If you are not a fan of Oasis (and you should be) then click here to see the reference for this posts title.
I’ll wait. . . .
Ok that’s not really the reason I picked that tile, the actual thinking behind that title is the notion that people sometimes need to “vent” emotion. They literally have to “let it out”, I certainly used to subscribe to the notion that if I was feeling a strong emotion that I needed to somehow give that emotion an “outlet”. If the emotion was anger I would frequently punch or break something, if the emotion was sadness or shame I would vent by writing about or crying to someone else about how I felt. Like most people who have grown up in the western world I had been raised with an almost pathological fear of keeping my emotions “bottled up”. It was far better, I believed, to act on my strong emotions and thereby “vent” them, to keep them inside would lead to all sorts of problems I was told, ulcers, becoming crazy, and even suicide were given as reasons why suppressing strong emotions were bad.
Which of course was all based on the supposition that there was something there which really wasnt there at all. Lets take anger for example, when one is really really angry we feel the need to vent that anger, but what, exactly is “vented”? I mean, many kitchens have a cooking device called a pressure cooker, it’s an airtight kettle which builds up steam and pressure to cook food very quickly, because of the internal pressure you cannot open the device until all the steam has been vented, you open a valve and *PSSSSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHHHH!* steam comes out! So what comes out when you “vent your anger”? Anger? I am not so sure about that, because when steam is vented you can catch a cup of it and in that cup you will find water and air, but you can’t catch a cup of anger! Where does this anger get vented from? your ears? your mouth? your fists?
No, anger really does not “come out” because there is not an object called anger which needs to be released. Anger (and all emotions) are the electro-chemical secretions of our brains, it’s a reaction that, in nature, is a brief flash and a momentary spike to spur your body to produce adrenaline and endorphins in case of a fight-or-flight situation, but it only lasts a short time in other mammals. Your body creates all kinds of other secretions, things like hormones, digestive juices, insulin, and yet we seem to pay far more attention to the secretions of that single 4 pound organ on top of our necks than all the other stuff our body secretes. The flash of anger that you feel when someone bumps you is natural, if you are still mad at that person an hour later it’s because you want to be, not because you have to be. We feel like our emotions just happen and that we are merely passengers along for the ride but the truth is far more interesting, and well within our control. Our minds love to remind us that you are not the same as everyone else, in fact it is damn near our minds’ full-time job to constantly reinforce this notion that *I* am real, *I* am separate, from everything else, and *I* constant. But, Buddhism tells us that none of this is true and it doesn’t take more than a cursory look to see that those three cherished notions are all based on a false belief. Our minds really dont like that reality, so one of the minds most compelling ways to convince us that these fictions are real is to use emotion.
Here’s how; when we feel the very natural and normal first flash of some emotion it feels very good (yes even the bad ones) to our brain, it energizes that sense of self to say “WOW! Here I am! All this energy is proof that I’m REALLY REAL!” and even better if the emotion is depression or anger, the mind can say “IM REAL and I’m not like THOSE people over there! ” So it takes that natural flash and stokes it, feeds it, tells itself stories about it so we hold onto it. Some people can hold onto anger for their entire lives! Everyone else looks at them and thinks “that dude is still mad about getting punched in 3rd grade and he is 43 years old!?” but that 43-year-old can still conjure up the image and feeling of that moment, the shame, the powerlessness, the anger of the event and it , sadly, sickly, makes him feel better. It makes him feel Real.
People like to feel mad, to feel righteous or put upon or misunderstood, because as bad as those feelings are there is something worse in the dark corners of their world, the fear that without these strong emotions, without the constant reinforcement that maybe there just . . .isn’t. . .anyone. . . there. . .at. . . .all.
So am I proposing that we all act like this guy?
Of course not. Emotions (for all the pain they cause) make life fun and interesting, they drive us to innovate, to right injustice, and to make babies among many other things, but they do all that naturally without us adding artificial energy to them. How do I know this? because I went from being one of the most emotional, angry, pissy, melancholy people you would ever not like to meet to a person whose anger lasts seconds and whose formerly epic bouts of depression stick around for mere hours anymore. I’m not “better” than i was, I just started meditating and one of the many side benefits of meditation is that you get a few seconds of breathing room in your mind when someone steps on your toe or some guy cuts you off in traffic and while I still say “OW!” or “That asshole!!” like everyone else, once that initial, natural moment of emotion passes then im done with it.
Its pretty fucking awesome and I realized that all that “venting” I had done in my younger years was really just stoking up my sense of self. it was, in a mental sense, masturbation, making myself feel good by feeling “bad”. In Hardcore Zen, Brad Warner compares it to a pig loving the feeling of rolling around in its own shit, and that image has always struck me as so appropriate to all this “venting’ we feel the need to do.
In many cultures it is not considered appropriate to express strong emotions the way we do in the west, I used to think that this was due to some repressive fault in the culture, but more and more I begin to see that these societies just seem to recognise these overwrought displays as public jerking off and discourage it. We marvel at how the Norwegians who were harmed when a white power sociopath went on a shooting spree still don’t want to see the shooter executed, we can’t believe that they say things like “we refuse to give up our countries belief in rehabilitation instead of punishment in its legal system even in this case” because we would fall all over ourselves to demonstrate how angry, shocked, and sad we were. It’s not that we are bad for indulging in these type of self-confirming behaviors, we have been raised to see them as normal and natural and healthy when in fact it is none of those things.