Emotional awareness

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We experience emotions all the time. Emotions come and go. Many people only tend to notice emotional extremes: anger, fear, aggression, sorrow.
The milder moods and feelings are often dismissed as unimportant. Being aware of your on-going emotional state is useful and healthy.

What is emotion?

Emotions are all about motivating us to action. They are a survival trait. e.g. primeval humans saw food and emotions drove them to acquire it.


Thought usually precedes an emotion. Consider memories.
A memory itself has no emotional content; it is essentially a partial recollection of past events, recorded from the viewpoint of who you were and how you perceived things at that time in your life.
We look at the information, the event and then we have an emotional response. This is why it is possible to be upset on one occasion, yet see the same event years later and laugh about it.


Emotion is a biochemical reaction we experience in response to almost everything we do. If we try to suppress emotion, that is foolish. Suppression cannot remove emotion.
It can only dull our awareness of emotion, and that is not healthy. Rather than suppress our emotions we need to understand them.


Some people appear to be cold, detached and emotionally aloof. This may be construed as being 'calm' when in fact the individual is boiling with turmoil but hides it behind a mask of composure.

The lessons applicable to the action of the dojo must, if they are to have any meaning or value at all, be worthwhile in meeting the situations one encounters everyday outside of it.

(Dave Lowry) 

Behind the mask

People who conceal their emotions often reveal them involuntarily. They may be physically tense, resistant or nervy in some way. The emotions exist and they are manifest.
You just need to notice the signals.


Not all hidden emotions are hostile. People also hide passion and desire because they are afraid to reveal these feelings. Showing your emotions can make you feel exposed and vulnerable.
Your affection may also be rejected.


It is not easy to be emotionally honest in modern society. People are often clumsy and callous with one another. Being candid about your feelings may cause upset.


Young children learn how to use emotion as a weapon. They manipulate adults into conforming to their wishes by emotionally blackmailing them.
A tantrum works wonders. It deters the parent from thwarting the child's plans.

Emotional abuse

As with so many things, children learn emotional bullying from other children and from adults. Adults do not always learn to use their emotions considerately.
Many adults can be cruel, manipulative, greedy and selfish.

So, you have a strong punch, but do you have it with uncontrolled anger, or do you have it with peace of mind? Are you able to integrate to a point where fighting or combing your hair or studying or typing at your computer all have the same smoothness, or is it that each of these has this stressed-out, manic spike to it?

(Bruce Frantzis)


Anger and crying are two forms of emotional upset that tend to provoke a response: fear or sympathy. Again, these emotions are the extremes.
There are many milder forms of upset, such as frustration.


Extremes of emotion are inevitably harmful. They damage the body, cloud the mind and destroy relationships. Balance must be found.

Behind closed doors

Instead of being balanced, people often suppress their feelings publicly but let them out in private or through indirect means. Most adults observe a public 'face', seeming to be balanced and rational.
It is socially inappropriate to become outwardly upset.


Emotional balance cannot be faked. It requires a calm mind and a positive relationship with those around you.


One outcome of tai chi is composure. Many people try to fake composure but the phoniness is manifested through their brittleness, fear and physical tension.
Real composure comes from being detached and a little laid back about life.

Lighten up

You stop taking things quite so seriously, especially yourself. Being emotionally honest with yourself is crucial. You should not suppress or pretend.
Feel whatever emotion comes your way and if it is adverse, contemplate the cause. Dig deep and find out the source of your upset. Work to remedy the problem if you can.


The most destructive emotion of all is fear. It is a primal emotion and is very insidious. Fear causes people to behave in all manner of stupid ways.
Almost every conflict in our culture has fear at its heart.

The tyranny of fear

People act from fear. They become suspicious, paranoid, irrational and macho because of fear.
Fear is often fuelled by the media, by popular culture, by tradition, by competition, by insecurities, by ignorance and by stupidity. Rise above fear.
Experience it, see its root and understand why it is there.

He who angers you conquers you.

(Elizabeth Kenny) 


Love is not sentimental or nostalgic, it is not contingent upon rules and protocols. Love is raw and unflinching, direct and uncompromising. It cuts through every guise and sees the very heart of things.
Love (real love) for all things truly will open your eyes.


An impulse is a sudden urge to do something. It is an emotional reaction. Spontaneous, immediate and surprising. It can also be stupid. Acting on impulse can leave you exposed and confused.
You act without thinking and have to deal with the consequences of your actions later. Zen cultivates spontaneous action, but it is altogether different to impulse.
It requires presence and absorption in the moment.


Tai chi has a quality called 'shen' - which is emotionally-charged expression. Often referred to as 'spirit' or life. Shen is not anger, aggression or upset. It is not a manifest emotion at all.
Instead of being a fixed emotional state, shen represents an emotional presence within your movements. It imbues everything with substance and meaning. You feel to have 'your heart in it'.

Admit your fears

Many of the partner exercises teach you how to let-go and stop fighting the situation. Adverse emotions (especially fear) must be set aside. This takes courage, honesty and patience.
Students come face-to-face with their emotions. They learn to accept them and to deal with them healthily and constructively. Anger, aggression and anxiety are not permitted in class.


Emotions are projected by our voices and our body language. Animals can read emotions very well. Humans are not quite so sensitive, we tend to ignore our intuition.
We broadcast our emotions all the time. What message are you sending out? If someone is friendly and nice, but they slam doors, bang about and drop things - you can see a contradiction.
The person may be superficially pleasant but their underlying emotions are unstable. A friendly image is only skin-deep.


Image is dangerous. It distances you from the truth. Tao, Zen and tai chi are only interested in the real, in the essence, not the 'front'.
If you are emotionally aware, you will see through the image and read the emotional state unconsciously.
If you want to emotionally interact in a healthy way, you need to start by addressing your own emotions. How composed are you? How honest?

Tai chi is about changing our internal environment so that life becomes a joy to live and not a burden to drag into old age and death. It is about helping your body to let go of the past and your mind to slow down and cease churning. Tai chi encourages your internal focus to shift toward cherishing and remembering all that is wonderful in your life. It predisposes you to look forward to ways to make life better, rather than remembering how unsatisfying it has been.

Most importantly, tai chi gives us the ability to realise a greater human potential in ourselves and to have genuine compassion for others. Tai chi, with its gentle strength, moves us closer to feeling more truly alive.

(Bruce Frantzis)

Group emotion

When a large number of people come together, group emotion can be created. This can be either good or bad depending upon the prevailing mood of the group.
Think of the cinema, theatre, a concert, a sporting event? What do the shops feel like at Christmas time or peak shopping times?


Negative group emotions are harmful and unsettling: you can tangibly feel the anxiety, stress and bad feeling. Such negative group situations are best avoided.
Seek out groups with positive emotions instead...  If the supermarket at 4 PM on a Saturday afternoon feels particularly tiring and stressful, why not try going shopping at odd hours?
6 AM is a whole other story; there are too few people to generate group emotion, the aisles are virtually empty and you feel no pressure whatsoever.

Emotional environment

Your home and work environment should ideally be a place of good emotional feeling. The home should be healthy, wholesome, loving and welcoming.
The workplace should be positive, supportive, productive and vigorous.


Take steps to cut-out negative emotions and become attuned to group emotion. Avoid getting caught-up in anything unpleasant. Engineer an environment that you want to be in.

A lot of folks say they are relaxed... that they are Christian or Buddhist or Muslim or something that says you know I'm concerned for my fellow man. But when somebody puts their hands on these people you'll see that that priest or that monk or that rabbi becomes just as rigid and as violent as anybody else who would never ever describe themselves as being God fearing. Why? Cos they're not used to the pressure.

You would like to believe you're relaxed and when someone puts their hands on you and pushes all of a sudden you realise just how indignant you are about that whole thing happening.

Some people are very stretched and they have a full split or they are very balanced on their hands and they can do a handstand but when you put your hands on them all that ability goes out the window and they resort to Cro-Magnon behaviour.

(Roberto Sharpe)

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Page created 18 April 1995
Last updated 16 June 2023