Afflictive Emotions

Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools.
— Ecclesiastes 7:9

Afflictive emotions are fundamentally only energy. They originate outside of present moment awareness, or to say it another way, awareness, and afflictive emotions are mutually exclusive. Fear is the primal energy source of all afflictive emotions. Environmental, cultural and personal differences provide the individual mind with the occasions to fragment that energy into different colorations to fit each individual. Let us repeat this all-important truth that we must confront in order to gain our freedom. The details of human suffering are unique to each individual—the cause is universal—it is fear.

Examples of afflictive emotions are:

alienation            anger                    anxiety              confusion
blame                   boredom             defeat                depression
despair                 doubt                   grief                    guilt
jealousy               loneliness            longing              pain
panic                    regret                   remorse            resignation
romantic love     sentimentality    shame               shock
stress                    terror                   uncertainty     unhappiness

Afflictive energy and its labels are a cultural creation and are basic elements within the story of that culture. For example, the four “humours” was the name given to a basic typology of afflictive energy during the Middle Ages:

Phlegmatic—unemotional and of a sluggish temperament.
Melancholic—sadness or depression; gloomy or subject to sullenness.
Sanguine—cheerful, confident, and passionate.
Choleric—easily angered, bad-tempered; showing or expressing anger.

In the overly complex storyline of P-B we get lost in a haze of emotional reaction. We cannot, for example, understand why our personal relationships can become such a mess. Seth describes some of the confusion that is possible and reveals why a shift in perspective would be very helpful.

“Hatred always involves a painful sense of separation from love, which may be idealized. A person you feel strongly against at any given time upsets you because he or she does not live up to your expectations. The higher your expectations the greater any divergence from them seems. If you hate a parent it is precisely because you expect such love. A person from whom you expect nothing will never earn your bitterness. The hatred is meant to get you your love back. It is supposed to lead to a communication from you, stating your feelings—clearing the air, so to speak, and bringing you closer to the love object. Hatred is not the denial of love, but an attempt to regain it, and a painful recognition of circumstances that separate you from it.”[i]

If our relationships existed in the context of P-A, they would be much simpler and therefore more wholesome because they would be based on feelings not emotions.

You might ask why “cheerful” and “confident” or “romantic love” should be included in the list of afflictive emotions. To be able to answer that question we must understand the distinction between feeling and emotion which is a subject itself in this encyclopedia. From the perspective of P-A, we come to understand what Buddhists realized which is that “‘All emotions are painful’. This is something that only Buddhists would talk about. Many religions worship things like love with celebration and songs, Buddhists think, ‘This is all suffering.’”[ii]  In the present moment emotions are absent and only feelings are experienced.

Most of us have experienced the water “mirage” or illusion of standing water that appears to be ahead of us on the highway as we drive across Kansas on a hot day in July. As we approach the mirage it eventually disappears. We have been deceived by our senses. So it is in P-B. The fear that produces our afflictive emotion is like that. We are frightened by that which seems to exist but upon closer examination, has no substantial reality. Every human problem and all the reactions that accompany it grow out of our reluctance to face our fears, to stay with them long enough to understand their fundamental nature. If we remain calm and patient as we sense the arising afflictive emotion and choose response over reaction, our anxiety and suffering will begin to fade like the mirage on a hot Kansas highway.

Afflictive energy flows from the energy centers of the false self. It is important to remember that this energy shows up in the body, mind as well as the emotions. Fear is the source of all afflictive emotions and drives the need for security, sensation and power. Fear energy is dark, ponderous and heavy. The energy of the present moment is light, buoyant and filled with joy.

Afflictive Emotions

[i]     Roberts, Jane. The Nature of Personal Reality. New York: Bantam, 1974, pp. 421-424.

ii]     Rinpoche, Dzongsar Khyentse. “Buddhism in a Nutshell.” Shambhala Sun. Boulder, Colorado, March 2000, p. 41.

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