In this interview with Diane Musho Hamilton, we explore the territory of emotional maturity, and how it underpins and amplifies our efficacy and contribution to the world. Diane Musho Hamilton is the author of The Zen of You and Me, just released from Shambhala Publications, and is the co-founder and lead trainer of Integral Facilitator programs. Diane’s newest online course with Ten Directions, Willing to Feel: Essential Skills for Emotional Maturity, begins on April 25th. Diane was interviewed for this piece by Lauren Tenney on April 14th, 2017.
LT: What is Emotional Maturity, and how do we develop it?
DH: I would say that Emotional Maturity is a willingness to become more intimate with what we feel. And to do that, there are several phases. First, there needs to be a recognition of including emotions as a valuable part of our life experience. We can acknowledge that emotions are a form of energy and a source of intelligence. When we are in the midst of a strong emotional state, we can be aware of the enlivened quality of emotion, and also take note of the information we are receiving about the situation. So if we are mad about something, chances are, something unfair is going on. If we are feeling jealous, there may be probably a threat to the security of your relationship or to our self image.
Because emotions are so immediately felt by others, another value is they are a very effective form of communication. For example, in Martin Luther King’s, I Have a Dream speech, he includes vehemence and righteous indignation, and he exalts us towards a vision, extolling us to become greater and more. The communication is far more effective because we are moved listening to him. Emotional states communicate; they convey meaning; they are intelligent, and they bond us to each other. As I say in my book, would you want to watch a movie that didn’t move you?
Working with our emotional states is also the doorway to becoming a very heart-felt and compassionate human being. Feeling is the doorway to learn how to include our pain and broken-heartedness, and through this, we develop more empathy and compassion.
So emotional maturity begins by recognizing the value of emotional and feeling states, and being willing to feel them. The challenge for many of us is to simply give ourselves permission to feel – without distracting ourselves, or dulling them down, or projecting them out. That is where the heart of the practice is for many of us – being willing to feel fully. On the other hand, we can have a very primitive relationship to our emotions which means that we’re completely subject to them. When they arise, we get completely lost in them. We’re not able to take a perspective on them, but drown in feeling and regard them as the whole truth. And then we can also become habitually attached to our emotions, and display a tendency to cling to them.
Many people experience one or more of these habits in relating with emotion and feeling. So first we must learn to feel the emotion, noticing the bodily sensations, the waves of intensity, and the attendant thoughts in the mind. Once we can feel fully, then we can differentiate from them, and see how they are fleeting, they pass quickly, and they are not “me.” When we can feel, differentiate from the feeling, then we are positioned to include our emotional states in a much fuller way because we are not consumed by them.
Including emotions when they are free of habitual fixation, brings freshness, meaning, depth, and connection to our relationships. And as I said before, there is an intelligence to our experience that we can draw on and include, without letting the emotion dominate our perspective. So it’s really about including and releasing emotions efficiently. And it takes attention and practice, including modelling on people who are balanced in including emotion.
LT: What does it look like in practice when we’re working with our emotions in this way?
DH: We can begin by asking, what exactly is the experience? If I’m feeling afraid, am I feeling it in my solar plexus? Is my heart palpitating? Can I feel heat in my throat? If I’m feeling angry, where in the body do I register anger? Do I notice my shoulders are hunched or my fists are clenched? Is there heat in my forehead? Is there tension in my jaw and my neck? To actually experience feeling is absolutely fundamental to emotional maturity.
Once you’re willing to feel, the next step is to notice how fleeting the emotions are. Notice how the feelings are intense and at the same time, they very fleeting. Emotions are both full of embodied sensation, but they are empty of ultimate truth and fixed substance. Otherwise you wouldn’t be able to let go of them. And learning how to let go of them is equally as important as including them. We have to get over the experience that when we are immersed in an emotion, it is going to last forever, even though it often feels like it will. For example, if we are grieving, we feel like it is we are going to grieve forever or be overwhelmed by sorrow for the rest of our lives. There’s a way that states take over our sense of time. But as we allow ourselves to inhabit feeling states, we learn at the same time to see how they pass. As by seeing how quickly they shift, our confidence in the transitory nature of them also increases.
Once we can feel the fullness and the emptiness around the feeling, naming it cognitively actually helps to experience an emotion more clearly. We have a very limited vocabulary for naming emotion. One of the simple practices we can do is go online and pull up lists of names of emotions, and expand our vocabulary so that we are able to say something more than “I’m mad, glad, or sad.”
Finally, it is important to develop the ability to receive the message in the emotion, clarify its meaning, and integrate it without the defensiveness and egoic attachment. We want to feel the fullness and the emptiness at the same time, to receive the meaningfulness, receive the energy, and then include them in our communications. But the emphasis should be on self-responsibility for our emotions. For example, “I’m angry because I want your attention”, as opposed to “I’m angry because you don’t pay attention to me.” The more we are able to do this, the more people around us have permission to do it as well. And then we all get better at it.
LT: What is the impact when, as you say, we “all get better” at this?
DH: We create cultures where there is room for people’s feeling states. Someone starts to cry in a meeting because they’ve experienced a loss, and everybody doesn’t panic. Someone feels confused momentarily — totally fine. Confusion has it’s own intelligence, and we all have it sometimes. So, there’s a freedom and flexibility that comes about. We can be more at ease with a greater array of experiences, and access the intelligence and information that is available in those experiences.
LT: I could imagine someone interpreting the idea that emotion contains intelligence to mean that their feeling state IS a sufficient data point for confirming reality. But that’s a big leap to make, and having a feeling isn’t necessarily evidence that what we perceive has actually occurred. Could you elaborate on that?
DH: Well, I think what you just said is totally the case. When it’s our felt experience, it needs to be owned in the first person. Even saying “I’m having the experience that this is massively unfair” is very different from saying “This is unfair.” Whether it actually is from a third person perspective is a different issue, but the experience I’m having right now is that it feels unfair. This is why our ability to own our subjectivity rather than projecting it out is so important. We know from Integral theory that there are different truth verifications. An emotion is not a particularly strong truth verification. It is part of a first person experience and informs our perspective, so there is some kind of truth in it. If we’re all feeling a certain way, there is a second person truth in it. But I would agree with you that it’s not a very complete source of truth. Sometimes if we’ve done psychotherapy and we are trying to work with our emotions, we almost create a shrine to our feeling states as though feelings states are truth. Feeling states are simply one form of knowing, and they tend to be very transitory and pass very quickly. So we have to understand the relative nature of emotion. And certainly, emotion isn’t going to point us to absolute truths. Because emotions are passing–not to be confused with ever-present awareness.
LT: Is our emotional fluency or willingness to feel influenced by life experiences or temperament?
DH: We all tend to be habituated to certain emotions, depending on what was expressed in our families and the culture of our upbringing. There’s a palette of emotions that we are used to engaging based on our conditioning that differs from family to family, and culture to culture. Different cultures have a different palette of emotions. I haven’t thought about typology in this regard with a whole lot of depth, but for instance, the Enneagram system could be a lens through which to explore this question. Let’s imagine a way that a 4 enneatype will experience an emotion like loneliness, for instance. The interpretative frame on that loneliness may be that “I’m special and no one understands me.” Where the interpretive frame of the 2 might be “I’ve given so much and now no one takes care of me.” And then the interpretive frame for a 1 for the same experience of loneliness might be something like “Of course I’m alone, because the world is so fundamentally imperfect, that there’s no way to stay related.” So I think the interpretive frame is likely to be influenced by typology.
In addition, perhaps certain emotions are more available to certain types. Let’s say if you’re an enneatype ‘3’, you might be subject to embarrassment or humiliation maybe more than an ‘8’ would. Perhaps an ‘8’ is probably prone to feeling more lust and raw appetite than a ‘5’ would. A ‘5’ is going to want to experience a kind of holding onto or withholding, because that’s how ‘5’s are structured. So I think within a typology, we’re prone to experiencing different sets of emotions based on that typology.
LT: Speaking to an Integral audience, how do you situate the importance of focusing on developing one’s skills around emotional fluency, and maturity?
DH: From an integral practice perspective, developing the emotional line and wanting to become more fluid and free with the expression of emotion has to be an ongoing practice.
Like all Integral endeavours, people tend to be more developed in the cognitive line. But there are a goodly amount of people who have done a lot of psychotherapeutic work; they’ve done a lot of we-space work, and they seem to be willing to engage and include emotion in the way that some people don’t. Yet like anyone, we can have trouble when we’re overly stressed or overly distressed. Or if we somehow feel that the emotion is going to create a vulnerability, we may naturally refuse to feel it. Sometimes feeling emotion implies complexity because it’s very rare to have a singular emotion. We often experience fear and anger together or hurt and anger, we may experience anger as a part of grief.
So as integralists we must acknowledge our interiors, and understand that our connection with each other demands mature emotional expression. Even if we’re not demonstrably skilled in emotional territory, we can be open to it, and we can become more confident and capable in how we navigate it. The idea that we’re constantly practicing with this dimension of who we are is very much an Integral idea.
LT: As we work with our emotions and become more willing to feel, and to let go, do things get easier? Does the intensity of challenging emotions wane?
DH: It’s difficult to include ‘hard’, and, what we might call ‘negative’, emotional states. Some people have an idea that they should just discipline themselves to only feel positive things. My response to that is if you simply want to be a performance robot, then go ahead, but if you want to be a heart-centered human being, then you have to allow for the pain, open your heart, and be willing to feel the complexity of emotion as it arises. As you become more adept, you’re able to feel more, and in turn, you allow the people around you feel you more. And in that learning to include emotion, you will experience a growing confidence and better communication. Other people receive from you the message that they can also be more free, and they can grow in their emotional maturity. And this permission will uplift all of us.
Learn more about Diane’s upcoming online training, Willing to Feel: Essential Skills for Emotional Maturity, which begins on April 25th.
About the Author
Lauren Tenney is a Senior Consultant, Director of New Program Development and Editor in Chief at Ten Directions. She is a Certified Presence Based Coach and a Certified Integral Facilitator, and a member of the training team for Integral Facilitator programs. For the past ten years she has been immersed in the fields of human development, transformative learning, integrative systems, strategic communications and small business development. Lauren is experienced with many of today’s most innovative tools for transformation and collaboration, including: Immunity to Change, Sociocracy, Holacracy, The Natural Change Process, Evolving Worldviews, Way of Council, Cynefin Framework, Permaculture Design, Integral Theory, and Presence Based Coaching. As a facilitator and coach, Lauren supports individuals, teams and small organizations who are confronting challenges at the intersection of interpersonal dynamics, vision & mission, and process design.
Diane Musho Hamilton is a uniquely gifted, playful, and awake group facilitator, consultant and teacher of Integral Spirituality and Zen. She is a lineage holder in the Soto Zen tradition, and has collaborated with the Integral Institute and Ken Wilber since 2004, developing the Integral Life Practice seminars and the Integral Spiritual Experience global events. Diane is the co-founder and lead trainer of Integral Facilitator programs.
Diane is well known as an innovator in facilitating group dialogues, especially conversations about culture, religion, race and gender relations. She was the first Director of the Office of Alternative Dispute Resolution for the Utah Judiciary, where she established mediation programs throughout the court system. She is the recipient of several prestigious awards for her work in this area, including the Peter W. Billings Award and the UCCR Peacekeeper Award.
She has studied and practiced Buddhadharma for over 25 years, beginning at Naropa Institute in 1984 with the teachings of Choygam Trungpa Rinpoche. She was ordained as a Zen priest in 2003 and received dharma transmission from her teacher, Genpo Roshi, in 2006. She is a facilitator of Big Mind Big Heart, a process developed by Roshi to bring the insights of Zen to Western audiences.
With her husband, Zen teacher and lawyer Michael Mugaku Zimmerman, she established Two Arrows Zen, a center for the study and practice of Zen. They maintain two facilities – an urban center in downtown Salt Lake City, and a rural retreat center in the red rocks of Southern Utah where traditional Zen meditation is joined with nature-based practices and shamanic disciplines.
With extraordinary depth and insight, Diane encourages us to consciously evolve beyond old and limited ideas of who we are so that we might discover our own unique expression of wisdom and of compassion in this time. She is the author of Everything is Workable, published by Shambhala Press, and a contributor to Harvard Business Review. Her newest book The Zen of You and Me, also by Shambhala Press, was released in March 2017.