1. In this first reflective exercise, we ask you to revisit the past week or so of your life. In a quiet mood and place, recall the people you have been with, the work you were involved in, your predominant thoughts and moods. Then, make a list of the different feelings you experienced over the course of this period. Take your time with this listing. Now go back over your list and indicate which of these feelings you experienced as negative.
Finally, spend some time reflecting on these negative emotions: In your experience, why are these feelings negative? As you experienced these negative emotions, was there anything positive for you?
2. First, identify a feeling you have become more comfortable with recently. This may be a positive emotion such as joy or confidence or compassion, or a more problematic feeling such as jealousy or resentment or fear. Spend some time remembering what helped you befriend this emotion. Be as concrete as you can; give some examples.
Then identify a troublesome feeling that you are sometimes tempted to harbour. Use your imagination: picture this emotion swimming into your heart as if into a bay of water. How do you permit this emotion to drop anchor; what attitudes or behaviours or beliefs encourage the feeling to linger in your heart? Why do you harbour this feeling; what is its “perverse payoff” for you? Concretely, what action can you take to resist harbouring this emotion in the future?
3. Select one negative emotion that is important for you now and recall a recent experience of this emotion’s arousal.
- What was the situation that evoked this emotion for you?
- How did your body respond’
- What other feelings accompanied this emotion here?
Now consider the different cultures that have helped shape your experience of this emotion.
A. How was this emotion handled in your family as you were growing up? Give an example, to help make your reflection more concrete. Is there a word, phrase, or image that best captures the way that your family dealt with this emotion?
B. How has your church and religious tradition influenced you? Can you recall a person, story, or teaching in the church that has helped you with this emotion? Can you recall a way in which your religious tradition has hindered or frustrated you in regard to this emotion?
C. How has your national culture influenced your judgments about this emotion? For example, in the society you know best, how is a “good woman” (or a “good man”) supposed to deal with this emotion? What other influences on your emotional life have you felt from your culture?
1. Recall a recent time when you were angry with someone. Spend a few moments bringing the incident to mind: what triggered your anger toward this person? Did you express your anger? If so, how? If not, why? What happened as a result?
Now consider this incident in terms of gains and losses. Were there any gains resulting from this experience—positive results, benefits received, good effects? List whatever comes to mind. Were there any losses experienced here—negative results, harm inflicted, bad effects? Again, let your response range widely.
Next, recall a time when you were the target of someone else’s anger. Let yourself be present to the experience again: as you see it, what triggered the anger toward you? How was it expressed? How did you feel? What happened as a result of this angry exchange? Then consider this incident in terms of gains and losses, using the questions in the paragraph above as a guide.
Finally, spend a few moments comparing your assessment of these two examples of anger. What learning do you take away from this reflection, to influence your experience of anger in the future?
2. Recall a time recently when your angry feelings were troublesome for you. Spend some time with this memory, taking notes to bring the experience vividly to mind. Then List for yourself the factors that made this experience troublesome: factors in you, factors in the situation.
Then recall a recent time when expressing anger was difficult for you. Again, list for yourself the factors that made the experience difficult for you: factors in you, factors in the situation.
If possible, share this reflection with a friend or discuss your experience in a group that includes both men and women. Note the similarities and differences that emerge. Do the differences seem to be gender related? Are other factors more significant—age, education, economic status, ethnic origin? What does this discussion suggest to you about the culture’s rules for anger?
3. Consider your own experience in dealing with anger. Bring to mind a time you handled your anger well. First recall the circumstances: the setting, the persons involved, what triggered your anger, how you responded, the way things turned out.
Now spend some time with these questions: What did you like about the way you dealt with anger here? As you see things, what was most useful, productive, helpful? Then, what did you dislike about the way you dealt with anger here? Looking back now on that experience, what would you want to do differently?
Finally, what convictions do you bring from your own experience for dealing with anger?
Shame and Guilt
1. Adolescence is a season of embarrassment for most of us. Return in imagination to your own high school years. Spend some time remembering where you lived at that time and with whom, who your friends were at school and elsewhere, the activities and events that filled your days.
Now, recall a time when you felt ashamed as a teenager, an experience of being painfully embarrassed. For example, you may have felt embarrassed about your body, or ashamed of your family, or your religious or ethnic background. Once you have remembered a particular occasion, stay with that memory for a while, trying to recall the circumstances that evoked your embarrassment. Be mindful, too, of the range of other feelings that came along with shame here.
As you look back now on that experience, how did you deal with the shame or embarrassment? How successful were your efforts then? Do you sense any connections between that adolescent experience and your life these days?
2. Consider some of the ordinary expressions of adult will power: forcefulness, determination, self-control, persistence, self-confidence, stubbornness, resolve. Then recall a recent experience of your own exercise of personal will; take time to bring the memory fully to mind.
Now reflect on these questions: How did this exercise of will power enhance or strengthen you? Did this exercise of personal will challenge or distress you in any way? Did shame or embarrassment play any part in this experience—inhibiting you, threatening you, goading you to act, making you more sensitive to the context or consequences of your actions?
Finally, spend a few moments taking notes on your own sense of the connections between shame and will.
3. Consider two biblical metaphors: breaking the covenant and missing the mark. Consider ways these two images are part of your experience of guilt. To start, spend several minutes in a reflective mood, becoming aware of significant times you have felt guilty. You may wish to take some notes for yourself. Be gentle with this reflection; the goal is insight not self-punishment.
Next, consider which image—missing the mark or breaking the covenant—best captures these experiences of guilt for you. Give some examples of how this is the case. Again, taking notes may help you stay with the reflection.
Then, focus on the two metaphors themselves. As you see it, how does the image breaking the covenant heal or purify your own sense of guilt? Are there risks in this image, at least for you?
In your experience, how does the image missing the mark heal or purify guilt? For you, are there risks in understanding guilt this way?
1. Everyday depression is an ordinary experience for most of us. But still, take care with this reflection, since for some of us “feeling blue” mushrooms easily into a lingering sadness. Start by recalling a recent time when you felt caught in an everyday depression—discouraged, defeated, tired. List some of the thoughts and feelings that were part of your gloomy mood.
Now, with the advantage of some distance from the experience, consider the context of this ordinary depression. What seemed to trigger your bad mood? Can you identify threats or hurts or losses involved? How did you respond: Blaming yourself or other people? retreating from contact? reaching out for help? Give some concrete examples of your attitudes and actions while you were depressed: What helped? what made things worse?
Finally, can you identify any ways in which this everyday depression served you well? Again, offer concrete examples.
Dealing with negative emotions
1. In a final exercise, you are invited to consult your own journey. Begin by spending a few moments reflecting prayerfully on the figure The Way of the Negative Emotions. Don’t force any consideration; just hold yourself present to the chart.
Now consider an emotion that is sometimes troublesome for you. It may be one of the four we have considered here: anger, shame, guilt, or depression. Or it may be another feeling that is problematic for you these days. Once you have made your selection, trace that emotion through the disciplines of the Way.
Start with the discipline of patience. For example, have you gotten better at paying attention to the troublesome feeling when it arises? What helps you do this? How have you improved the acoustics in your heart? Don’t rush the reflection. Other questions or insights may come on your own, helping you sense what patience means to you.
Then move on in a similar fashion to the other disciplines: naming, taming, and living with passion. Spend time with each, exploring what your past experience has been, what new hope you have now. Move at your own pace; completing the chart at one sitting is less important than savouring the realizations that are significant for you.
Bring the reflection to a close with a prayer of praise or gratitude or lament. When time allows, return to this exercise later with another emotion as your focus.