Catharsis: Better Out than In

Purging negative emotions for a better life…

It is better out than in’ is an expression that pretty much contains the essence of both cure and healing. For example: if you have a phlegmy cough, you will want to expel that phlegm any way you can. In other words – it’s better out than in. If you have constipation, you want that poop out. Again, – it is better out than in. If you have food poisoning and diarrhoea, well you want those irritants out of your body, so once more – its better out than in.  Perhaps I need to think of better examples. I’m sorry, but I’m British, we like out toilet humour.

‘Better out than in’ also applies to emotions. If we have a great hurt, or strong emotion like sorrow, anger or depression. These emotions may suit a purpose for a while, but eventually we want them out of us. Otherwise, they will start to damage us.

Even minor irritations and frustrations from daily life are ‘better out than in’ as they can plant a small seed, which can slowly poison our whole body. It is a little similar to the way a homeopathic remedy is said to contain an essence of a toxic substance which, whilst being barely perceptible in a test tube – will have an energetic effect on the whole organism. So it is the same with negative emotions.

We absorb energy from the world

Humans are energetic-flowing creatures. We don’t realise it, but we are constantly taking in stuff from the environment. If we could accurately measure the energetic frequencies of emotions, we would probably find them no different to radio waves or wifi. Where what we would normally see as empty space between two people arguing, there could in fact be lots of swirling energetic-ripples whizzing through the air between them. Some of them sharp and stabbing.

Is such an idea so impossible to imagine? If you walk into a room with angry people, you will feel that tension. That anger will get absorbed by you. If you watch the TV drama Eastenders, that negative anger from the show will be transmitted into you. You may be driving along and then suddenly someone in a car behind you gets impatient and honks their horn or shouts at you. You absorb their negative feeling.

Haunted Houses

There are houses where gruesome murders are committed, which decades later cannot be sold on. No one wants to live there. For example, there is a house close by to me in Muswell Hill in North London, where a serial killer committed a lot of murders and then did some nasty things afterwards to the bodies. Quite understandably, there is not much demand for this property. Now and again, it is advertised for rent, but the agents specifically have to tell everyone that it has a gruesome history. So a lot of the time it sits empty, and this is in one of the most in-demand parts of London, right in the middle of a property boom and housing shortage!

So even though these acts occurred decades ago, the memories still remains in the minds of other people and neighbours. This then creates a kind of negative vibrational field around the house – a kind of stuck stagnant energy. Perhaps, if you lived there, you may get sick. In this case, the house probably needs to be purged of its past memories. It needs a catharsis or purification. Or at least to be rebuilt.

Releasing stuff: Better out than in

It is best to expel any bad stuff that you feel, otherwise it will damage your body and mind. It flows in easily enough, so let it flow out again as though you are a river. Remember – it is better out than in. Of course it is easy to say this. There are a lot of pressures in daily life and we are not all monks. Still we must do our best.

Chronic Diseases

On a deeper level, the ‘better out than in’ can relate to health issues and especially chronic diseases. These are illnesses which we have, but cannot seem to get rid of no matter what we do. We may take lots of medications, have surgery and yet we may still have the problem. We may even have altered our diets or spent thousands on natural therapies, yet that disease sticks with us.

In this situation, we cannot get it out. It is as though the disease has become a natural part of us. I won’t discuss about this too much in this article as it is a deeper issue. However, the ‘better out than in’ is the beginning point of healing. It is mental habit and attitude that we must learn. It is like the first level. And just like a computer game, you cannot beat the final boss until you have completed the first level. By playing the first level, you slowly build your skill and resilience you need to tackle the final boss. ‘Better out than in’ is the first level.

Life is full of annoying things

As you will know – life is full of many difficulties. Frustrations, failures and losses are a part of life. There are many wonderful things in life, but it is the difficulties that really have the largest impact and cause the greatest disturbances in our lives. Some problems like the loss of a job, failing an exam or breaking up with someone – are instances that we can usually survive from, relatively intact. But other problems can be much more harder to deal with and can threaten our wellbeing at a fundamental level.

Things like severe financial difficulties, addictions, dealing with past hurts, abuse, difficult family relations, divorce as well as severe diseases, long-term health problems and the loss of someone close to us, – tend to have a greater impact. However, they also carry within them, a greater potential for personal transformation and change. Life is about change and sometimes the greater the stressor, the greater the change will come to us. And perhaps the greater a stress you are faced with, leads to a greater amount of success potential.

A Personal Example

In my early twenties I got really sick. An acute inflammatory condition, known as ulcerative colitis struck me pretty hard. I was hospitalised and given strong courses of steroids and antibiotics. I recovered but the experience knocked my whole life off course. There are a lot of things I took from this experience, but at the time, I was more curious as to the ‘why’ I got sick. Western Medical explanations such as “we don’t know what the cause is, it may be genetic” were disappointingly un-insightful. So I looked to myself for the answers.

Before I had gotten sick, I’d been suffering from a build up of intense negative emotions for years previously. Emotions like anger, frustration, feelings of failure and so on had been a major part of my life. This may have seemed unimportant to my doctors, but to me, I felt it was quite relevant. Some of these kinds of emotions are quite typical for young men and woman, but I feel it was this combined with poor diet, a somewhat reckless lifestyle and other factors, which made my body a fertile ground for this disease.

Looking back, I had a lot of bad stuff in me. It would have been better out than in. So that’s what my body did. This disease occurred and then I had no choice but to release it all by passing blood in my stool about 40 times throughout the day and night. Sounds kind of gross, right? I don’t miss those days.

The gentler path

I think it would be better if there was an easier way to let it out, rather than wait till it builds up and destroys your bodies tissues. Well it can be. We have to learn to purge ourselves from time to time and to invite catharsis into our lives. It is not necessary for everyone. But if you feel you are bubbling over like a pressure cooker, about to explode, but the cook has left the kitchen, than perhaps it’s time for a catharsis. If we leave it too long, that intense heat and stuck emotion may lead to a far more serious disease.

There are experiences in our life that take a toll on us. We go through them, deal with them, than bottle them up somewhere deep inside. But their effects are still there within us. We may carry stuck emotions with us all throughout life.

The Muddy pond

Negative emotions that build up and which are kept within are like a muddy pond. Muddy stagnant ponds have a bad smell about them and the only way to get rid of the smell is to clear them out of all their gunk and get the water circulating. You may even have to replace the old water with fresh water (-  think replacing negative tendencies with a new positive mindset).

So how to we release them? Should we even try? Sometimes, these emotions are too intense. It is like stirring a muddy pond. If you try to stir a muddy pond with lots of blanket weed in it, it won’t clear. Instead, it will just make it look more dirtier. And what if there is a crocodile in that pond? So no, perhaps, we shouldn’t shake things up if they are really intense. Doing so will be majorly disturbing and some of us can’t deal with that in our daily lives. Perhaps it is best to leave it to the next life. (n.b. I suppose a crocodile is not really a good metaphor. We don’t have them in England. Not even snakes. Perhaps I should have said a filfthy toad or maybe a newt instead…)

But if our internal bad stuff is not that intense. Then perhaps, it’s worth attempting a small catharsis and to let some of it out. We could release the pressure valve slowly and gradually let more out in a controlled way. I think this is the safest way.

Catharsis: Better out than in

This brings me to the issue of purgation or of catharsis. Catharsis is a Greek word meaning purification or cleansing. It refers to the purification and purgation of negative emotions. One of the methods the ancient Greeks used to achieve this was through art, and in particularly – the art-form known as the tragedy. The Greeks are famous for the concept of the tragedy.

Usually tragedies involve horrible things happening to its main characters. For example if we look at Oedipus Rex, the story is quite extreme. A prince ends up killing his father and marries his own mother. The plot-line makes you want to retch. A play like Oedipus Rex is still taught in high schools today. It’s quite the opposite to the typical Hollywood Rom-Com, which is designed to give a warm happy glowing feeling as you look at Anne Hathaway’s perfect smile. Instead, the tragedy is an art form designed to bring to the surface strong emotions and hopefully to release them.

The meaning behind tragedy is that we come to watch with an inner intent (either consciously or subconsciously) to be cured of something. This occurs because a tragedy is able to evoke a strong emotion within us, which otherwise would be repressed deep within. By shaking it up, we can contemplate on this emotion and start the process of letting it go.

Tragedy in Japanese cinema

The Japanese use tragedy quite effectively in some of their films and drama. When done well it is an incredibly powerful medium. Some Japanese movies and dramas pull this technique off really well. For example, movies like ‘Tokyo Sonata’ make us feel the angst of a father who loses his job and can’t get another one. He is too embarrassed to tell his family, so instead he pretends to still be working. He wakes up early, puts his suit on and leaves, but then spends the day hanging around Tokyo until he can return home. The loss of a job is a major blow to a man’s sense of place in the world. Especially in Japan.

A far more intense movie is ‘Himizu’. It is set in a part of Fukushima just after the tsunami hit. A young school boy lives alone abandoned on a boating shack. His mother  is a party-woman, in a relationship with a new man and abandons him. His own violent and drunken father appears every so often to beat him, steal his money and then beg his son to kill himself so he can get the insurance money for his death. And this is just the beginning of the movie. It gets more depressing. What gives the movie even more impact is the soundtrack of Mozart’s Requiem, arguably one of his most powerful pieces of music. It was also his last  composition and was unfinished when Mozart died at a very young age under somewhat unusual circumstances. The mood of this piece fits the movie very well.

Suffice to say, these tragedies draw you in. They shake up and stir these deep strong emotions and bring them to the surface. Sometimes they make you cry. Sometimes they reawaken forgotten memories. But, ultimately, there is some release of emotion and a purgation.  This is catharsis.

The Movie: The Purge

The American movie – ‘The Purge’ is a curious violent example of this concept. It is set in a kind of dystopian future USA, where the government allows the population to commit an annual ‘purge’ on a specific date. This is where for one night each year, all citizens are allowed to commit almost any crime they wish and they will not be punished for it. So for that one night, many armed citizens go out committing murder, rape, burglary and all sorts of nasty things, whilst the rest of the population lock themselves inside, hoping to survive the night. As a result, the overall national crime rate is extremely low. By allowing this night of terror and release, it somehow purges most criminal tendencies out of the population.

Release, not wreck

For an inner catharsis, we don’t need to go as far as this kind of purge. I was thinking more of slowly realising stuff out of us, rather than to pull a Charles Bronson in Death Wish.

It is by the release of emotions, which is where real healing occurs. In this vein, I wonder if perhaps video games and especially shoot-ups are a way for young men to purge themselves of anger and tension. To me it makes sense. Games are a parents bane, however, what if all the tension and adrenaline that is produced from a game is actually helping release teenage angst and that games are actually good for them.

Here are 7 ways to do a mini catharsis:

1. Confession.

Open up to a professional listener. Could be a priest, spiritual couch, counsellor or life coach. Best not with a friend and definitely not your wife or husband. You are too close to them. There is a reason why confession is a hallmark of  the catholic faith. They know that releasing through words has a powerful healing effect. If you don’t feel comfortable with opening up to someone, or there is no one, than a form of confession can also be carried out by yourself. Seek out a private place, where you can speak out loudly and confess to yourself. Alternatively, write down or make a journal recording your past. If you journal on your computer, make sure to password protect everything. Or delete files. You do not want other people ever having a chance of finding out your dirty secrets.

Here is a quote form the Spiritualist Irina Twedy. As she underwent an intense training with her Sufi master. At one point, she was asked to write a confession by her teacher:

“You must write down all the wrongs and evil deeds you have committed since your childhood. It will serve as a confession. A kind of curriculum vitae of your sins. Otherwise you may be called by God one day to account for it; but when the culprit confesses he becomes free…”

2. Crying

I’ve already discussed crying as a method of release in an earlier article.

3. Singing

Yes singing. Think of karaoke. I mentioned before about the Japanese being one of the most emotionally repressed nationalities on the planet. They hold it all in until it kills them. But the Japanese are very resourceful and innovative and so as a counter-balance, they invented karaoke.

If you’ve ever been to a Japanese karaoke centre, you’ll understand my  point. Japanese karaoke places are amazing. You can have your own room depending on the size of your party – whether it’s just you, or a large group. There are smoking or non-smoking rooms. You can order beers, snacks and cooked food using a phone-intercom in the room, which then gets delivered to you. And you can pick from a wide selection of songs (many in English). And then you sing and drink and sing as much to your heart’s content and let it all out.

A lot of Japanese do this to let off steam. They have a horribly repressive society and work environment. If they didn’t have good beer and karaoke, I think there would be a lot more mentally sick people there.

4. A night out with a good friend.

Another effective way to have a mini-catharsis is to have a night-out with a good friend. My wife is in a dramatically better mood, when she has a night out with a girlfriend or group of women. I knows she is probably spending the whole evening talking about what an asshole I am. But I don’t mind, because when she gets back, she is in a much better mood. I don’t need to know what she says about me. Instead, it gives me a chance to play my playstation vita, which is good for me to relax. I also feel a lot better when I have a mini-party with a good friend. It is a chance to talk freely and laugh, or possibly take part in illegal underground fighting clubs… which leads me to point number 5.

5. Fighting

Well not exactly fighting – I will explain. Well this is a good one for men. If you’ve seen the movie Fight Club, you’ll understand why I put this here. There is a dark masculine side which is suppressed in our modern world. That movie was essentially about gaining freedom by recapturing our male energy in the most extreme way we can – by participating in illegal underground fight clubs.

We have become civilised but deep down there is this wild beast. So we have to learn to unleash that beast. We need to discharge some of that excess testosterone we have. Sports is a good way or any physical activity. I guess martial arts, boxing, soccer or rugby would be good for guys that have an excess amount of testosterone.

6. Ki-ko (Qigong) and Meditation

This is the slow and gentle way. It will eventually lead to a catharsis, although it may take many years.

Here is an interesting quote from the Sufi master Irina Twedy, who meditated for many years in India. Below is a quote from her book of what happened during the early stages of having her kundalini energy awakened. Her sleep was disturbed by horrible hallucinations:

“I suddenly noticed in the dark room around me, some kind of whirling, dark, grey mist. Trying to focus on it, I detected that there were some strange shapes moving about and soon I could distinguish most hideous things, or beings; leering, obscene, all coupled in sexual intercourse, elemental creatures, animal-like, performing wild sexual orgies. I was sure that I was going mad…

Things I never knew could be done, or could exist; the most lecherous filth, I had to witness this night. Never knew? If I did not know it, how could I see it? It must be somewhere in my depths, or else how, how could I see it? It must have been in me…”

All that stuck stuff inside ain’t going to look pretty when it comes out

So here, after many years of deep meditation practice, something deep came out from her. All of Irina’s negative emotions, angers and fears came out in the manifestation of all these horrific hallucinations. Essentially, this scene depicts a catharsis. These monsters represented the final purge of all the bad stuff in her.

7. Finally, a long journey by yourself

In other words – a pilgrimage. A time to be alone in a new place, even better if it is a different country, where you can reflect on things. Hiking is good. The movie Forrest Gump depicts a scene where the depressed Forrest starts running non-stop across the US as he resolves his issues internally.

Apparently, in American history, many other people have run or mostly walked across the continent. In Japan, there are famous pilgrimage routes. Other countries have the same. Aside from the fact that walking is good for you, a long journey by yourself is sometimes really needed to help process thoughts and feelings. It is not always possible to do this especially if you have family and commitments, but if you are able, it might be just what is needed.

Conclusion: Catharsis

So any of these steps should help to purge yourself. It may be that there is a lot of inner work for you to do, based on the level of stuck energy and emotions in your body. I have had to do a lot on myself and still continue to do so. I have found that acupuncture has helped me release a lot of stuck emotions from my belly, which is where I held a lot of it in, particularly related to the disease I suffered from as a young man.

You may have an area of your body where you store all your repressed emotions. This is because energy does not simply disappear once in the body. It sticks around somewhere unless you let it out. This is the reason why some people may find themselves crying whilst undergoing deep yoga practice, meditation or having a treatment like massage or acupuncture. It releases that stuck energy and the associated emotions with it.

We can also help that process along by following some of the points in this article. Your soul will thank you for it.