I have often written about the four-fold nature of life, and about how this exists both literally and symbolically. Well, one of the most significant aspects of human life is our heart, which you may know from basic biology, possesses four chambers. It is this four-ness we want to connect with.
See yourself – your entire being – as one big graphic equalizer, with four adjustable sliders, one for each of the four channels. The four channels are marked Actions, Intentions, Thoughts and Feelings.
The first thing to grasp is that in order to have the maximum experience of life – to hear the fullest possible range of sounds – one must work with all four sliders. It is not enough to push one of the sliders up to the max and to neglect the other three. In other words, a life full of action, but devoid of thought, feeling or intention, is no life at all.
The dangers of overbalancing on any one of the four are great, not helped by the fact that we each have a preference, a default position which we keep getting drawn back to. This is natural, and part of our individual uniqueness. Yet at the same time it must be recognised that to be naturally predisposed toward action at the expense of thought is to be unbalanced. To be all about intentions but never actions is to be un-balanced. To live in the world of thought and never in the world of feeling is to be unbalanced. And yes, to live in, default to, prefer and seek a world of feelings – at the expense of any of the other three – is to be unbalanced. And that is where most of us are – unbalanced within the world of feelings and emotions. Which leads, in the end, to the necessary realisation that feelings must be controlled.
But the control of feelings should not be taken to suggest, in any way at all, a retreat from life, or love. Control of our emotions does not breed fear, isolation or brutality. In fact, quite the opposite, for it is emotions and feelings, when uncontrolled, which destroy everything in their path. Emotions – unchecked – are also often (though not always) unreliable, changing like the weather. Decisions made from a place of emotion invariably prove themselves to be bad decisions, later on.
Of course, language gets in the way of our understanding this, because one person’s feelings are another person’s gut. I remember watching The Voice on BBC TV once where Will.I.Am said that he was ‘voting from his heart’, only for them to cut back to the presenter, Holly Willoughby, who responded by saying that she ‘loved how he voted from his gut’.
The point though is that whatever our feelings might be, about anything or anyone, they must be balanced by our thoughts, checked against our intentions and tested by our actions. Of course, we are free to not do this, to move only the lever of emotion. But to do so is to step into a smaller world, not a larger one.
So, for those who wish to take control of their emotions – which will always reveal the full depth of their expression – here are two power methods:
First: The Daily Practice.
All progress is a result of getting just that little bit ahead of the curve. Success – in any field, rarely comes from being reactive. So, begin each day with the Four-fold Breath.
Sit, quietly, without external stimulation. Maybe let the mind run its stories out or down for a few minutes.
Breath in for a steady count of four. Make these ‘belly-breaths’ where the stomach, not the chest, expands.
Hold that breath for a steady count of four.
Exhale that breath for a further count of four.
Be empty of breath for the last count of four.
Then repeat, up to four times. In. Hold. Out. Empty.
Do this normally and naturally. Do not exert yourself or strain in any way. Simply step through the 4 x 4 breaths in turn. Do this every morning (all practices must be practiced) to establish your foundational level of control.
Second: An ‘In the Moment’ Practice
Try to spot your stress triggers, to become, over time, more aware of what spins you out. The first stage of success will be when you realise you’ve been triggered only once it’s too late! But from that point of understanding it is simply a matter of practice, so don’t be discouraged.
Catching yourself, at the precise moment where stress is ready to explode, take one large deep breath. Then, as you breathe out also push down on your diaphragm and tell yourself to calm yourself. Issue this instruction to yourself very clearly and very firmly. It is an order not a request, a command not a wish. Always take this attitude, that you are in control of your body, and that in this moment you are giving the orders. Practice breeds mastery.
These two techniques, and the general approach I have laid down here, will put you back in the driving seat of your life, and give you greater control over your reactions to the wild events of the world. You might even discover that your capacity to love, serve, get busy and make progress is wildly increased.