I had a recent breakthrough in my pursuit of equanimity and joy

I have been trying the Buddhist / Stoic principle of not fighting with reality for a couple of years now. It's pretty sensible. We get flustered when the reality is different from our expectations and therefore, we'd be more equanimous if we fully accept and appreciate reality because it is what it is and focus on what we can do. 

But despite the intellectual acceptance of this principle, I'd still occasionally get upset with reality and feel like I'm falling short of this principle. When I was discussing this with someone, they pointed out that it isn't healthy or self-compassionate to deny or resent the emotions I feel. 

Then it clicked inside me that emotions are a part of reality too. We feel emotions because of how we are wired. So don't fight with emotions either. Let them happen, feel them, observe them, and focus on what you can do. 


I was assuming reality is only things outside of the "physical me". But if I define "me" as consciousness and anything outside of the consciousness as reality, then reality includes thoughts, emotions, body, and environment.   

Instead of being bothered by emotions, you can observe and understand them. Emotions are useful signals that something or someone is affecting us. They're a core part of our human system that's meant to draw our attention and reaction, and register them in our memories for future situations. Say, when you feel angry at someone, it may indicate that they are treating you unfairly. When you are sad, you may be feeling vulnerable, lonely, or unsafe. 

Bottled emotions can cause unhappiness and also have non-somatic physical and health repercussions like body aches, skin breakouts, organ dysfunction, etc.  

When we observe and dig deeper beyond the base emotions (happy mad, sad, fear, bad, surprise, disgust) to understand the deeper emotions and causes, we understand our internal wiring and our reality better. The feelings wheel is a fantastic tool to help us do that. 

Understanding and skillfully responding to emotions is tricky because of two reasons - 

1. Emotions usually have deeper roots beyond the current situation. Different situations affect different people differently based on how they are wired, which is determined by several factors like past experiences, their upbringing, beliefs, traumas, situations, and needs. Someone who's been cheated on and lost a lot will naturally tend to become less trustful and have more heightened emotions to even slight breaches of trust. 

It is helpful to understand the deeper roots of your feelings. What are the beliefs and needs behind the emotion? How did they originate and develop over your life?  

2. Sometimes, emotions may be inappropriate for the situation.  You may be feeling angry at someone even though they are acting for your good. Your frustration may be stemming from unrealistic or unsaid expectations out of a person or situation. 

I think the Internal Family Systems method of talking to your selves, regular mindfulness, and journalling are effective practices to observe and understand our emotions. 

Observing and understanding emotions help you respond skillfully, rather than react. Skillful responses are those that reflect your values and further your life goals. Reactions, on the other hand, are subconscious and automated, and not necessarily in your best interests. Reactions are quick, but responses are more thoughtful and principled, and therefore, more effective. Where possible, try to create the time and separation to respond, rather than react in the heat of the moment. A long reflective walk, exercise, good night's sleep, journaling, or talking it out with a mentor or friend usually help me. 

Depending on your understanding of your emotions, you can choose to respond internally, externally, or both. Internally, you can soothe yourself and where appropriate, rewire your inner self, beliefs, and maladaptations. Externally, you can do what's in your control to effect the change you want. That could include expressing your feelings to others, influencing, changing, or getting out of a situation. 

When you have to react quickly, my best recommendation is to not do something you'll regret, and for me, that means being kind, transparent, and fair to yourself and others, practical, and de-escalate (if possible). 

As you are training yourself to observe, understand, and respond to emotions skillfully, know that it is a difficult path for everyone and most aren't skillful either. So when you are subject to other people's emotions, understand, empathize and try to soothe their internal wiring, and you will be less affected and more effective.  


1. There is no "correct level of emotional feeling" for a situation - that is a made-up societal rule that often makes people feel guilty or inadequate.