Working With Emotions

I have been studying the relationship between emotions and meditation.   It is interesting that one can become attuned, if you will, to how emotions effect their body.   There are some forms of meditation that have been helpful.  I want to clarify that emotions are not good or bad in themselves.   It is our response to them that causes issues for us.  This is an ongoing study for me and I will try to share as much of it as I can with you.   Please offer your comments and advice too.

I have lots of opportunities at work to stress out and to get really pissed off at some situations.  Since beginning Shambhala Training, I have many tools available to assist me in working with stress.   In his book, “The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation” Chogyam Trungpa wrote, “Spontaneity sees situations as they are.  You see, there is a difference between spontaneity and frivolousness, a very thin line dividing them.  Whenever there is an impulse to do something, you should not just do it; you should work on the impulse.  If you are working on it then you will not act frivolously; you want really to see it and taste it properly, devoid of frivolousness.  Frivolous means acting according to reflex.  You throw something and when it bounces back you react.   Spontaneity is when you throw something and watch it and work with the energy when it bounces back at you.   One you are emotionally worked up, then too much anxiety is put into your action.  But when you are spontaneous, there is less anxiety and you just deal with situations as they are.”

In sitting meditation, I have begun to do some practice where I work with emotions.  I think of something that pisses me off or angers me or hurts me. Then I hold that emotion long enough to observe it, study it and work with it. Then I let it go.   I find that certain kinds of emotional “feelings” cause certain sensations in my body.   For example, anger, for me, causes a tightness in my neck and sometimes overtakes my thinking process where I find myself saying something I would rather not have said.    In working with this on the meditation cushion or chair, I have begun to notice the various kinds of physical sensations that happen based no whatever emotional feeling I experience.  Another example is when I am afraid.   I find that I become weak- kneed and my sight tends to become confused.    I have worked with this and, in some cases, I can pinpoint the moment when the emotion arises and my body begins to react. Please do not think that I think I am some great spiritual person because of this.    I am still very much working with it. However, I know from experience that it it possible to work with emotions.

Pema Chodron and Joan Duncan Oliver write that, “The first step with working with an emotion is to recognize it for what it is.    It’s very helpful to use mental noting to bring forth clear recognition, this is happiness, this is sadness, this is lonliness, this is excitement, this is boredom.    Clear recognition can be very helpful.    If other thoughts rush in to associate with the naming, practice returning again and again to the simple naming.    When an emotion is arising strongly in your experience, it’s useful to notice the different aspects and constituents of the emotion.    Feel the specific sensation in the body.  Is there heat? is the body contracted?   Is it open?  Is it soft?”[3]

I can sometimes let the stong emotion go and it will subside with hardly any struggle.  Then again, it might fight to hold it’s place.  The Sakyong says that we can take one of two approaches when working with emotions.

First, “if we have developed out practice to the point where we can just breath and let the strong emotion go, that’s what we should do.  Relying on our stable mind, we can let the power of our meditation bring us back to the breath which gives us space.  The the emotion begins to lose its grip.

The other approach is to dismantle it by contemplating it.  Dismantling is grounded in knowing that no matter how solid the emotion feels, it’s fabricated…

The tight ball of hatred, desire, or jealousy feels so solid that we actually feel it in our body as a lump in our throat, a rising wave of heat, an aching heart.
An emotion that feels as big as a house can be dismantled brick by brick.  In dismantling, we use the emotion as an object of meditation.   The way dismantling works is that we engage the missing element: reason.”

I don’t know about anyone else, but reason is not so close when I really get emotional.  It takes some practice, patience and faith to effectively deal with the emotion.   Thich Nhat Hanh defines faith as, “the confidence we receive when we put into practice a teaching that helps us overcome difficulties and obtain some transformation.   It is like the confidence that a farmer has in his way of growing crops.   It is not blind.   It is not some believe in a set of ideas or dogmas.”   Having worked with emotions and finding that there has been even a bit of success in not letting emotions overtake me, I have faith the the practice will continue to help me.

I will write more later about dealing with emotions.

1. Turning Your Mind Into An Ally, The Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche,2003 Riverhead Books.
2. The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching…” Thich Nhat Hanh, 1998 Broadway Books
3. Commit To Sit, John D. Oliver and Pema Chodron, 2009, Hay House Books.

Peace To You All

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