I was listening to the Being Peace audiobook by the late Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh recently and he was addressing the question, “How do I smile when I’m feeling sorrow?”
His answer spoke to me, and I thought it might benefit you, too…
What he said is, “We are like a TV set with millions of channels. When we turn on the Buddha, we are the Buddha. When we turn on sorrow, we are sorrow. But we should not let one channel rule.”
It made me think back to my childhood, growing up in rural Missouri, where we only got two channels on TV. It was either 3 (NBC) or 10 (CBS). That allowed me to watch Knight Rider, thankfully, so I was pretty happy. It was all I knew.
When I got a little older, though, we had a satellite dish installed—courtesy of my grandfather. All of a sudden, we were able to receive hundreds of channels! Like magic, you could turn the satellite dish in different directions and you would find a new array of possibilities.
What a great metaphor for our ability to process emotions…
With limited skills for emotional self-regulation, we might get stuck experiencing just a couple of “channels.” Maybe you bounce between anger and sadness, or anger and happiness, or happiness and anxiety. There are many more options available to you, but those are the ones you’ve become accustomed to.
While a recent study identifies 27 different emotions, Brené Brown found in her surveys of more than 7,000 people over five years that on average, people can identify only three emotions as they are actually feeling them: happiness, sadness and anger.
With some guidance and practice, though, we can learn how to tune into other emotional “channels”—using tools like the AAA triad, for example, where subtle shifts to your focus (attention), thoughts (attitude), or behavior (action) can change your emotional experience.
If you do nothing else today, simply bring more awareness to your experience by asking: Which channel are you watching most often?
From there, ask: Is that channel producing the experience you want to have in life?
If not, remember: You have the power to change the channel.
Going back to the TV metaphor, I was thinking: Some channels just have reruns. You know, like the retro TV channels that play old episodes of Home Improvement or Golden Girls? We can get stuck watching those channels, where we just replay the same old stories of our past and then we just experience those same old emotions. Over and over again.
Other channels are like the 24-hour news channels. No matter how much good is happening in the world, when you turn to those channels there’s always something wrong. Something to get angry about. Something to be scared of. We keep those channels on in the background and then wonder, “Why am I feeling so anxious all the time?” We can watch those same channels in our mind.
There are other channels like PBS, though, where there’s always something enriching on, where you learn something, or get a new outlook. It’s a channel that makes you feel better about yourself and/or the world you live in after you watch it.
So again, what channel have you been watching the most?
Is there another channel that you would rather tune in to to create more of the experience you desire in life?
Remember, you always have power to change the channel. And when you do, while it doesn’t immediately change your circumstances, it does change how you feel about them or the way you look at them.
And as Wayne Dyer famously said, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
Now, where did I leave the dang clicker? 🤷♂️😊
Together, we will rise.