Saturday, April 28, 2007

Sitting With Feelings

Something happened a little while a go (details not important) that left me feeling angry. Anger is an old friend, one of the few feelings I have been comfortable with in my life. I have a tendency to cling to my anger when it comes up, not wanting to let it go. But I've been working with this on and off over the years, and I'm starting to see my pattern more clearly.

When the anger came up, I did what I usually do -- I wanted to cling to it and just be angry.

But then I went and sat outside and watched the birds. As I sat with the feeling, it didn't vanish all peacefully and easily, but I did begin to see that what was beneath it was hurt and sadness. I was sad because I was disappointed that something I was looking forward to probably would not happen. And the hurt I felt was both my own sadness and the hurt that the other person involved must be feeling in the given situation.

When I stopped clinging to my anger, I began to feel compassion for the other person -- and for the hurt part of myself was sad. Neither one of us wanted things to work out this particular way, but these things happen. And in this case, feeling compassion for the other person is the more appropriate response, no matter how disappointed I might be (which isn't to say that I don't get to feel the full range of my feelings, only that a wider perspective is useful sometimes).

It's easy to say that anger has no value and is simply the way that I cover over my hurt -- which is certainly true a lot of times. Sometimes, however, anger is justified and appropriate, especially in the confrontation of injustice or violence. I would never want to suggest that we do not get angry when it is appropriate.

But in other situations, like this one, it tells me that something beneath the surface needs my attention. It is a road sign pointing me within to take a look at what is really going on. When I follow the sign, and allow what is beneath the surface to be acknowledged and felt, the anger melts away (mostly -- I have subs who try to cling to the anger, which is part of their job).

The more mindfulness I can bring to my challenging emotional states, the more access I will have to compassion. As I learn to sit with my feelings and look beneath the surface, I am less likely to cling to them, or to be at their mercy.

If all I get out of this day is this lesson, it was a good day.

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