I’m always chirping on about emotional intelligence. How understanding our emotions can be used as an opportunity to grow through life’s challenges. How it can help us better understand each other. How it can bring us together through compassion and help us lead more fulfilling lives. But something that I see often as this term gets tossed around is the lack of awareness in the people who are talking about it, and without personal awareness, it’s nothing.
If someone had spoken to me about emotional intelligence a few years back I probably would have nodded and said I’d got it, because I would have thought I had got it. I would have logically processed it in my mind and thought ‘yeah, I know how I feel most of the time, I’m in tune with my body and my emotions’, but in reality I wasn’t. In fact I didn’t even know what I didn’t know back then, and this is something which I see around me often these days. That so many of us think how we feel, rather than feel how we feel. In fact, some of us have made an art out of it to the point where we’ve even convinced ourselves that we are actually feeling, when the truth is that we’ve completely blocked off our senses all together. It’s no one’s fault that we’re doing this, we’re simply doing the best we can with the knowledge that we have, and unfortunately the majority of us in the west have been taught through social conditioning that this is how we find out how we feel.
This could be due to many factors such as the post war generation children learning to lock down emotions from their parents who would have experienced horrific traumas. This then being passed on to future generations as ‘the norm’. The introduction of industry and the desire to maximise production through robotic behaviour, slowly omitting any kind of emotional expression within the work place. The Victorian school system favouring science and maths over arts and music (mind over heart, or logic over feeling), seen as creativity is physically expressive form of emotion. The reinforced perceptions that this is the norm, seen as to question it might risk the consequence to be ousted from the community. I could go in to many more theories of how and why I think we’ve arrived at this point in the western society but I’ll reserve that for another time.
So what does it mean to become aware? To me, it means to gain an understanding of what our body, mind and heart are trying to tell us through signs.
It means to check in with our physical senses – touch, taste, sound, sight and smell, and understand what each sense is experiencing in the present moment.
It’s understanding what our mind is telling us through our judgements, commentary and instructions on how to behave.
It’s noticing what our emotions are telling us through our creative outputs and expressive behaviour.
At first, when we start paying attention to our body, mind and emotions it can be overwhelming, especially if we’ve been living a life which is in-congruent (with conflict between the head and the heart). For me, inner conflict was something that I’d lived with for a long time, especially as I strove more towards what I thought society wanted of me, rather than what I wanted for me. It was like opening my eyes in a room which had a whole load of mess in that needed clearing up. I felt exhausted just knowing about the mess, a mess which I had unconsciously been adding to for years. Part of me wanted to bury my head in the sand and pretend that I hadn’t seen it, but the problem was that I couldn’t un-see it and deep down I knew that the only way to feel better about the situation was to start clearing up the mess that I had created. That’s when I made a conscious effort to increase my awareness, learn the best techniques on how to tune into to my mind, body and emotions, and ultimately start to live a life that was true to me, no matter how ‘emotional’ or messy it seems on the outside. It’s the moment when I finally embodied the words my Mum had told me all my life and thought ‘Fuck what people think, I’m doing this my way’.
There are plenty of tools you can use to start becoming more aware. Mindfulness is one of the most spoken about tools to practice, but questioning ourselves and reflecting on our behaviour are also important too. I also find that journaling, and talking things through with friends is an important process to practice because sometimes I’m still not sure how I feel and it helps to have a little feedback.
The truth is that without inquiring into these areas of ourselves and really becoming a-tuned to what is going on inside us, emotional intelligence just becomes another subject matter to give lip service to. We may as well be talking about the weather, and it’s this disconnection to ourselves that is stopping us connect with others, with our inspiration and with greater fulfilment.
Photo credit: Kelly Searle