Welcome to Joy Lab!: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Joy Lab podcast, where we help you uncover and foster your most joyful self. Your hosts, Dr. Henry Emmons and Dr. Aimee Prasek, bring you the ideal mix of soulful and scientifically sound tools to spark your joy, even when it feels dark. When you're ready to experiment with more joy, combine this podcast with the full Joy Lab program over at JoyLab.coach
Henry: Hello, I'm Henry Emmons and welcome to Joy Lab.
Aimee: And I'm Aimee Prasek. Here at Joy Lab, we infuse science with soul to help you uncover joy. We do that by building the elements of joy, the positive emotions and inner states that become the building blocks for a joyful life. The element for this episode is Equanimity. So you've guessed it if you've been with us for the last three, we've got a bit of a series going on.
So I'd suggest going back to episode 48 if you haven't heard that one, [00:01:00] 48, 49, 50, 51, 52. That's our series for equanimity. So we're working through this process of an emotional storm and how we can use equanimity to get us through with less suffering. Now this episode is quite a bit different than the last two where we worked with these sort of internal dynamics.
Now we'll look at how this process can expand outside ourselves. We say or do things out of these surges of emotions that took us by surprise, negative thoughts that hung on, storylines we told ourselves. If we weren't able to soften these last phases, all that energy just kind of needs to go somewhere.
Henry: So going back to our storm metaphor, everything we've talked about up until now is, is just like atmospheric instability. You know, the, the stuff that really [00:02:00] is generating those dark storm clouds. It's unsettling, but up until this point, it really hasn't caused any harm.
So with a storm, you know, there might even be some, some heat, lightning, the stuff that just goes back and forth from one cloud to another.
But you know, even that it's really harmless, from the perspective of us, it's harmless until it kind of goes out and, um, hits, hits something on the earth. So it's that when it lets loose and connects with something on the ground, that's when it can cause some damage that we want to avoid.
Henry: So, uh, I wanna share a little story that kind of exemplifies this. And this is somebody I talked with years ago, uh, who was doing just really, really well. And then all of a sudden she wasn't. And I was just trying to understand from her, what, what happened, what went wrong. And this is the story she related to me, this. Just see [00:03:00] if you can relate to this yourself.
I know I can. So she had moved to Minnesota from another country, uh, because she married a man who was from here. English was her second language. She didn't really know anybody here and she was just trying really hard to belong, but was having a hard time breaking into the community, and she just was feeling isolated. So that's the backdrop. But then one afternoon she and her husband just went for a walk. It was a nice summer day and they went for a walk in their neighborhood and they started chatting with a neighbor man who was out in his front yard and she asked about his wife, you know, what was she doing? And the man just said that she was inside with a few other women from the neighborhood. Now the person I'm talking to here, she had been trying very hard to develop a friendship with these very women. So when she heard this, they were inside [00:04:00] kind of having a good time, and she was left out. She felt hurt, right? We can all understand that. So that was her immediate reaction, to feel hurt.
And at first it's just a slight sense of discomfort. You know, we've talked about that tightening up in the midsection. And if it had ended there, she would've still felt hurt, but it ultimately, it would've been fine. But as soon as she felt bad. Old troublesome thoughts popped up and they took her right into her personal story.
I'm not from here. I don't belong. I will never have any real friends. Still, if she could have stopped it right there, she would've felt hurt and angry, but it wouldn't have really been too bad. But then she did something that she wished she could take back something we've all done. She let out [00:05:00] some angry words toward this woman's husband about how she'd made all these efforts to, you know, try and befriend her, and then she gets left out and excluded. So that was not good. And then as they were walking home, she and her husband, she let out at him. And so it wasn't only that she felt bad for being left out, but she'd also damaged these relationships with her neighbors and her husband. So we have all been there and we know how hard it is to resist saying or doing something.
That if we just thought about it for one second, we would know this is only going to make it worse. It is extremely hard at this point to stay present, to be mindful, but if we can just focus, keep our focus of our awareness on this immediate, visceral experience and [00:06:00] wait a little bit, that buildup of energy in our mind, it will dissipate, so it won't escape and cause more harm by doing so.
Aimee: Yeah. And what's so interesting is that like immediately once you say it, or act out, or whatever happens, that external expression, it feels good for like a moment. like, whew, some of that energy has just dissipated, your body feels a little less burdened, and then you take in another inhale and it's like, oh.
Shirt to quote, um, the Good Place. If anybody knows how they swear at the Good Place. what I wanna start doing, using all the swear words from the Good Place so we can stay family friendly here. Um, you know, it just doesn't feel worth it. And for all the times we say something, or do something to someone else,
I think it's important to know it as well, I think so often we get stuck in a theatrical loop, where we play out, [00:07:00] over and over again, where we say that perfect cutting thing to shut someone down or that perfect punch or violent action to shut them up.
That's where I used to spend a lot of my time in that imaginary fight club in my head. You know, so much time and energy. And it would keep my stress response high for as long as I replayed the scenario. So it's like you can get stuck right there in that loop. Weeks later, I could amp it up again in my thoughts, you know how I'd ruck that person with my words, and my anger would just surge again, right back to where I was, never resolved anything.
And I think that's the hallmark of anger that we're talking about. It's so narrow in perspective. Not that it's bad, but it's a survival instinct. It's so, you know, so often holding onto anger, I think can feel more comfortable than the truth or just letting go of the situation because the truth is full of unknowns and subtleties, complexities, exceptions to the rules, [00:08:00] randomness, responsibility, interdependence. I think what I'm getting at here is that as anger rises up, that's not the problem. You are not a terrible person because anger rose up or because you did or said something that wrecked a relationship or something. Or you have a diagnosis with anger at its core or you can't let go of something and you continue to play that angry scenario in your head.
If these are things that make sense to you, then you are working through the same old traps that all the other humans are working through. So common.
Henry: Yeah. I, I totally agree with that. We can all relate to these things because we are all human and we are not suggesting that you try to shut it all down, that you become emotionless. Anger might be the right emotion to have, just like fear and sadness are sometimes the right emotions to have.
[00:09:00] Personally, I kind of know what to do with fear or sadness. But I have a harder time knowing what to do with anger. I know that sometimes we should act, but it's just so hard to know what action to take and how to do it without, you know, letting the heat of our anger burn someone.
It's just really tricky stuff. So I think that by, by practicing equanimity, what we're trying to do is to give ourselves a little space, just a little moment or two that allows our wise mind a chance to weigh in rather than just letting our emotions decide everything for us. So I think what we really want is to. Be able to see things as they really are. We want to be more aware of [00:10:00] what's actually going on as it's happening in real time, which is why we want to try to remain still like a log so that we can notice the slight tightening up in our chest, which is that first sign of bad weather where we can see those negative thoughts pop. allowing us to turn our attention to something else. I think if we, if we've had the courage to see our personal story for what it is, which is something that we've made up to try to explain why we feel the way we do, maybe we could even set that aside for a little while and then maybe rewrite it later when, when things have calmed down. So I think if all else fails, what we can try to remember is to just do nothing until we get our bearings back again.[00:11:00]
Aimee: Yeah, I think doing nothing an underutilized strategy for wellbeing . We will give you some others though. A wonderful strategy here is to come back to the grounding practices. We covered, uh, some of those in episode 48. If you can get outside move around, you can release some of that energy, go for a walk or run.
I used to do sprints from one telephone pole to the next on a walk if I felt like I wanted to punch someone in the throat. Uh, sometimes more soothing, repetitive activities work too, like swimming or tai chi, cross country skiing, walking, paddling, or things you can take a healthy bit of risk, I think can be helpful as well.
Like skateboarding, rock climbing. And I think sports can be really helpful as well here, but just being sure it doesn't agitate you or amplify your anger. [00:12:00] I can relate here. Uh, you don't wanna burn off some anger by playing a game of pickup basketball and just ending up hacking everyone on the court with cheap shots. ultimately starting a huge fight on the outdoor court of the Lutheran church across from your house, or something which totally random and something from my personal past. Find your thing. It might not be sports.
Henry: So what we have been talking about in this whole series on equanimity, we recognize it's really hard to do. We know that it really takes a lot of skill and a great deal of presence to hold these strong emotions and not let them out in harmful ways. And it, it's hard partly cuz it just all happens so suddenly when a really strong emotion sweeps over us, it's pretty hard [00:13:00] to stop the momentum of it. So in the next episode, we're going to offer a strategy that all of us can do. We'll talk about how to work with these things after the. So that maybe we can learn something that might help us get through future storms in better shape than we just got through this one.
Aimee: Yeah storm by storm, step by step. I think also before we close, noting that reaching out for support if it feels like too much is always the right thing to do. If you don't have mental health coverage or can't access it for some reason, you can, just call or text 988. That's the 988 lifeline.org, SAMHSA's service, totally free, confidential helpline, really geared toward keeping you and those around you safe if you're in distress, and you can also call a warm line.
I'll put a link in the show notes. These are [00:14:00] also free and confidential support lines or chats that generally offer peer support. So support from folks who have similar struggles who are wanting to help others now. I love those. Black line is an example serving mainly BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks. So you can find, you know, population, or community specific warm lines as well.
Point is these struggles are so common, so take care of yourself as you build your equanimity, uh, and move through these storms with more of that steadiness that is within you. And that is so powerful. So I'll leave you with some wisdom from teacher and writer, James Baldwin. Sort of honors the complexity of these emotions and the challenge of discerning when to take action.
I think as we work with equanimity, though, we're able to navigate this [00:15:00] so much more effectively as we've dug into in these last series of episodes. So here it is:
" It began to seem that one would have to hold in mind forever, two ideas which seem to be an opposition. The first idea was acceptance, the acceptance totally without rancor, of life as it is, and men as they are: in light of this idea, it goes without saying that injustice is commonplace. But this did not mean that one could be complacent, for the second idea was of equal power: that one must never in one's own life, accept these injustices as commonplace but one must fight them with all one's strength."
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