she will whittle away the dam.
This is what happens whenever we try to control and repress our emotions. Those emotions are still very much there. But through the sheer force of our will, we’ve managed to turn a blind eye towards them.
In the end, neither of those solutions is right. If we let our emotions free, they’ll control us. If we repress them, one day or another they will surprise us like a tsunami.
What, then, is the solution?
The word I prefer to use when it comes to emotions, our desires and our fears is mastery. But mastery doesn’t mean control.
Think about the great artists. The great photographers. The ones who you consider to be true masters of their art. Those amazing singers and musicians.
What is the difference between a good composer? And a great one? What sets apart Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo from the thousands of artists who have an amazing control over their paint brush?
Mastery comes from harmony, and not control. It is when you become one with your instrument that you touch the sacred within you.
It is much the same with emotions. Don’t fight them. But don’t cede to them. Remember, Yoga isn’t about violence. It isn’t about conflict.
Accept the presence of those emotions. But don’t cede to them. Observe them. But don’t analyse them. Don’t fight them. Smile at them. Then, gently, tell them to go away!