Emotional Intelligence: The Qigong Solution
What is emotional intelligence? There are two main aspects:
1. Passive Aspect
2. Active Aspect
The first essential component of Emotional Intelligence is AWARENESS. This is simply being aware of your own and other people’s emotions or inner state. There are many, many different emotional states. These different emotions can change from one state to another, there could be a combination of emotions present and how they affect a person and their actions can vary from person to person.
Can you look at someone and be able to confidently say: “That person is feeling sad right now” or “That person is angry”?. Sometimes people don’t display their emotions and it is not so easy to tell how they feel. Can you detect how someone is feeling indirectly, by talking to them for a while? Or can you simply become aware of how someone feels by simply standing near them, not even looking at them? To be emotionally intelligent, you need to be able to be aware of emotions and what they are saying both in yourself and in others.
It may take highly refined sensory-perceptive capabilities to sense other people’s emotional states but what action to take is also important. Someone can understand that another person is angry but knowing what to do is a whole other matter. What result do your actions create when dealing with emotions? There is not necessarily a right or wrong answer here. The point is: Are you aware of the emotions in yourself and others, how these emotional states interact and what the result is?
Emotion and action: Energy in Motion
E-motion (or feelings) drives action; it is the fire that ignites movement and sparks inter-action. This interaction is with others, with yourself and with the environment around you. We all know the power of emotion because we all know what it is like when your logical resolve is overpowered by the propulsion of emotion: you may have a solid, logical idea in your mind about an action you want to take but when the emotion wells up inside you it floods and saturates your will such that you become a vehicle for that emotion’s drive.
If emotions have such power, are they useful? It depends how you look at it, but essentially the answer is yes and/or no! To further explore this, we need to look at the differences and similarities of feeling and emotions.
Feeling vs emotion
What is the difference between a feeling and an emotion? You can say that essentially an emotion is a type of feeling but a feeling is not necessarily an emotion. For example, you may jab your finger on a needle. The pain experienced is a type of feeling. You may start crying because you feel sad from the pain and this would be the emotional response. A friend may ask you if you are ok and you might say that you are feeling sad (emotion) and you are in pain (feeling). Of course, this is a simplified scenario to portray the dynamics of feeling and emotion and oftentimes feelings and emotions and their interactions, fluctuations and transformations can be very complex.
Emotion is related more to attitudes and thought processes; emotion is like a summary of how you feel about something or your attitude about something on an emotional level. Feeling is more related to the body’s basic responses to stimuli such as pain (in the above example), touch etc. Both feeling and emotion drive behaviours. When you thread a needle you are certainly going to do it carefully because you want to avoid jabbing yourself and feeling pain. This pain is important because it protects you from harm. If you have jabbed yourself too many times you may feel a sense of dread or fear when you think about having to work with needles.
Both feelings and emotions are useful: Each have their place because they provide different types of information and feedback about the world around and within us.
Emotions in animals
Would you poke a Tiger? No! But actually, most of us have in fact poked a tiger before. When was the last time you inadvertently made your spouse or friend angry, without realising they were already on the verge? Have you observed when someone is angry, really angry? It is like they are transformed into a wild beast and it seems like they have super-strength! We can say that in this case anger is useful or harmful or both!
Emotion, such as anger, is a huge release of a burst of energy. Imagine a Tiger that is being poked by a silly human and the tiger just sits there doing nothing like a tame and lifeless piece of meat? Now imagine that the tiger shows that it is not to be messed with by showing its teeth and getting into the ready-to-pounce position? Silly humans will think twice about harming, or let alone trying to annoy a tiger.
A lot of humans live in a very tame environment and oftentimes the intense burst of energy that fuels emotions is frowned upon or suppressed. Do we really need to be like a tiger in the office? There really is no right or wrong answer but looking at it one way, when you are overcome by rage it can be hard to make good decisions. It can be hard to think clearly. You may do and say things that you regret. You may even damage objects or physically or emotionally hurt people. There is nothing necessarily wrong with anger, the key lies in how you manage your emotions and your well-being!
Emotions can be scary, and they can be overwhelming. This might feel like you are holding a large hose which at one moment is dribbling out a gentle flow of water that feeds the dry plants and all of a sudden it is blasting water so intensely that you are about to lose your grip and the hose will flail about uncontrollably tearing leaves apart and stripping layers of dirt from the garden bed!
So what DO we do with emotions? Here are some interesting questions to ask yourself first…
- Is it possible to ‘undo’ an emotion?
- Is it possible to force yourself to like someone?
- Can you stop disliking someone by clicking your fingers?
- Is it possible to stop loving someone because you want to?
- What will suppressing emotions do to you and your body?
- Is it possible to (over) indulge in emotions?
Thinking of the above questions, we can observe the movement of emotions: First the emotion starts to form. What do you do? If you suppress the emotion it will build up inside you and haunt you. If you over-indulge you can become addicted to certain emotions and seek to re-create them over and over again even if they are harmful and lead to toxic situations. In this case they hang around not like a ghost but more like that friend you’re obsessed with who is a bad influence and is always getting you into trouble. A good example of indulging in certain emotions is by listening to certain types of music which re-create the emotions that one seeks.
The above picture is starting to point towards something interesting: It is essentially showing us what is least harmonious (going to either extreme) and by default it is also showing us the more harmonious way to manage one’s emotions. Here we can look at the Daoist knowledge of Harmonic Living because harmony lies somewhere is the middle between the extremes – the ‘middle way’.
What Qigong teaches us about Emotion
Daoist Qigong exercises are the perfect tools for emotional-management and the flowering of emotional intelligence. Humans who are not in touch with their emotions oftentimes are like a wild tiger that has been entrapped by a wild animal tamer. The human is both the tiger and the tamer and has cleverly constructed in him/herself a quarantined space for the tiger to be locked up and protected in, from where the tamer monitors the tiger through the carefully welded metal bars. Little does the tamer know that the tiger is sleeping with one eye open always secretly looking for an opportunity to escape, and no enclosure is perfect. The result is a circus of ironic hilarity!
Back to the question: What to do with the emotions? We will take a brief look at the basic mechanisms of Qigong and Tai chi practice to come to an answer.
The most important thing to develop when you practice Qigong is Relaxation: How to relax your muscles, how to relax your mind, how to relax your whole being inside and out. This relaxation is done whilst performing some specific movements which cause some physiological changes in the body. Essentially, with Qigong practice you can learn to dissolve tension in both body and mind and this includes the emotional sphere of the human being. As you get better at this, you can sense the feelings and emotions rise and what do you do? You simply relax! What is the result? The emotion is able to fulfill its normal lifespan, so it naturally dissipates and your actions during the life of the emotion are empowered because the emotion either gives power to your actions, or your awareness of the emotions enhances your conduct and decisions.
It is a bit like surfing: At first the surfer has trouble catching waves and they seem to be over before the surfer even had a chance to try to catch them. Then, when the surfer is able to finally catch a wave as it happens, standing up is difficult and keeping balance on the board is even harder. Eventually, with enough practice the surfer can enjoy the rush and sights that waves bring, seeing their beauty by standing atop the flow and sensing the dangers below as the surfer is propelled forward by the rise and fall.
Summary and Conclusion: Qigong as a Life Tool for Emotional Management
The summarise, Qigong helps one to relax the body and let energy (Qi) flow. All body functions are nurtured because this relaxation is a natural mechanism of the body and it helps the body to enter a quiet state of rejuvenation. These are the effects felt during practice. Outside of Qigong practice, you develop your awareness and ability to sense emotions and how to manage them as well as deepening your sensitivity of your body in general and how to maintain your health. Emotions and health are intimately interlinked. The passive and active aspect of emotional intelligence also come together: you can observe the waves (in yourself and other people) and you know how to ride the waves or what action to take. This is why Qigong can be referred to as an “Energy Art” or a “Tool for energy management”.
It’s a lot more interesting and fun (and harmonious) when we embrace emotions rather than ignore or suppress them. This is by far not an easy journey as it is often confronting, but by facing life not only from the outside but also on the inside, it brings these two spheres together. It paints a picture worth admiring which expresses its smoothly shaped strokes and vibrant colours, the shadows and shading where light does not reach and gives depth to shapes, the mistakes only seen by a keenly observing eye all the while the artist looks upon it with the wisdom and understanding of how it all exists and lives together. It is truly an art worth developing and refining!
By: Luis De Florio