Emotional Fluidity

Emotion Series #13

October 27, 2023
How long do you hold on to emotions? How much do they stagnate in your system? How fully you can process your emotions and let them flow through you? Joe and Brett discuss how the capacity to feel all of our emotions and allow them to move through us leads to better decisions, deeper relationships, and a richer experience of life.

Episode intro: There is a line I really love from the gospel of Thomas. "If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you." I really love this as an intro to one of the core pieces of our work, which is emotional fluidity.

Welcome to the Art of Accomplishment where we explore how deepening connection with ourselves and others leads to creating the life we want with enjoyment and ease. How are you doing today, Joe?

Joe: I am doing really well. How are you?

Brett: I am doing lovely. I am really excited to finally get to this topic, which feels so core to the work and in 85 episodes we have talked about it through nearly every episode without directly addressing it. Let's do this. Let's start by talking about what it is. What is emotional fluidity?

01:00 Joe: Emotional fluidity is the capacity to feel all of your emotions and to allow them to move through you without any resistance. That's partially in time. Sometimes it is important to compartmentalize things, like if you need to save your child from a car accident, you don't want to start feeling grief. You want to go and save your child from the car accident. But generally it is also a mark of time. How long do you hold on to emotions? Do they stagnate in your system? It is how well you can process, how quickly you can process, and how fully you can process your emotions and let them just flow through you.

If you look at babies, they are great examples of emotional fluidity. They can go from happy to sad really quickly or angry or upset. They don't hold on to anything in the past. It all moves through them. That's not to say that emotional fluidity is like a baby in the fact that you are not in control of your emotions. It is odd. You are out of control with your emotions, but your emotions don't control you. When you are younger, there is often this feeling that your emotions control you. You go through this natural process of trying to manage or contain your emotions. Then you can learn that you can have your emotions without them controlling them, and then the fluidity is really important to allow them all to move through you. They don't control you. At the same time, you don't control them. The emotions are going to come, and you don't get to decide what they are. You don't get to decide it is irrational to have that emotion. Those are the emotions that are here, and then they are all going to move through me. That's what emotional fluidity is.

Brett: The capacity to allow emotions to move through us. I also noticed with emotional fluidity there is an absence or at least a fluidity within shame, guilt or resistance. How does that show up?

03:08 Joe: If you look at judgment, guilt, resistance or shame, they often stagnate the emotion. The core emotions get stagnated with those emotions, and so it is allowing yourself to feel those completely. Pretty soon they stop coming up very much, if at all. Even if they arise, they don't stagnate your system. Oftentimes somebody feels guilty about something or shame like they have done something wrong, they will go over and over and over the emotional loop or they will dissociate from it. That's another example.

Brett: One way of describing this or one metaphor for this is like the range of motion for your body, but in your emotional system.

Joe: Yes, you could think of it as emotional flexibility like yoga. You have a bigger range of emotion. It also means you are not avoiding any emotional experience anymore. It is not like you don't want to feel that so you are going to arrange your life to not feel that, so avoiding these conversations, these people and these business opportunities. The fluidity allows you to make friends with all of the emotional experiences, and then you don't have to avoid them or spend your whole life trying to have a particular emotional experience.

Brett: In the body metaphor, it would be like favoring a knee for many years and developing all of this extra musculature and habits around avoiding something going on in the body. If we do the same things for our emotions, we are going to have a lot of patterning around that.

Joe: That's beautifully put. The other thing that happens is that you have this fluidity and the emotional experience, and in that fluidity there is also something that happens, which is a bit difficult to explain. The best way I would say it and it breaks people when I say this is you enjoy all of the negative emotions. There is a deep enjoyment of what was once considered a negative emotion. Because you are not resisting it, it doesn't control you anymore. There is this deep enjoyment of anger or heartbreak or sadness.

Brett: There is a distinction there between reluctant acceptance of an emotion and enjoyment, which brings me to the next series of questions. What is not emotional fluidity? Specifically, what is not emotional fluidity that people commonly associate with it or would associate and call emotional fluidity?

06:00 Joe: I don't know how much people would use the word generally but I think there is something like I felt everything in a meditative space. I would not call that emotional fluidity. If you are identified fully in the watcher, which I think is a fine thing of the emotional experience and there is nothing wrong with it by any stretch, but that's not emotional fluidity unless it is embodied. The watcher can still be on line but there needs to be an embodiment with it. For emotional fluidity to work, you are not trying to manage it through watching it. You are actually in love with it. You are experiencing it. At some point, you said it is like acceptance. This is an acceptance. I would say it is a welcoming. I can't wait to feel sad again. I can't wait to feel upset or jealous. There are lessons in it for me. It is a pure signal. I can enjoy it. It teaches me how to be a better human, and that is what I think breaks people. How on earth could I ever enjoy being angry? I watch people find it all the time, so it is definitely possible.

Brett: Something that struck me about what you said is it is okay to observe it, but also we need to experience it. I am curious about what happens if we flip that around. If you are just experiencing it but you are lost in it and there is no observation or perspective on it, that could be another way.

Joe: That would be an extremely slow process that could potentially get you lost for decades. It is really important to have that self awareness and the experiencing of it, both. The more you can see it not as yourself and just as a wave coming through you, the quicker the emotional fluidity happens. You will stall it if you don't experience it and if it becomes something that is so detached from you or you are dissociated with. It has to be embodied for the whole process to work well, smoothly and quickly.

Brett: How about letting go? I am going to let go of my sadness. It is time to let go of my grief. I was angry, but then I just let go.

Joe: No, you didn't. No. Again, you don't get a choice on what emotions you are feeling. The emotional experience is the emotional experience you have. What you might let go of is a thought pattern, such as they hurt me and therefore, the emotion goes away with it. They are the bad one and I am the good one. That could hold an emotional experience in place for a long period of time. There are definitely thoughts you can let go of and you can see through, and then the emotional experience will change. That can happen. Also, I would say you can fully feel an emotion and then the thought changes. That happens all the time. I see people finally release anger and all of a sudden they can see clearly so many things, particularly around things they were unclear about or that they had not drawn boundaries around. What you can't do is just let go of an emotion. An emotion is like breath. You are always having an experience of one, and you don't get to choose what it is. You can't let go of an emotion. You can let go of a thought that changes your emotional experience.

Brett:  Just as much as you couldn't let go of having an experience in this moment, right now.

Joe: It is happening. You can't stop it.

Brett: Why cultivate emotional fluidity? What is so important about it?

09:50 Joe: Life hurts without it. There is a lot of stagnation. It is harder to get to clarity, but mostly it hurts. Look at any part of your life that hurts and then notice there is emotional stagnation there. It is really common that there is emotional stagnation in those areas. That's one of the things. It creates blindspots for us. If we are avoiding certain emotions because we don't want to feel them, feeling like a failure or not valuable or sad, then we are going to create an entire life experience. I don't know how many people have come to me who are really high powered executives, and they want to start something on their own. Their entire life has been based on feeling valued, feeling like they are providing value, and then they are not sure how they are going to do that on their own. They don't know who they are going to provide value to. It stops their entire entrepreneurial experience. It totally changes your experience. That's another one.

I think the other thing is there is identity that can be lost in an emotional experience, too. The other day someone asked if I could help them with being a dick, and I said they have identified with being a dick, which means they had identified with anger. They were not having full fluidity on that emotional experience. It also limits us through that identification thing. The interesting thing about it and I think it is really important to say is what could be happening in some people's minds when I say emotional fluidity, they might think that means I easily get angry at anybody and start yelling at them or I easily cry at people or I am wildly out of control with my anger and it is hurting everybody around me or I have temper tantrums. I hold people hostage with my emotional experience. That is not at all what I am speaking about when I say emotional fluidity. In those cases, the emotions are very constricted. There is a lot of shame around having the emotions. There is a lot of trying to control other people with your emotions. None of that is welcoming your emotional experience. I think that's a really important thing to say.

The other day I was talking to somebody, and they were saying that the way I define anger is different from how the rest of the world defines anger. I am defining the energy once it is unresisted instead of the energy resisted. Sadness resisted can be saying you are not sad. It can be a form of low level depression. It can be somebody being passive aggressive, like you are sad but you don't want to feel it so you attack someone else. But that feeling of sadness unrestricted, it is actually a joyful release almost. It is a sad release, but it creates this joyful release. That's how I would describe it. That all comes with emotional fluidity as well. As you allow and welcome all of these emotions, your experience of them changes because they are not resisted. Your experience of anything changes whether you are resisting or not resisting it.

Brett: I feel like what you just said traces back to cultural belief systems around emotions being seen as manipulative. A lot of times when people refer to an emotion, they are referring to the behaviors of projecting that emotion at somebody, not necessarily the direct sensory, visceral experience of being with that emotion and just fully enjoying it.

Joe: I don't want to be angry because I don't want to do what my dad did to me by controlling me through anger. I don't want to be sad because I don't want to be weak like my mom because mom was actually trying to get people to take care of her through her sadness. I think the resistance people have to the emotional experience is because they have been manipulated by it and because they don't love it in themselves.

Brett: These are a number of ways the lack of emotional fluidity affects our lives. What does emotional fluidity bring to our lives? How does it open things up for us when we have it and we are opened up to it?

14:50 Joe: So fucking many ways. I can't even begin to tell you the goodness it brings into your life. How does it benefit your head, your heart and your body? I think those are really good ways to think about it, and by head, I mean your intellectual experience and by heart, I mean your emotional experience. For the body, that's going to capture a lot, maybe a little nervous system and a little musculature, because when we resist emotions, we hold our muscles. It has a huge effect on our body.

Let's start with that. If we were going to go with our heads, for instance, it really prevents bad habits. Oftentimes, bad habits are something you do because you don't want to have a certain emotional experience. It makes decision making a shit ton easier because oftentimes as I have talked about so many times, it is the emotional center of our brain that makes our decisions. We are using logic to try to feel a certain way or not feel a certain way. If you welcome emotions, you have more flexibility to feel whatever way. It really helps with that decisiveness and decision making. That emotional fluidity does a tremendous amount for decisiveness because you are not so worried about getting it wrong or right all of the time. Usually people who are indecisive are really scared to get it wrong or sometimes get it right.

Brett: Which is ultimately associated with a feeling.

Joe: Exactly. Wrong, feeling wrong. It reduces judgment because judgment is something we do to not feel. It increases clear headed discrimination. For instance, if I really want to feel successful, I am more likely to buy into the scam, like a pyramid scheme. If I really want to feel abundance, I am more likely to buy into a pyramid scheme. If I really want to feel like a successful venture capitalist, I am more likely to buy into some bullshit technology somebody has raised a couple hundred million dollars on. A lot of clear headed stuff happens because you don't need to feel a certain way and you are not scared to feel a certain way. It speeds up learning because there is less shame and you welcome all of the ups and downs of the learning process. It speeds that up. It stops the stagnation people have going over the same thing over and over again because they are trying to avoid an emotional experience.

Brett: How about the heart?

Joe: Heart, heart, heart. What does it do? The most important thing it does is it really increases joy and love. I am sure I have said this. Joy is the matriarch of a family of emotions, and she won't come into a house where her children aren't welcome. The other way to think about this is you are a dock and you have space for one ship. The ship that is naturally there is joy, but if you have another one parked there and it hasn't moved, the joy is not going to be there. You are going to be in the depression. It totally increases your capacity to love because there is nothing to defend against anymore. It increases your capacity to feel joy, which is a very natural state. If you look at 2 or 3 year olds and they are not experiencing a different emotion, joy is just the thing that's kicking around in there. There is more tenderness, more connection, and more trust because you are willing to feel the heartbreak of love. All love comes with heartbreak and all love comes with disappointment. All love comes with being let down from time to time, and if you are willing to feel those things, you have no reason to avoid the love. Therefore, there is more connection and also less emotional avoidant behaviors, like fewer things where you are feeling shame. You feel so much shame and you don't want to feel the shame. Therefore, you are going to drink and smoke a lot of pot.

Brett: Less spiraling and wallowing and circling in the collapse.

Joe: Less depression, all of those things happen. It is amazing how quickly life changes if you feel the shit that is up for you to feel in the moment. It is just insane how quickly life changes, and how much more joy, happiness and clarity there is.

Brett: Just an overall vitality and aliveness, like drinking from the fire hose of life. If you don't have your full emotional experience, you are missing a significant chunk of your overall potential experience in life. Your kids come in with their joy that's natural for them, and how much can you be with that joy and allow it to move through you as well?

Joe: My personal experience of it is the difference between using your phone in black and white and then in color. There is a huge difference. When anything like this cracks open widely, there is a moment of realizing this is so different. I remember I used to say it felt like life had become a dream I had never thought possible coming true. That was the experience of life. It was very vital and very alive. It had a broad spectrum to it that it hadn't before. I could love easily even if someone didn't love me or even hated me. It changed a tremendous amount.

Brett: Which speaks to another component here, your joy becomes less contingent on external circumstances and on other people's emotions being a certain way for you to feel something. You could be in deep joy with your kids being angry. That changes the way you show up in your entire life and the way that others experience you.

Joe: That's right. There are certain emotions, like incapacity, for instance, to feel really incapable and helpless in a situation, that do certain things. It allows you to be a lot more capable, oddly. If you fully allow that feeling, then you stop trying to control things you can't control and you start really focusing on the things you can. Each emotion you start to allow yourself to feel has its own benefit. Anger creates some clarity. Sadness creates a certain kind of joy. Fear creates excitement. Each one of the emotions you start allowing has its own little flavor of positivity that comes.

22:20 Brett: Let's talk a little bit about how it shows up in the body.

Joe: As I was saying about this, right now if you are listening to this podcast, just allow yourself to feel scared for a moment. We are all living with a little bit of fear somewhere, so you allow yourself to feel scared. Feel what that is like in your body, and now stop feeling scared. No matter what you do, make sure you do not feel scared. I guarantee what just happened is your muscles constricted a little bit because you can't stop an emotional experience without a physical holding. If you have been holding the same thing physically for years and years, you are going to get chronic pain and stress. You are going to have muscular, skeletal issues. It is why you have probably heard of people who have been doing particular kinds of yoga where they start crying in the middle of the yoga class because they are releasing a certain emotional experience they have been holding onto for a long time.

I have had experiences of people, some of them have been public about this, which is they had a certain thing happening in their throat and then they released anger. Then the pain in their throat changed. I have seen countless examples of that kind of thing in your work.

Brett: A lot of disease traces back to ACES, adverse childhood experiences. That's an example of something that can happen in your childhood that creates emotional constipation, a traumatic experience that does not get processed, and a lot of the research has been pointing to that being a major cause of downstream disease of all sorts later in life.

Joe: Absolutely. The other thing that happens is that a lot of people have issues where they disassociate or they numb. They can't identify the emotions they have. Then their body starts going away. They become far more perceptive of their emotional reality. They are more in touch with it. They don't number. They don't want to numb. That's another thing that happens in the body. I think the last thing is your capacity to feel pleasure really increases in that process. Your sex will change. Your orgasms will change. All of that kind of pleasure experience deeply changes as you allow the emotional experiences. What I notice too is if I have a room of 100 people and I say we are going to feel sadness and cry, people will go for 45 minutes or longer and be totally focused on it and then I say we are going to experience pleasure. Then after five minutes half of them are dissociating. They are thinking about something else. You have full permission to feel pleasure and you are like err [sound]. That's another thing.

If you are listening to this and you practice feeling pleasure, it is a great way to increase emotional fluidity as well because as you start practicing that feeling of pleasure, other things will come up to prevent that experience from happening. You can process them and go back to the pleasure.

Brett: Something else we see often is also what you want changes a lot, on a physical level, since we are talking about the body. The foods you want to eat and the substances you want to regulate yourself with or note. Just by shifting your overall baseline state of how much you are comfortable being in your state as it is and how much you are trying to leave it or how attuned you are to your body's signals and how much it is really craving chocolate or wanting to have some kind of dopamine hit. I often crave chocolate. Noticing these things becomes easier.

Joe: On all of the addictions, for me, coming from a house that had a lot of amount of dysfunction, alcoholism, I obviously brought some of my own addictions in. I wrestled with nicotine and marijuana in my 20s. In all of those cases, a certain emotion I allowed released the addiction. When I really got in touch with my anger and that became really fluid, marijuana became completely uninteresting to me, as an example. It does change how you want to regulate yourself, how you want to eat or what you are avoiding. By the way, it doesn't change it all the way. This isn't a cure all for that stuff because there is a physical addiction part of it. There are some other things that have to be addressed. I don't know anybody who has increased their emotional fluidity and hasn't had their destructive habits change for the body, but I also haven't met anybody whose emotional fluidity increased and all of their destructive patterns went away entirely. There are other things, too. That's how I would say it. This is a weird way to say it, but ultimately what happens with emotional fluidity is at the end of the day, you get in contact with your inherent goodness in a way that you weren't before. Because so much of what we consider bad, like feeling you don't deserve or you can't trust yourself or asking yourself what you did wrong or thinking you deserved that somewhat abusive abuse, all of that goes away with emotional fluidity. You are just left with that you are inherently good, and feeling all of this stuff really allows me to see that.

28:50 Brett: Another piece there is that it pulls you out of identity, which I think is a different way of saying the same thing. Emotions are something that just happens. You can sort of predict how you are going to feel in certain circumstances, but research shows we are notoriously bad at predicting our future emotional responses. The more you are just with your emotional experience, the more that just opens up awe and wonder for oneself and reality. It just deepens your presence into it, and it really helps to loosen up and dissolve some of the preconceived notions or the ossified identities that we often live within and that are also ways we stop ourselves from feeling.

Joe: As you are talking about it, it brings something in. There are certain things the identity uses to secure itself, like comparative mind. If I compare, I can tell the difference between me and you and therefore, there is a me and this is how I define myself. Another way is known reaction. If you can't know your reaction, like if I said to you that you could no longer predict your reaction to anything, who would you be? Most of our reactions we are predicting are emotional reactions. It is not what we say. It is how we say it. It is the emotion behind what we are saying. It does dissolve the identity in this really neat way. It does do that. That's beautifully put and seen.

Brett: I love the example of comparative mind, too. You can intellectually compare yourself or two paths you might take or a decision you might take, but if you are fully allowing an emotional experience, there is going to be much richer data for you and it is going to be much more present. How does this feel? How does that feel? Rather than here are the pros and cons, which is a useful frame at times, but it is not the only one.

Joe: I thought you were going somewhere else, which I thought was cool. If you have a comparative mind and there is no emotional friction behind it, like when most people compare themselves, they think they are better than me or I am better than them, but if you let go of that feeling of being better or worse than, then the comparative mind doesn't have the same. It is just data collection.

Brett: It is not something new for you to suppress yourself with. This was fun.

Joe: Thank you so much. That was a great topic. I appreciate it.

Brett: I did, too. We finally got around to this one.

Joe: Good to see you.

Brett: Thank you everybody for listening. Please share this if you really liked this episode. Please share it with a friend. Give us a rating or a review. If you have any questions, send them to us.

Joe: If you really liked this episode, hold it for yourself and don't share it with anybody ever.

Brett: Keep it secret and safe.

Joe: If you share it with somebody, it will only hurt you. We should probably cut that, but what the fuck.

Brett: We are leaving it in. Thanks, everybody. Thank you, Joe.

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