Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Mindfulness and Difficult Emotions

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There are certain advanced techniques in which you intentionally churn up emotions by thinking of people or situations that make you angry or lustful or afraid. The practice is to let the thoughts go and connect directly with the energy, asking yourself, "Who am I without these thoughts?" What we do with mindfulness-awareness practice is simpler than that, but I consider it equally daring. When emotional distress arises uninvited, we let the story line go and abide with the energy of that moment. This is a felt experience, not a verbal commentary on what is happening. We can feel the energy in our bodies. If we can stay with it, neither acting it out nor repressing it, it wakes us up. People often say, "I fall asleep all the time in meditation. What shall I do?" There are lots of antidotes to drowsiness but my favorite is, "Get angry!"

Not abiding with our energy is a predictable human habit. Acting out and repressing are tactics we use to get away from our emotional pain. For instance most of us when we're angry scream or act it out. We alternate expressions of rage with feeling ashamed of ourselves and wallowing in it. We become so stuck in repetitive behavior that we become experts at getting all worked up. In this way we continue to strengthen our conflicting emotions.

-Pema Chodron, Resting Completely

I added the emphasis in this quote. This is a great practice when we are sitting, but it is even better if we can do this in the world, as part of our daily lives. I'm still working with it in my own life, but it has helped me to become less attached to my emotions when they come up.

Still, we can take this practice one step deeper. When a hard emotion comes up, we can recognize the thought that comes with it and feel the energy of the emotion in the body. But we can also take a step back from the emotion and get to know it. We can ask our anger, for instance, what it needs to feel more calm. Or we can ask our sadness what might make it feel more joy.

If we can first own the emotions as part of ourselves, we can then disidentify with them when they come up and get to know them, their needs, their wants, and the things that will make them feel better.

We can also do this with our joy or our love. We ask it how we might feel more of its gift in our lives. We can see how it opens our hearts and makes us more compassionate and more caring.

The hard part in doing all of this is to do it with a sense of inquiry, instead of a sense of grasping. We want to follow a path toward less pain and more joy, but we want to do it for higher good of all sentient beings. We want to expand our heart without attaching our sense of purpose to our feelings.

For as long as we are tied to this self, we must learn to deal with its feelings and needs. But the quest is find our way to Spirit. We want to create more space in our life so that Spirit may fill us with Its purpose, may lead us to Its open heart, and thereby bring us one step closer to our true nature, which is No Self.

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