Suppressing emotions —and, for good measure, any and all desires— could only be harmful, and thus we were encouraged by mental health professionals and popular musicians alike: ‘Don’t keep it bottled in’, ‘Express yourself’, ‘Tell it like it is’, ‘Let it all hang out’.
Mastering our emotions became synonymous with hypocrisy, and all forms of self-control were suspect. Given the political fashion of the 60s and 70s, suppression was equated with internalized repression, or as a friend colorfully put it: “being your own pig”.
The fallacy of this notion is that the opposition expression vs. suppression is not all-encompassing. When faced with an afflicted emotion, expressing it or suppressing it are not our only options.
The Dharma does not suggest or recommend suppression. On the contrary, we are advised to observe our emotions closely, to notice how and when they arise, abide, and subside; to discover their source; to locate them spatially and temporally; to understand their very nature.
We are not encouraged to stamp out the emotions, but rather to accept them and observe them closely. When we witness our emotions, they self-liberate, they return to their empty source, they dissolve into the luminous clarity of the mind. There is nothing to express or suppress.
Expression is a form of suppression, because as soon as we engage in mounting and displaying a mental, verbal, or physical reaction, we are denying ourselves the opportunity to feel the emotion. We have moved on to a different experience (expression) before we’ve had the opportunity to understand and assimilate the previous one (feeling).
The opposite of feeling is not suppression. It is not feeling. Expression and suppression are contraries indeed, but both are extremes that veil the experience of feeling. Mastering the emotions is not an act of suppression, but an act of acceptance and understanding.
If we have a need to express or suppress our feelings, that in itself is a sign that the emotions have not been properly and fully digested.