Your baseline emotional state is how you fundamentally feel about yourself and about life. It’s the waters you live in every day of your life, and for most people, this feeling is normal.
If an emotional state is particularly charged like–being angry all the time, depressed, or anxious–the person is likely very aware of what their baseline emotion is, but for others, it may not be so apparent. Through inner work, however, it becomes more and more obvious what kind of feeling-state you live in all the time.
Let me be clear that this is deep inner work, and I’m not offering a magic pill or mantra to transform this state of feeling. Rather, I’m encouraging you to look more deeply within yourself, particularly if you are not aware of your baseline emotion. For those who are aware of their baseline emotion, I hope to offer more thoughts on why spiritual inner work and staying as awareness can help you gradually erode it so that you can be in surrender to any and all of your emotions.
When I talk about a baseline emotion, I’m not saying that people don’t have other emotions. We have lots of them. They can change regularly, and they generally do. You watch something funny. You laugh and experience joy. You read something about a tragedy somewhere. You feel sad or angry. You look at a spreadsheet on your computer. You feel bored. Truly, the ego self is constantly pulling our emotions in 90 different directions all the time.
However, the baseline emotion is the emotional state we come back to over and over again, and it’s easy to overlook. Please remember, this is the state to which you are most accustomed. There are all kind of things hiding out in the unconscious world that has set this “emotional temperature” that you live in, and this can be invisible unless you really look within yourself.
Who Set the Emotional Thermostat?
It’s always important to understand that most of how we feel is a choice. However, most of our choices have become so unconscious that we don’t know they’re there. We don’t know what beliefs and past experiences they’re tied to, and we don’t know how to access them. That makes it seem like we don’t have a choice in how we feel.
Well, it’s not that difficult to figure out who set the emotional thermostat. We did. We just did it unconsciously. Now, it’s time to go within to make what is unconscious conscious. In so doing, we regain access to this emotional setting.
What Emotions Dominate Your Life?
Part of dealing with a baseline emotional state is simply figuring out what that baseline is. Here are two very simple–and perhaps seemingly silly–questions to help you begin to figure out the baseline emotion that you are dealing with:
What types of movies/media do you like?
What topics do you like to discuss?
Let’s consider someone who likes horror movies. Well, those are extremely fear-based movies. There may also be a lot of anger and rage in them. That tells someone that they associate with fear and rage. If this is what someone does for “fun,” this starts to sound like these emotions may be part of their baseline emotion.
For another example, let’s talk about the person who is always talking about positive sides of everything. They won’t wade into anything that seems “negative,” whatever that may mean to them. It could mean they have a happy baseline emotion. Or this over-positivity could reflect the opposite; the person has an extremely fearful baseline emotion, and they use positive thinking to self-medicate their fear.
There are certainly other questions you can ask, and getting impressions from other people in your life and neutral third-parties can help you to reflect on your baseline emotional state. As usual, when you investigate into yourself, your honesty is key.
Reducing the Influence of Mood-altering Substances
People use all kinds of mood-altering substances precisely to try and mask their baseline emotional states. People at peace don’t care about changing their emotional states. People who are not at peace use things all the time to feel better and/or control their emotions. Take those substances away, and you’ll get a much stronger idea of what your baseline emotional state is, although there may be an important detox phase.
Removing these substances is also likely to challenge the ego, which will complain, barter, doubt, argue, and use other ego protecting tactics. These objections should be clues to you that you’re on to something important.
I want to be clear that reducing the influence of mood-altering substance isn’t a medical recommendation. This is a recommendation for those using recreational drugs, caffeine, added sugar, cigarettes, alcohol, and whatever the latest craze is (that includes CBD, Kratom, and others).
This IS NOT a recommendation to stop using mood stabilizers from a qualified psychologist, psychiatrist, mental health counselor, doctor, or another qualified professional. DO NOT stop using their recommended medications without consulting them first!
Are You Safe or Unsafe?
One of the most central feeling-states in a human being is this: do you feel safe or not?
If you feel safe, then the emotions and your whole outlook tend to go in the direction of happiness, seeing opportunities in life, being relaxed, and so forth.
If you don’t feel safe, then emotions and outlook go in the direction of seeking safety. This fearful state makes fear part of the baseline emotion, but it may also be deeply interlinked with depression, anger, envy, and other emotions. It may be focused on escaping the past and/or getting to a safe future.
Everyone’s baseline will have it’s own particular flavor.
The Safety of Childhood
Childhood and early childhood help to set the baseline emotion, and that’s why deeply engaging it is difficult. This emotional state got repeatedly reinforced for years until the person felt a certain way. Then this choice got stuffed down into the unconscious and forgotten. It also became the foundation for almost every way of thinking, feeling, and acting a person does.
So when we look at childhood, we go back and investigate with some very simple, but important questions such as:
Did you feel safe and totally cared for as a child?
Did you feel all your needs were met?
Was there consistent support for your basic needs?
Was there consistent support for your explorations in later childhood?
These and other questions can help you to look at how safe you felt as a child, and the answers can help you to more fully understand why you feel the way you feel.
What if Your Baseline Emotional State Is Happy?
Firstly, people from a very safe environment where they felt well cared for can develop very relaxed happy and/or positive baseline emotions. That’s a great space to be in. But on the path to spiritual freedom, we’re interested in having the flexibility to change. We’re interested in the space of inner peace that is neither happy nor scared, relaxed nor agitated. That space of inner peace gives us the ability to be with any and all of our emotions.
This inner peace I’m pointing towards is beyond any emotional state, and in that state, whatever emotions may come up within us or in others are allowed to exist without giving them more energy. If someone is too attached to being happy or positive, they can struggle when things like grieving a lost friend come up in life.
Or they may not know how to be with someone struggling with depression or who is angry about an injustice or abuse. If a person is too attached and stuck in any emotional state, they are limited.
However, as someone dissolve attachments, happiness does seem to like to show up more often than fear. In the space of freedom, happiness is a house guest that tends to hang out longer without having to try and be the host that manages all the other emotions. And sometimes, someone stuck in happiness gets into suppressing those emotions, which can create a very powerful and unhappy unconscious ego.
Peeling Layers of the Emotional Onion
Engaging with your baseline emotional state is not the first stop on the spiritual path. Usually, people peel away layers, starting with surface-level issues. A surface level issue might be like having issues with commitment. Other people can easily see it. They may point it out to the person who is the no-show. That leads a person to learning about commitment, which will probably ignite the issues hiding underneath it.
Perhaps in this example, this person finds that they had a mother who was chronically missing appointments, including the person’s appointments like soccer practice, recitals, poetry readings, birthday parties, or something else. Those experiences lead the person to thinking they weren’t worthy of attention as well as teaching them that showing up isn’t important. At this point, we’re delving into some mid-level issues. Now we’re cooking!
Eventually, the person may find this base emotion of fear that was developed by these uncertain experiences. Because the person never could fully know if their mother would show up, they were put in a state of alertness and fear hoping their mother would show up but also realizing they might have to figure something out on their own. This probably also created trust issues.
There’s more I could go into in this hypothetical situation, but hopefully, this gives you a flavor of how a person intellectually peels away layers to understand their baseline emotion and begin to notice it.
Surrendering to the Baseline Emotion
Since so many people’s baseline emotions are full of fear, I’ve found that deep relaxed states can help engage with this fear and agitation. Things like yoga nidra and meditation are powerful tools to use to help be with and dissolve through this fear.
The necessary relaxation for working on a baseline emotion is more than just taking an enjoyable vacation to the beach or the woods. This is intentionally letting go of as much tension as possible for an extended period of time–like an hour or more–and then being present to whatever rises up. Once you hit the baseline emotion in this conscious way, things get interesting.
And this really is work that is best done later in one’s journey once you’ve worked out a few significant issues, know how to look within properly, and have the resilience to be with whatever rises up.
Sinking Deeper and/or Hearing the Screams of the Ego
It’s difficult to generalize what will arise for someone, but typically, moving through this baseline emotion into a deeper level of realized freedom hits some serious rough patches. Particularly for those with a lot of fear, that fear will SCREAM! It’ll threaten you in every conceivable way that you can’t and shouldn’t let go. It’ll say:
You won’t be safe.
You’ll be hurt.
You’ll miss out.
You’ll______________ (you can fill in the blank for yourself if you have this type of baseline emotion).
When the ego fights back, this is where most people succumb. They stop using whatever tool was working. They stop working with a spiritual helper. They go back to a level of normal activity that they normally live at. And the baseline emotional state remains.
Once again, the way through is surrender. If a person can surrender more fully, they can erode this emotional floor, and when you move through it, oh wow, it’s such an amazing space to discover inside yourself.
Deeper Floors to Discover
Despite all of this, this probably won’t be your ultimate baseline emotion. We’re very good at creating multiple floors within ourselves, yet the suggestions for dealing with the deeper ones are just the same: surrender. Breathe and observe from awareness. Keep coming back to the awareness whether you feel really good and want to check out or whether the ego is screaming. Let it all pass through you, and as you do, you can discover deeper levels of freedom within you that have been waiting for you to find them.