If you have severe trauma, panic, anxiety, depression, or other mental health issue, you may not want to read any further without professional assistance because it is possible for you to get triggered by what I discuss next. Anything I write in this blog is not a substitute for professional psychotherapy. On the other hand, if you feel safe enough to continue reading, I am going to describe what I mean by constellations of emotions, and how you can use this fact of consciousness to take yourself from a negative state to a positive one with the use of multimodal imagery.
Emotions come in constellations of sensory - sights, sceneries, colors; sounds; tastes; smells; physical sensations, actions, behaviors, environments, situations; thoughts; and secondary emotions. For each particular state, there is a corresponding constellation.
If we want to manage a particular emotion, we may need to better understand what is within our particular constellation of that emotion. When we don't, the emotion tends to manage us instead of the other way around; we find ourselves reactive, rather than responsive, to what we are feeling, sensing and perceiving. Without our awareness, even an otherwise benign cue can trigger the emotion associated with that cue, whether the aroma of a freshly cut lemon, the color red, or the squawk of seagulls. I came to this understanding of emotion from my own transpersonal experiences, practices in qigong and other energy healing modalities.....and, after reading about "same-state consciousness". Same-state consciousness is a term used by consciousness researchers. In their study of varying states of consciousness (e.g. a dream state, the state of being wide awake, the state of being high on drugs, a transpersonal state, an out-of-body or near-death state), consciousness researchers found that each state of consciousness had its own logic and reasoning, its unique way of perceiving reality. They began to call it "same-state consciousness" since the logic seemed to apply only when in that same state. Once out of that state, the logic of the new state appeared to take over. Most of us have had this experience upon awakening from a vivid dream. Within the dream, the events seemed to have made sense. Upon awakening, and reflecting back upon the dream, however, it is then we noticed that the laws of time, space, even gravity, did not apply to the dream experience. And yet, the experience was equally tangible, and therefore, real. This experience applies to other states as well. Within the state, it is completely real and rational. Out of that state, and in another, we can hardly relate to the previous state. I began to realize after some years in private practice, that this same phenomenon applies to emotion. (And to any state of consciousness, personal or transpersonal.) For example, when we are within a state of anger, the anger has its own way of perceiving, believing, thinking, rationalizing, behaving and experiencing its reality. But once we have calmed down, and take time to reflect back, we can hardly relate to the state we were immersed in while we were angry. The thoughts are different, the body and its motivations are different, we are different. When we are within any facet of fear.....not only anger, but sadness, nervousness, jealousy, shame, guilt, panic or trauma.....we can hardly relate to the thoughts and actions of love. But when we are in a state of love, we can hardly relate to any state that is not of love. My clients quite frequently have noticed this. They may be venting about something one day, and log their thoughts and emotions. The following week, they often have a radically changed perspective on their circumstances, their marriage, their life. They stare at their earlier worksheet as if struggling to remember what that state was all about. A friend of mine recently had this experience. She read a passage in a book that transformed her mindset in a flash. Unconditional spiritual love overtook her, and its clarity washed away the debris of resentment and frustration that had been lodged in her heart for her partner. Excited about this transpersonal state of love, she rushed over to tell me about it. The way she thought about her significant other no longer resembled the earlier perceptions of that morning. She was elated and full of joy, at least for a couple of days. Such transfigured states rarely last for too long in those of us only beginning to experience our higher wisdom. Thankfully, she took me up on the suggestion that she journal about the state while she was within this blissful place. She did her own constellation of higher love, and was able to retrieve the memory by re-reading her journal later, whenever she was back in the mindset or constellation of anger. Because she had captured love's logic and reasoning, its felt sense and multimodal presence, she could remember and transport herself back to that place. Such is the power of having awareness around each of our constellations of emotion. Once we are aware of what pulls us into certain states, we can use our realization to consciously take ourselves into the emotion we choose to feel. And emotion is a choice, once we are free from the belief that it isn't. The following are some examples to help you construct your own constellations of emotion. In my constellation of anxiety there may be:
- Visual cues - lightening threatening (e.g. I'm in a metal canoe far from shelter), deadlines about to overtake me (e.g. a multimillion dollar proposal due), parking struggles in downtown venues, a person losing control in their rage
- Thoughts - I'm (or someone I love) going to get badly hurt or killed, the event will start and I'll miss it; thought themes around loss of safety, always/never
- Secondary emotions - sadness
- Sounds - thunder, braking/honking traffic, raging tones of voice
- Smells - musty smell of a dirty or unclean environment
- Tastes - medicine
- Phyical sensations - tension or headache in my body, movement away from danger, movement toward cleaning and decluttering, movement speeds up
Your turn to draw or write out one of your negative constellations of emotion. If you want to draw it, put a circle in the middle of the page. Within the circle, write out the name of the emotion. Draw rays out from the circle, one for each sense, like taste or sound, one for accompanying thoughts, and one for any secondary emotion. (But then don't stop there. As soon as you are done, do a constellation for a positive emotion.) If you are doing your anxiety constellation, consider which sights you see in your mind's eye. Are you envisioning catastrophe? Which scenery triggers you, the sight of a crowd, a hospital, the sight of cars coming too close to yours, seeing people judge you or reject you? Which colors are in this constellation and evoke your nervousness? Which sounds trigger your anxiety? The buzz that reminds you of the dentist's office? Loud popping noises? Which tones of voice? Any smells? Burnt toast? Fire? Gasoline? Tastes? A food to which you are allergic, or in the past led you to get sick? Physical reactions and situations? Heart beating faster? Avoidance? Numbing? Shallow breathing? Arms swinging? Feet moving? Thoughts and themes? All or nothing? Perfectionism? Shoulds, supposed to's, have to's? Danger? Are you overgeneralizing a current situation to all places and times? Are you dwelling on the past, or putting expectations on the future? Secondary emotions? Check for any subtle emotion that is an offshoot to the anxiety or emotion you are working with right now. Now that you completed the constellation for the negative emotion you selected, it is time to re-orient and transform your emotion to another one of your choosing. For example, many of us choose to go to "calm" after feeling "anxiety or panic". Visuals - which scenes or sceneries lead you to feel calm? The sight of the beach, with its white sand, turquoise waters, coral reefs? A favorite vacation spot? A peaceful garden? A spiritual or sacred place? People with loving eyes? Seeing yourself connected and loved? Physical sensations - In which ways can you feel your body relaxing, softening, quieting? Perhaps you can feel your inbreath all the way into your hips? Maybe you feel the warmth of the sun against your skin? or the bubbly water massaging your back? Fragrances - Which scents are within your calming scenery? Certain flowers? Salty ocean air? Apple pie baking in the oven? The smell of freshly mowed grass or rich soil in the garden? Tastes - The taste of apples, cinnamon, buttery crust? Pepperment? (Hint: When certain foods are in our calm or happy constellation, we tend to overuse them as comfort foods. Being aware of why you are eating these foods will help you become more mindful of using other avenues to calm rather than habitually using tastes of foods.) Sounds - People laughing and having a good time playing? Birds singing? A gentle breeze caressing the leaves of the trees? A nearby stream on a hot summer's day? Secondary emotions - As your body calms, does contentment arise? A sense of peace or wellbeing? Gratitude? Thoughts - Be mindful of your new state. Notice if your mind has ceased its chatter. Or, maybe thoughts of gratitude and safety have settled in? You may be thinking "I can", feeling empowered, and grounding yourself in the present moment. This is how we use constellations of emotion - through the power of our will (our determined choice of direction) - to respond to our circumstances, rather than to simply react out of base animal instinct. So when you catch yourself in some form of fear, any distressing emotion, choose to bring yourself back to a place of calm or happy. Use the power of multimodal imagery - involving every sense including mind - to redirect your thoughts, your imaginings, your emotions.