Upset is Optional: SOPHIA Series

Life happens. Sometimes it’s painful (Buddhism teaches that suffering is an inevitable part of being alive). Contrary to what our emotional states often suggest, we do have the ability to choose how we respond to life’s challenges: Upset is optional.

It’s up to us whether we feed into the emotional spiral, or acknowledge our emotions through action or healthy release. My acupuncture school teaches a philosophy of healing through practice in daily life. SOPHIA stands for School of Philosophy of Healing in Action. Throughout our program, we learn practices to promote emotional, spiritual, and physical health in ourselves. This series, the SOPHIA series blogs, will share the wisdom of these practices.

Emotions are movements of energy in our bodies. Movement itself is not dangerous, or painful! Emotions, in balance and appropriately expressed, do not lead to illness. Our choices around these movements can lead to undue pain and suffering, and when our reactions to our emotions result in incomplete or excessive movements of these energies, we may become ill. Observe the movement of an emotion in your body. Take anger for example. Anger results when you feel that you have been wronged – there is a sense of injustice. The qi moves up and out – you feel the blood rising to your face, you may shout and wave your fists in the air. Having expressed the injustice, and perhaps elicited an apology or some other resolution to the wrongness, the emotion subsides, the qi is no longer moving upwards and outwards, and balance is restored in the body. The anger served a good purpose! It helped you to express the injustice and correct it – maybe you protected yourself, or someone else. By taking effective action, you allowed for healthy movement of the qi, and the emotion came to completion.

Now imagine that you did not express your anger in this situation. Instead, you effortfully pushed down against the upward movement of qi. Maybe you felt a lump in your throat, maybe you got a headache or a stomach ache. Now imagine you do this every day for a month. At some point, you cannot hold that anger in place any longer, and your emotions come pouring out – tears, aggression, and so on, the whole nine yards.

This is what we mean when we say “upset is optional.” When an emotion shows up, try acknowledging it, and working to understand where it may be coming from. Thank your body for bringing the emotion to your attention. Determine whether you can do something about the source of the emotion (maybe you need to make a request, or remove yourself from a situation). If you can do something about the source, do that thing! Take effective action immediately! This will help ensure that you don’t make yourself sick over something preventable. If there’s nothing to be done, it is still important to acknowledge and express the emotion. Having done so, LET IT GO! If there’s truly nothing you can do about the situation, you must release that charge, because there is literally nothing to be gained by continuing to feed that emotion.

This can be challenging. I really love the wording of the serenity prayer, often utilized in substance abuse counseling, when I work with this practice. This is how I use it, more like a mantra than a prayer: “Serenity: I accept the things I cannot change. Courage: I change the things I can. Wisdom: I know the difference.”

Acupuncture can help you to recognize and nourish the gifts of serenity, courage, and wisdom in yourself. Schedule your appointment now for support through emotional upset and life’s many speed-bumps!

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