Dealing with Stress: Managing Emotions

Venerable Miao Tan
Fo Guang Shan Hsingma Temple, Malaysia

I. Introduction

Auspicious greetings to all dharma brothers and sisters online. Time passes very fast, we have entered the year 2022, for the past 3 years due to Covid-19 pandemic, our way of life has changed. 

Under this pandemic, less gathering is an effective way to stop the spread of the virus. In addition, many places have delayed the resumption of work and school, staying at home has caused many people to have anxiety, panic, and other bad emotions. This change is not our active choice, but, such an adaptive change is needed to prevent and control the spread of the virus.

Therefore, managing emotions have become an important lesson to learn. Let’s understand what is emotion.

II. What is Emotion?

 In psychology, emotion is often defined as a complex state of feeling that results in physical and psychological changes that influence thought and behavior. 

Emotionality is associated with a range of psychological phenomena, including temperament, personality, mood, and motivation

My friend Jane, has depression. This is a particularly tough time for her to due with mental health issues. She learned to reflect on the current situation and do some adjustments, through focus on living in the moment.

As she can’t go out for coffee, so she sat down every morning she tunes in to listen dharma online. She said: “Thanks to this pandemic, I learned to enjoy the moment minute by minute.

Even doing house work and laundry is a thing, so you don’t have room to worry about things”.

We are emotional beings. Our feelings of pleasure or pain provoke different emotions, and our emotions motivate us to act. Some of our emotions are afflictive and unrealistic; others are more realistic and beneficial. As a result, some of our actions bring more pain, while others bring happiness. 

Venerable Master Hsing Yun mentioned in his book that “Our body is like a village (emotion), with our mind as the chief. There are all kinds of people living in the village – greed, anger, ignorance. The fragile harmony of the village depends on the moods of the village chief. If the chief is happy, the village is happy; if he or she is worried, the village is worried.

Human experience a wide range of emotions at one time or another. No matter what we are feeling, if we are in bad mood and our actions have become unpredictable, we will have difficulties to get along with others.

Take for example:

Greed – I am eager to go out and have gathering with friends, but it is impossible at this moment, and I get angry. 

Anger – When we are angry, we will often experience physical effects, such as increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, we might also cause some unhappiness to people around us. That is destructive to our health and good affinity.

Ignorance – is related to not seeing the world as it actually is. Without the capacity for mental concentration and insight it will cause suffering. I would share a story.

III. The Gift that is Not Received

One day, the Buddha and a large following of monks and nuns were passing through a village. The Buddha chose a large shade tree to sit beneath so the group could rest awhile out of the heat. He often chose places like this to teach. Soon, villagers heard about the visiting teacher, and many gathered around to listen to his teachings. One surly young man stood to the side, watching, as the crowd grew larger and larger. Impatient with the bulging crowd of monks and villagers, he shouted at the Buddha, “Go away! You just want to take advantage of us! You teachers come here to say a few pretty words and then ask for food and money!” 

But the Buddha was unruffled by these insults. He remained calm, exuding a feeling of loving-kindness. He politely requested that the man come forward. Then he asked, “Young sir, if you purchased a lovely gift for someone, but that person did not accept the gift, to whom does the gift then belong?”

The odd question took the young man by surprise. “I guess the gift would still be mine because I was the one who bought it.”

“Exactly so,” replied the Buddha. “Now, you have just cursed me and been angry with me. But if I do not accept your curses, if I do not get insulted and angry in return, these curses will fall back upon you—the same as the gift returning to its owner.”

IV. Spirit of a Bodhisattva

Poor emotional health can weaken your body’s immune system. This makes you more likely to get sick and other infections during emotionally difficult times. Also, when you are feeling stressed, anxious, or upset, you may not take care of your health as carefully as you should.

It is important to observe your emotion, although emotions are instinctive and natural, it can sometimes be intense and overwhelming. We must learn to control our emotions if we want to be successful in establishing a good affinity and good health. 

As I mentioned earlier, emotion is like a village and the harmony of the village comes from the chief. Our mind is the chief, so, when our emotional state is in trouble, how should we do to improve it?

Let me share five points to manage your emotional mind.

V. Spirit of a Bodhisattva

  1. Self-awareness is a skill that allows you to predict how a situation or person might affect you by understanding your own emotional state. It can allow you to observe your emotional reactions to situations and learn how to improve your response. The story that I shared earlier on how Buddha respond to the young man. if you understand that, being prepared allows you to feel calmer and less stressed.
  2. Reflection – Reflecting allows you to discover why you had a certain emotional reaction to a situation can help you resolve conflicts by separating the emotion from the situation. Take Buddha and Jane’s example of reflection on the current situation.
  3. Give yourself a space – When you’re in a situation that triggers an emotional reaction, putting physical space between you and a situation can help you regain your composure and allow you to exercise your skills of reflection. Once you’ve gained some perspective on your emotions, you can often return to the situation calmly and find a solution.
  4. Mindfulness – Mindfulness is a meditation technique that focuses on the sensations and emotions you feel in the moment. The goal of mindfulness exercises is to stay fully present in the moment and avoid thinking about future or past concerns. Mindfulness can calm you and help you develop a sense of perspective about your emotions and your daily tasks.
  5. Listen to podcasts or reading books – you may follow the Bodhi Light Podcast by Ven. Miao Guang online. It can help you understand your feelings and you might find resources to solve your problem. I would encourage you to subscribe Bodhi Light Podcast and you will be able to listen to many stories that will help the chief “mind” to bring peace and harmony to the villagers.

VI. Conclusion

Buddhism explains that virtuous (positive, constructive, wholesome) emotions lead to happiness in the long term, while non-virtuous (negative, destructive, unwholesome) emotions lead to suffering.

Buddha taught us impermanence, this impermanence is not comfortable, but it is real. Just look at the current pandemic, it was not here before and soon it will be gone, if we all follow the SOP strictly and get vaccinated. 

The Buddha said: People come and go in your life, but the right ones will always stay. In the end of our life, only three things matters, how much you loved, How Gentle you lived and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.

Thank you for joining me in this Dharma sharing, may Buddha bless everyone to gain happiness and may everyone be free from fear and lived in harmony.