Updated: Feb 23, 2021
A key concept I have come to learn is that we are not at the mercy of our feelings.
Ten years ago, I would have told you that emotions are the most important drivers in our lives - if we are sad, we need to explore our sadness; if we are angry, we should look at the source of our anger… etc. etc. etc.
I still believe this is partly true, but what I have also come to appreciate and what I try to help my clients learn is that our emotions are also like trains passing through a train station. To use a metaphor, we are standing on the “platform of our life” looking out onto the tracks and every day - all throughout the day - multiple trains come and go through our own personal train station.
The doors on every train are always open to us and every moment is an opportunity in which we get to decide which train to get on.
For example: let's say we fail a test in school or we get a speeding ticket or our partner says something unkind to us. At that moment, we are on the platform in our brain's train station and we get to look out and decide which train do we get on. We can get on the Shame train where we internalize that event and believe it validates that we are worthless or that we are a screw-up. On the shame train, we tell ourselves many familiar stories such as it was our fault, we deserved to fail, we aren't smart enough, we were stupid to drive fast, our partner made the unkind comment because we aren't good enough.
Usually, we all have our own particular trains we are familiar with and we get on those trains often- because of what Buddhism calls "habit energy". We are used to these trains. We don't even have to think or look for the trains in the station- we just suddenly find ourselves on the train going down the track. Some of us get on the Guilt train. We feel guilty so much of the time- guilt that we aren't a good enough parent, guilt about not being a worthy partner, guilt if we express what we need, guilt if we set boundaries. Guilt can be so powerful within us that we don’t even see any other trains in the station.
Some of us get on the Anger train or the Self-doubt train or the train that provides us with some kind of soothing like alcohol, drugs, food, compulsive exercise - some way for us to numb out.
The power of familiarity can be overpowering BUT we can have a greater power when we recognize our ability to choose the train we get on; it is then that we become aware that we don’t have to be at the mercy of our feelings. We can know our feelings, we can acknowledge them, but they don't have to guide and control us.
There are other trains that come into the station such as the Self Acceptance, Love, and Forgiveness trains. We may not be familiar with those trains but they ARE there and we can learn how to board these trains because these are the trains that will lead us on a totally different track in our lives.