Feel over Figure — AoA Series #5

The Art of Accomplishment
The Art of Accomplishment
Feel over Figure — AoA Series #5
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We often try to figure out solutions to our problems intellectually. But modern neuroscience tells us that, if you removed the emotional centers of your brain, you would be unable to make even the simplest decision regardless of how much intellect you had. What if there were emotional practices you could do to clarify every decision? What if emotions were the key to finding whole new kinds of solutions?

“The reason that somebody gets angry at somebody else is because they haven’t gotten angry by themselves. It takes a while to build that kind of anger, so go release your anger and then talk to the person. Go get really, really scared and then talk to your boss about the raise that you want. You have the emotional experience and then go and take the action.”

Brett: Joe, many of us are taught to manage our feelings and to be logical, especially when it comes to important or complex matters. What makes feelings so important?

Joe: That is a great question. I think it was a 2012 book called Descartes’ Error, a neuroscientists talks about what happens to people if they lose the emotional center of their brain. It’s a little more complex than this, but just to simplify it, if I took the emotional center of your brain out, you would cease to make decisions. It would take you half an hour to decide what color pen to use. It would take you four hours to decide where to have lunch. 

Your IQ would maintain the same. In fact, in the book, there’s somebody whose IQ remains the same, very high level IQ, so incredibly intelligent, but their business falls apart. Their marriage falls apart. Everything falls apart because they can’t make decisions. What it indicates to us is that we are thinking we’re making rational decisions, but there’s really no such thing. There’s only emotional decisions. 

You can think about this in terms of your own life. Really simply, just think about how many decisions of your life were made because you didn’t want to feel like a failure or how many decisions were made so that you could feel loved. How many decisions were made so that you could feel like you were seen by your friends and how many decisions were made so that you wouldn’t be rejected?

It’s like tremendous amounts, huge swaths of our decision making, you can immediately see, are very emotional. The intellect is really good at trying to figure out how to get to an end, but the end that you’re trying to get to is always an emotional end. Clarity doesn’t come from being logical, because it doesn’t work. You can’t do it in your decision making. It comes from being okay with whatever emotional state arises.

If you all of a sudden are completely excited to deal with sadness and you’re completely excited to deal with joy and you’re completely excited to deal with anger. It’s not even deal with it, it’s like you get to live that, then all of a sudden, you have incredibly clear decision making. That’s why it’s important. If you’re in those thoughts that are recursive and they’re just coming in over and over and over and over again, guaranteed there’s an emotional reality, that if you felt it, it would clear up.

Brett: Can you give me an example of what you’re talking about?

Joe: Yes, absolutely. For instance, I work with a lot of married couples and what happens in a lot of marriages is that people stop being true to themselves because they’re scared of some result that’ll happen if they do and eventually the marriage becomes not palatable because they’re not themselves in the marriage. What I tell people in that situation is, hey, go mourn the heck out of your marriage. Your marriage is over. Just assume it and go more in the heck out of it, like feel all the grief of being left, feel all the grief of 20 years down the tubes, feel all the grief that your kids are going to not have two parents, like go through all of that stuff. 

At the end of that, then let’s find out what you need to do. What they do is they’re basically living through the result that they don’t want to feel so that they can act with clarity. It’s that feeling of loss that they don’t want to deal with and since they don’t want to deal with it, they’re not speaking their truth and therefore, they’re not in a marriage that accepts their truth. Eighty percent of the time, they then speak their truth and the other person is like, great. Or they’re like, what the hell and then three months later, they’re like, great. Twenty percent of the time their partners, like, no, that’s not what I want.

They leave and they break up, but it’s definitely a much higher chance of success, if somebody has already felt the thing they’re trying to avoid because then their actions don’t come from trying to avoid the feeling, their actions come from what they want. This is something that you learn in even like The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, the samurai did this, I think it was the Sufis who did this– many traditions have done this thing, where they basically visualize their own death to get over the fear of death. They’ve lived that fear so many times that they no longer fear death. It’s confronting the emotional reality that you don’t want to handle, that you don’t want to feel and then immediately your decision making can clear up.

Brett: Recognizing that there is life on the other side of that emotion.

Joe: Yes, exactly, or that emotion is a deep friend. There’s no emotion I’ve run into that hasn’t been a benefit to me.

Brett: What do you mean by feeling these emotions? If something hasn’t happened yet, for example, how do you actually feel the emotion associated with it to mourn the loss?

Joe: The first thing you need to do is just recognize that there’s always an emotional movement in your body, it is constant. There’s no moment of consciousness where there isn’t an emotional reality happening. We might not want to admit it. We might’ve been taught at a young age not to feel it, but it’s constantly occurring and it’s very muscular in nature. You can really feel it through constriction of muscles.

If somebody has been told never to get angry, their body contorts. I can literally look at somebody and recognize if there’s repressed anger. You can recognize and I’m not the only one there’s tons of people who can. You can recognize who had the critical parent, who was beaten, who’s holding back their authenticity all based on muscular structure. The muscles and the emotions are tightly, tightly correlated. That’s the most important thing to know that it’s constantly happening and that there’s a muscular component to it. 

How do you feel these emotions? You’re feeling them. The question isn’t how do you, the question is how do you bring your awareness into it? Oftentimes what happens is we’re feeling the emotion, but we’re spending a lot of energy compressing that emotion. It’s making it a different version of itself.

The way I think about this is like, there’s this emotionless called the emotion of anger and it’s flowing like a garden hose. If you kink it one way, the anger looks like this, “No, I’m not angry.” If you kink another way, it looks like this, “That’s fine”. If you’re going to be a prick and if you kink another way, it sounds like this, “You son of blah, blah, blah, you goddamn blah, blah, blah.”

All of those are kinks in the garden hose. When there’s no kinks in that garden house, when it’s fully allowed, there’s no reason to resist the anger. It sounds like the anger of a Gandhi or Martin Luther King. It’s clear. It’s determined. We will not put up with this. We will be equal. That’s also anger, but that’s anger unresisted. The trick isn’t to feel it in the way that it’s like, you have to go and conjure it because it’s there. It’s really to stop restricting it. It’s really to stop holding it down.

Brett: It sounds like one of the things you were saying is that the first thing that people might feel is actually the resistance to the anger. This body tension, for example, might be the first thing you notice and be like, oh, I’m feeling a lot of tension in my body right now. Then maybe the secondary thing you might feel is like, I’m holding back this emotion.

Joe: Right. It’s the resistance that’s actually painful. When people are like, “I don’t want to feel sadness.” There’s this way in which people talk about each of the emotions and there’s this common fear of each of them to let them fully ride. If I allow my anger, I will destroy people. I will hurt myself. I will hurt others. If I allow my sadness, it will go on forever and I will be enveloped in sadness for the rest of my life. If I allow fear, I will be frozen and I won’t be able to act. 

These are the traditional thought processes that people have about why these emotions aren’t safe. The reason that they feel that way is because that’s how the resistance is, when you’re resisting anger, you do destroy shit. When you are resisting sadness, it does last forever. It looks like depression. When you’re resisting fear, then you’re anxious all the time and you are frozen. You’re not doing stuff. People have confused the resistance with the emotion.

Brett: Or with the feeling of being overtaken by the feelings.

Joe: Exactly. You never are overtaken by the feelings, you’re overtaken by the resistance to the feelings. If you’re scared of an emotion, you are currently being overtaken by the resistance of the feeling.

Brett: Right. Because the resistance is itself a feeling. It’s like a secondary feeling that loops back and then fights the first feeling, which is just a massive waste of energy.

Joe: Correct. It’s really important to recognize that it is a waste of energy. It’s also really important to recognize that in itself, it also isn’t bad and it is there to be loved. I have a saying that says, “If you can’t love the emotion, love the resistance to the emotion.” If you make the resistance the next evil thing that you have to overcome, that’s another form of resistance. You are just adding a triple layer of resistance on it.

Brett: Well, what about the danger of, if you have, for example, you have anger and it’s deeply resisted and you remove the first layer of resistance and you start to let the anger through, but there’s still enough resistance around it, that it comes out as an attack. It can be dangerous to be overtaken by– to let ourselves be partially overtaken by a feeling and still have it constricted in that way, right?

Joe: Yes, it absolutely can. You’re playing a short game and a long game here. The short game is how do I start getting in touch with these emotions in a way that isn’t destructive. Then there’s a long game, which is, “If I don’t do it now, then what am I going to do? Continue to constrict it for the rest of my life?” Like there’s a risk involved. You have to risk a little destruction now to get to a place where the anger is clear and moves easily and is fluid and enjoyable.

There’s some tricks to it. The first trick is don’t believe the emotion. Don’t not believe it either. It’s like when you’re having the emotion, the important thing is to see yourself as an actor playing the part of you having an emotional experience. An actor always knows it’s not their emotion. Even if they get caught up in it for a while, they know there’s some part of their consciousness that knows that the story is a story. It’s not true.

It’s about keeping that aspect of your awareness awake, so that you just know like, oh, this emotion is just moving through me. It’s not personal. But it’s also allowing that emotional experience in and that requires letting the emotion be garbly. Intellect speaks like this. It’s like A plus B equals C and B equals D, therefore, A plus D equals C. That’s how logic talks. The way anger talks is “ [makes sounds]…Oh, right. That’s it. I got it.” That’s how anger speaks.

If you believe all the garbly gobbly glue of anger, like, “That person’s an asshole and that person did this to me, blah, blah, blah, blah”, then you’re never going to get to that clarity. If you don’t allow all that garbly glue, you also won’t get to the clarity. It’s this interesting thing of listening to emotions in a different way than you listen to logic. If you start repressing it and say, “Well, I know it’s really not them. It’s really me. I know that they’re trying their best”, or blah, blah, blah, all that kind of stuff doesn’t allow the full  expression of the emotion so you don’t get to the clarity.

The trick is, not to listen to the story, to see it as non-personal, to see yourself as an actor, just having it move through. It’s like going to the bathroom. It’s not a personal thing. It’s just happening. Then the last part is to just not do it at anybody. This is the most critical thing is, don’t do it at people. Most people think of anger like, don’t get angry at the person. I’m speaking to that, but I’m also speaking to sadness. People get sad at people all the time, to try to create manipulation or guilt or whatever it is. I’m going to get sad at you, to make it so that you change your thing. You’re never using your emotions to try to get someone else to change.

Brett: Or afraid at people.

Joe: Yes, exactly.

Brett: This isn’t safe.

Joe: That’s exactly it.

Brett: You were speaking to feeling these emotions coming up within us and then viewing it as we are an actor, acting out the emotion that’s coming up within us. It sounded like that could apply also interpersonally. Or if our partner is coming at us with a lot of anger, recognizing like, oh, they are playing the part of their anger right now and I don’t need to take everything they say personally. I could actually hold space for this to occur so that they can find their clarity behind it.

Joe: Absolutely. That’s a lot easier if you are good with your anger. If you’re like, “I love my anger. I can’t wait for my anger to arise because every time it does, I find out some boundary that I haven’t been drawing. I find out some way I haven’t been being clear. I love my anger.” Then you see somebody else get angry. You’re like, “Oh, I love that too.”

When somebody sees you love their anger, man, that anger changes, they’re like– it happens with me and people are like, “Goddamnit,  Joe, you da, da, da”, I’m like, “Oh yes, you’re angry, come on. Tell me about it.” I want to hear this. I see that you feel alone and I see that you feel rejected and I don’t want that. Let me hear what’s going on with you. That changes their anger. It just changes it.

Brett: You were speaking to the short and the long game that’s being played. I think a lot of fear of letting our emotions fly is that we’ll become worthless or unproductive or just the last straw will happen if we’re deep in a relationship. We’re just like, “Oh, man, one more outburst, then they’re just done with me. I’ve got to suppress this.” What happens if we just let our emotions fly all the time?

Joe: Again, just not at people, to put your emotion at somebody, to try to get them to change with your emotions subconsciously or consciously, it’s emotional abuse. It’s not healthy for them. If it’s happening to you, draw a boundary and say, “I don’t want that. I’m happy to listen to your emotions if I give you permission, but otherwise, I don’t want the emotion at me.”

I just say, don’t do that without permission. If you are getting your emotions out by yourself or with a close friend and you’re doing it, then they’re not going to leak. The reason that somebody gets angry at somebody else’s because they haven’t gotten angry by themselves. It takes them a while to build that anger. There’s lots of time before that, so you can release it. Go release your anger and then talk to the person. Go mourn and then talk to your wife about what you need from the relationship. Go get really, really scared and then talk to your boss about the raise that you want. Do the thing that you have the emotional experience and then go take the action.

Brett: Just feel it. How do you recognize, in the moment, when you’re in this like a spin cycle and you’re like, “Oh God, this da, da, da,…This person did this or whatever? What should I do here? I don’t know what to do!” How do you recognize that? What’s the hook to get you out of that loop to remember this and to get into the emotions.

Joe: Exactly what you said. If you are doing one of three things, you mentioned two of them. If you notice that you keep on looping on the same thought, it means there’s an emotion that you’re not feeling. If you are not clear about a decision you need to make, then there’s emotion you’re not feeling. If you are judgmental towards another person, there’s an emotion you’re not feeling.

Brett: Can you dig into that one a little bit more?

Joe: If I judge you for being angry, I don’t want to feel out of control. Or if I judge you for being angry, it’s because I don’t want to feel the potential that I have to lose you, so loss. If I judge you for being uptight, it’s because I don’t want to feel controlled, or I don’t want to feel rigid. Every time we have a judgement, it’s just a way to suppress an emotion, which is what makes our decision making really screwed up because if you’re judging, very different than discernment. 

Discernment is just a knowing of distinction. If it’s judgment, then you’re not clear. You’re not looking at the data clearly. You have preconceived notions of the data and then you can’t make great decisions.

Brett: Or preconceived notions of intent on behalf of the other.

Joe: Correct. That’s right. Then the last one, another cool trick is, whenever you see your mind in binary thinking, “I either have to buy the car or not buy the car.” Instead of, “I could buy that car. I could buy that car from 10 different people. I could buy that car with different packages. I can buy that car in different colors. I could buy that car in six months.” Whenever you’re in that binary black or white thinking, then you know that there’s some fear there that’s not being felt.

Brett: Let’s get into a little bit deeper. We’ve been talking a lot about the feeling side of this, what do you mean by figuring it out? What are some other ways that that can happen and that we can get caught in that loop?

Joe: Figuring it out at its most essential is just your intellect. It’s to strategize. It’s to try to solve the puzzle. It’s like, “This is the outcome that I want, how do I get there?” That is the intellect and it is really good at that. That’s what it means when you’re figuring, when you’re intellectualizing. Some people say it’s in your head. Some people call it being tactical and there’s some really great uses for that. It’s not a bad thing. It’s just a lot better when you’re not avoiding an emotion using it.

Brett: It sounds like the purpose of the intellect here is to take a very narrowly framed context of assumptions and goals and then figure out the path from A to B, but then the emotions are what is creating those assumptions to begin with and the goals.

Joe: Correct and the risk profile.

Brett: Elaborate on that.

Joe: If you really, really, really don’t want to lose your girlfriend, then your risk tolerance is really low. If you’re like, “I could do it under certain circumstances.” Then you’re more likely to be yourself, right? How madly you don’t want to feel the emotion really affects your risk profile.

Brett: Yes, that makes sense. We should figure some things out. Wouldn’t it be silly to just shut that part of us off and never use that part of our intelligence?

Joe: Absolutely. I wouldn’t want to build a bridge without the intellect. I wouldn’t want to have this conversation without the intellect. I would assume that would be horrible to listen to. Intellect is a beautiful, amazing thing. It’s just recognizing its incompleteness. There’s Girdle’s theory of mathematical incompleteness, which is basically a logical proof that all sets of logic are either incomplete or they are based on a postulate. Basically it proves logic can’t be logical. 

Brett: My favorite part of that is that he proved it with logic. He actually used logic to prove the incompleteness of logic and it couldn’t have been done without logic.

Joe: Right. Aristotle did it earlier in a different thing, but he didn’t do it with the same logic without the math. It’s a beautiful thing and our postulates are emotions. That’s what our postulates are in our logical way of thinking. That’s why people can logically justify absolute opposite things. It’s not because their rationale is good or bad. It’s because they have different postulates behind the rationale.

Figuring stuff out is great and the intellect is beautiful. Even in the spiritual journey or the transformative journey, the intellect is beautiful. It’s great for deconstructing itself, very good at hanging out in a way that allows you to describe what’s happened. Usually after you’ve gone through it, right? What I notice is that it’s not like, “Here’s the description of it and now I go through it.”

It’s more like “Here’s a description of it that can give me some framework that I can rest on that I don’t completely understand.” Then I go through it. Then maybe like a month later, I can describe it. The intellect is really good for that as well. I love the intellect. I love watching great minds at work.

Brett: At the same time, it can become the trap again too. You can have this major emotional movement or transformative experience or whatnot and then your intellect will step in and be like, “Okay, so what actually happened? Let me make sense of that.” Like, “This was the childhood thing that happened to me and then that was what I felt in this meeting and then all that interacts and then this way.” Then like, “Cool, now I have a model for understanding myself.” Then once again, you’ve created this limited system that may be more useful than the previous one but then eventually will reach its limits of understanding and prediction.

Joe: That’s right. My words for that are every epiphany is the innocent beginning of a rut. Every epiphany– it’s so important to have these epiphanies, but what’s really important about them is that it blows everything up. Then we reconstruct it and then a new constraint is found and we need to have that new epiphany to deconstruct or to destroy the old epiphany and the old rut. 

That’s how transformation works. That’s how evolution works. It’s a beautiful thing and yes, there comes a point in this development where you can see that every single thought that you have is both true and not true. There comes a point in development where you can’t believe any one of your thoughts.

If you have emotional clarity when that development point hits, you become incredibly clear. If you don’t have emotional clarity, you can use that same beauty of seeing both sides of every coin as a way to become indecisive, as a way to beat yourself up, as a way to limit yourself, as a way to continue to constrict emotions. Logic is a beautiful thing. It’s just really important to know what it’s good at and what it’s not good at.

Brett: Right. Now, what we’ve been talking about has been very much about the personal development journey, but I think we could actually apply this very easily to business, for example, product iterations. Every epiphany from your product research or your market research to come up with a new direction could easily become the new rut that you find yourself spending six months in $1 million investing in.

Joe: Right. Or a government that had a great epiphany about a police force and then now that police force epiphany is a rut, that needs to be recreated and a new epiphany for is an example, right? There’s a thousand examples of how the solution of yesterday is the rut of today. We villainize it and we make it bad, instead of just being like, “We need a new iteration. That’s it.”

Brett: Okay, maybe we don’t need one president with a lot of power.

Joe: Right. Or maybe we need a financial democracy instead of a voting democracy. Thousands of new epiphanies.

Brett: Somebody argued we already have that and it’s a bad thing.

Joe: Right, exactly. That’s another one, right? It’s like every one of our epiphanies, everything that locks us down was an epiphany at one point, was somebody’s realization at one point.

The CEO of Netflix, in his first business, he claims that he made everything idiot proof and then only idiots would come and work for him. In Netflix, he keeps a certain amount of chaos, a certain amount of creativity, a certain amount of risk involved, so that people who want smart challenges, people who want to be cutting edge, who want to have more freedom, show up and work for him. That’s more important than having things idiot proof for him. It’s that same thought process of, what’s more important is, that we’re constantly iterating that we are seeing through the logic that we used and relied on.

Brett: That’s a great example of how a leader’s personal journey can then show up in their company, because for a CEO to get to the point where they can just say, “Hey, you know what? Let’s just let some chaos happen.” They have to learn to feel that loss of control and welcome it.

Joe: This is everything, right? Let me give a really sharp example. Almost every high powered CEO I know has an issue of, A, feeling alone and B, having this deep feeling of self-reliance that they need to rely on themselves. At the bottom of that emotional slide is this deep sense of helplessness that they didn’t want to feel. You don’t learn to be self-reliant unless there was a point when you had this deep sense of helplessness that you didn’t want to feel.

Maybe it was an alcoholic dad or maybe it was getting really poor, or whatever it was. That sense of helplessness and saying, I am not going to feel that again is what propels them into this incredible place in their life. It’s also the thing that needs to be destroyed if they’re going to be great leaders. They need to feel that helplessness, they need to go into that complete helplessness. I don’t think it’s any mistake that the CEO of Netflix had to go through the helplessness of losing a company to get to the place of allowing that feeling of helplessness all the time, because somewhere in that journey, he found out that that helplessness was just a feeling and it had an incredible intelligence behind it. It was trying to tell him something and it no longer needed to be avoided. It needed to be looked for and to be excited when it shows up.

Brett: What’s an example of that happening in your life?

Joe: [laughs] I have children. Having children is like getting a deep tissue massage. If you resist, you are screwed, right? You have to constantly feel your own helplessness in your children. As an example of that, you have to feel that helplessness. 

For me, I think the first journey of it was abandonment. It was feeling emotionally abandoned. I was recreating that experience over and over again until I felt it, which is a really important part of this emotional journey. I’ll use that as an example, I felt, for whatever reason in my childhood, emotionally abandoned and I didn’t want to feel it. I created a whole world to not feel that, but in the way I created that whole world, like everybody, I reintroduced it over and over and over again. 

This is why we all have that friend who’s been dating the same person six times in a row. It’s not the same person as in– it’s like the same person in a different body with a different background, but wow. You just picked seven different men who all cheated on you. How did you ever do that? Right? I recreated people who would emotionally abandon me over and over again until I fell in love with the abandonment.

Once I fell in love with it, my system didn’t need to recreate it. I had found homeostasis. If there’s an emotion that I wasn’t allowed to feel, I recreate that feeling over and over again, until I fully allow that feeling and then I don’t need to recreate it. The other way to say this is the things that we are most scared of are the things that we’re subtly inviting into our life. If we’re most scared of feeling helpless, we will invite helplessness unconsciously into our life so that we have that opportunity too.

Brett: I’ve got a great example for that, growing up, I always felt I was being tightly controlled by school and society. That control made me feel helpless and I just didn’t want to feel helpless anymore. I developed exactly what you described, that self-reliance complex and that self-reliance complex then made me feel like I had to be in control of everything that I was doing and made it difficult sometimes to cooperate or collaborate on something that I wasn’t going to have the full reins over, which wouldn’t often lead me to feel alone and helpless.

Joe: That’s right. That’s exactly, beautiful. That’s exactly how it works. Then once we’re cool helplessness, then all of a sudden, we don’t recreate the conditions, because our body has just found that homeostasis. It’s like, okay, I’m back to balance.

Brett: I think addiction has a lot to do with that as well, that feeling of avoiding helplessness, feeling like you can control something. For example, a gambling addiction, a lot of what I’ve heard about slot machine addiction is, it’s not necessarily that those addicted think that they’re going to be winning any money. They know they’re not.  They know the math. They’re not stupid, but the feeling of just hitting the buttons and experiencing the spin occur, they’re just in a very tight loop system, where the rules are almost like they’re designed to look like they’re almost figure outable, but they’re not.

Joe: I think there’s definitely a lot of emotional avoidance in addiction. Oftentimes it’s shame. I’ve heard a saying that says shame is the locks of the chains of bad habits. Shame seems to be a big part of an addiction cycle and there’s others as well, but definitely, there’s a big emotional component to addiction cycles. There’s also some physical and neurological components as well, but emotional avoidance is a huge part of it. If you could just lift the shame out of people, then most of the addictions would fall away.

Brett: As we move through our lives and start feeling more and more of these emotions that we’ve been repressing, what does that development look like?

Joe: Emotional development looks pretty clearly the same way for different people, but the starting points are different. The earliest starting point that you can get to is just recognizing the emotions you have. It’s just knowing that you are constantly in an emotional state as long as you’re conscious. People think, some of them, especially if there’s been more emotional abuse or emotional repression in the home, will have a very specific experience of not being able to feel their emotions.

This is similar to somebody who’s been physically abused. If you have been physically abused and I put a quarter in your hand or a key in your hand, you won’t actually know which one you’re holding, because you’ve learned to cut off your sensations of your body. Emotionally, you might also have learned how to cut off this sensation. The first thing is to feel that sensation and that is just to identify that the emotional experience is happening at every given moment, because the way that we feel right now is slightly different than the way we feel right now, which is slightly different than the way we feel right now.

Identifying those emotions is a really good thing and it’s a great epiphany. It will also become a rut later on, but it’s a really great first stage. Then the second stage is an expression of that emotion. To really allow those emotions to be expressed through the body, through words, in a way that is not at anybody. It’s just having that full expression of emotion.

Then that moves into an emotional inquiry, which is how does it feel in your body? What color is it and where is it in my body and how dense is it? It’s a literal– what is the physicality of my emotions? Having a deep inquiry into that and then also having a deep inquiry of when I relate to my emotions differently, how do they work? When I’m angry at my emotions, what does that do? When I’m in love with my emotions, what does that do? When I am trying to get rid of my emotions, what does that do? When I am tickling my emotions, what does that do?

You’re literally playing with different relationships you can have with your emotions. Then there comes this place where you’re just deeply in love with your emotions and then emotions become very fluid. It becomes just like this beautiful flow of life. It’s so exciting and so pleasurable to feel your emotional fluidity. It allows for just very crisp decision-making and it allows for very decisive action to have that emotional flow.

To give you a great example of this epiphany rut thing, I did not have a lot of emotional awareness when I started this work at all in my 20’s and I got into this point where I realized, “Oh, I’m having emotions.” One day, I don’t know, a decade later, or something I was saying to somebody, I’m like, “I’m feeling angry right now”. They said, “No, you’re not.” I said, “Excuse me?” The person replied, “You’re naming an emotion, so you don’t have to feel it.” They were so right. I was like, son of a gun. Shit, I’ve named it so I don’t have to feel it. 

The thing that was once freeing, to be able to see it and name it, had become the new constraint. Then I realized, oh, the feeling of it is a completely different thing. When you feel the emotion, it’s all about letting the body just move. It’s like dancing without being self-conscious. It’s just your emotions know how to move your body. Your emotions know what to do. If they don’t fake it and they’ll figure it out. 

Don’t judge them. Don’t tell them how they’re supposed to look. That’s not crying. That’s not fear. So many people who aren’t good at crying when I see them cry for the first time, they think they’re like that can’t be real tears because it doesn’t feel like that one time I cried, but there’s 20 different ways of crying. You can cry of joy, you can cry of sadness, you can cry of grief, you can cry in a way like when you’re yawning. There’s so many different ways that sadness expresses and it’s not your job to judge them. It’s your job to just watch it like you would watch the Grand Canyon.

Brett: Right. It seems each stage here is a meta awareness, a new level of meta awareness around our emotions. The first level being, just recognizing that there is emotions here and that we are not just a logical machine figuring things out and that there is always an emotional context that exists for us. Then we get deeper into that and we start to be in the emotional context, not just recognizing that one’s there, but we flow in it and with it.

Then another level seems to be the meta awareness around the emotion being wow, okay, as I’m letting this anger move through me, I’m actually clarifying my boundary. Or as I’m letting the sadness move through me, I’m grieving the loss of something tangible, or even just an idea. That this whole process of letting these emotions move through us is actually changing the assumptions, goals and the context and the risk profile of all of our future logical thoughts.

Joe: Exactly. We are limited. Everybody talks about limited thoughts but in reality, the limited thoughts have a deep correlation with the way we limit our emotional reality.

Brett: It’s almost as though the thoughts are just the tip of the emotional iceberg. They are actually a part of the emotions. They are emotions that are most finally, the part of the emotion that is working in the finest detail.

Joe: It depends on the perspective, which is the tip of the iceberg and which is the underside of the iceberg. What I do know is that they are in an intricate dance and when one side isn’t working, the other side definitely helps.

Brett: It sounds like what you’ve been saying all along is that the intellect is very useful and we do want to use it to figure stuff out, but first we want to get our emotional context right and allow our emotions to shift us into the place that is most aligned with our reality in our moment. Then in that space, figure stuff out.

Joe: I wouldn’t use the word right, but generally, directionally, that feels very right. [laughs] I would say it’s when your emotions are blocked or when you’re trying to deeply avoid an emotion, then your decision making can’t be clear. It’s just as simple as that. Feel the emotion whenever you can. That allows for clarity and it doesn’t need to be any more complicated than that and see it as a process that maybe at the beginning, when you realize that you’re not clear on something and there’s emotion involved, it’s going to take a while to get through it.

Pretty soon as you get older in the journey, then the emotions flow so quickly. The recognition of it can just make the whole thing really, really clear, really quick. It’s common for me on a daily basis to have a cry or shake or get angry. It’s relieving of stress. It changes my neurochemistry. It clarifies my decision. It doesn’t take but five minutes and it’s just moves.

Brett: It’s almost like you could do a daily, emotional yoga.

Joe: Indeed. I did for years. Indeed. I don’t think I ever did it daily, but maybe like five times a week, I would take 20 to 30 minutes to do literally emotional yoga, where I would feel everything that I was not feeling and teach my body how to feel it and how to accept it and how to unlock. Because as the emotions start to be felt, then the musculature unlocks and then you can feel it deeper.

Brett: Your cortisol levels will shift and your metabolism will update and start releasing an amount of energy into your body that is appropriate for the moment.

Joe: That’s right. The other thing to know is that each of these emotional streams that I talked about, like anger– so there’s anger that’s constricted is constricted in a lot of ways and the unrestricted anger is that clarity and determination. The unrestricted sadness is a deep joy and the unconstricted fear is excitement, right? There’s a saying that says, excitement is fear with the breath, or fear is excitement without the breath. It’s from an acting school. Each of these things, when they’re not resisted, become something very, very different.

Brett: Right. Grief is a celebration of what you’ve had.

Joe: Absolutely. Grief is this anger, sadness, fear altogether wrapped up in one. The feelings of these things coming through you when they’re unresisted change deeply. You don’t even– can’t even recognize them and they start blending all into one emotional state. It’s like one stream that’s happening. 

Brett: This all seems to really tie into something that we were working on a lot in your courses, which is this phenomenon where we can understand something intellectually, something about our story or about our traumas, or somebody could be listening to this podcast and understand it intellectually. We can still not get it all the way until we’ve had the emotional movement to consolidate it.

Joe: This is really something that happens in coaching all the time. You get somebody who intellectually understands that, yes, okay. My boss is managing me and I’m angry, but I intellectually really, really understand that they’re trying to get me to do my best work, but I’m feeling it as criticism. Intellectually, they understand that their boss wants the best for them, but emotionally it’s just criticism. It’s just what dad was doing, when the person I’m coaching was 13 or whatever it is. 

Then once they get it emotionally, when they grok it in their whole body, then all of a sudden it’s like, thanks so much for the feedback. I appreciate it. I really appreciate you wanting me to do my best work here. It’s on so many levels. It’s even grokking complex ideas in your body completely, which has an emotional component to it.

If somebody sees, here’s this really complex marketing thought process and they don’t fully understand it. They can intellectually get it, but it’s not second nature. It’s not just what they do. It means that there’s some emotional component of that marketing. Some thing like, “Oh my God, I’m going to be asking people for stuff.” Or, “Oh my God, marketing is bad and dirty.” There’s some emotional component of it that when that emotional component is fully felt, then it’s understood. It might not be used. It might be used, but it can’t even be fully understood until that emotional component has been felt.

Brett: Until your emotions align with it. It reminds me of Einstein where for him, the theory of relativity was a spiritual experience to be working in. Many scientists, prominent scientists have said similar things. Simon, for example.

Joe: Absolutely. You cannot have certain ideas without certain emotional clarity. You cannot have certain ideas or certain epiphanies without an experiential understanding of what’s going on. You can’t do the theory of relativity until you see through your own limited perception of time that society has taught you.

Brett: Right. Or even your senses, your physical body has taught you.

Joe: That’s right.

Brett: Right. How do we then stop resisting these emotions? What are some takeaways from all of this, that are some concrete practices? 

Joe: First of all, if you are resisting emotions and you try to stop, that’s more resistance as we’ve already talked about. Love the resistance, that’s the most important thing. Fake it till you make it. My personal story was I looked in a photo album when I was, I don’t know what I was, like 20 something years old. I saw a picture of me crying and I realized that my parents were uncomfortable with the emotions I was having, because they were taught to be uncomfortable with their own emotions.

One of the ways to make sure that I didn’t make everybody uncomfortable was to tease me around my emotions. At one point, they took a picture of me and then they put it in the photo album. I found this picture. It was a picture of me crying. This picture you could see me crying and you could see me dumbfounded that I was having a picture taken of me. I was like, it’s probably why I haven’t cried in 14 years. I put a picture of it on my desk and I was okay, I’m going to learn how to cry but a year later, I hadn’t cried. Then I was okay, I’m determined. I need to go and really give this thing a go and cry. I went out into the woods. I went to a faraway trail. Then I went off trail for three miles so that nobody could see me cry. I had that much shame around it. Then I would just fake crying. I did that for three months. I would just fake it. Then all of a sudden, it just happened. It started happening for real.

When it happened, it was such a relief that I’d let it happen for four days. I could have stopped it, but I was crying when I was brushing my teeth. It’s like my body was just like years of tension just evaporating in days. Then all of a sudden, I had a deeper access to my tears and then that led to deeper and deeper access to my tears. Then that led to, oh, every single heartbreak of mine increases my capacity to love. I cannot wait for more heartbreak. Even just saying that, just that in itself makes me want to cry, how blessed I am for loving heartbreak and for seeing how much freedom to love that gives me. 

Brett: That’s beautiful. This has been a great episode. Thank you very much, Joe. We’ll catch you again next week.

Joe: Yes, man. What a pleasure to be with you.

Thanks for listening to The Art of Accomplishment podcast.  If you enjoyed what you heard today, please subscribe. We would love your feedback, so feel free to send us questions and comments. To reach us, join our newsletter, learn more about VIEW, or to take a course, visit: artofaccomplishment.com

Resources: 

Antonio Damasio, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain, https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/297609/descartes-error-by-antonio-damasio/

Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, https://sogyalrinpoche.org/about-sogyal-rinpoche/tibetan-book-of-living-and-dying