Mar 25 • 4M

[0037]Facing fears

May you not run away from your emotions

 
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The heart of meditation podcards are just the essential habits of mind that you need to inculcate to quiet you mind and stay with your thoughts. Use their gentle reminder in your daily practice to reflect on and to break your habitual ways of thinking.
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The fourth and fifth skandhas (स्कन्ध) of egotism—intellectualism and consciousness—give rise to discursive thought and the freewheeling swells of strong emotion that it brings in its wake. But even discursive thought serves a purpose: it simulates the various outcomes of past and future actions as the mind attempts to consolidate experiences into well known concepts; which it then uses to anticipate every snippet of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch that you will experience, and every action that you will take in response. This is the natural modus of the survival mechanism. For to be simply reactive would place our relatively vulnerable bodies at a fatal disadvantage in a hostile world. Forbidden emotions like fear and anger dominate discursive thought because they must invariably lie at the bottom of your disconcertment. Their instances, past and future, have a high impact on your body budget. A flash of fear floods your mind and then recedes, but it leaves in its wake a slew of agitated neurons and chemical effluents from the priming of your defence system. These effects linger around long after the feeling has passed and give the illusion of prolonged malaise. So it is prudent for the self system to inhibit or subdue such feelings of irrational anger, guilt, fear, and loneliness by literally blocking thoughts and associations that have even a whiff of the forbidden. Fearing your fear, being angry about your anger, agonizing over your loneliness only makes things worse. And when you have contracted so many ways of “losing face”, the need to inhibit and censor thoughts quickly becomes untenable.

A more viable alternative is to embrace unwanted and unbidden emotions fully; to sit them out and understand where they’re coming from. Feelings of anger towards someone are really part of a wider and deeper anger towards similar people and situations from your past. Fear, anger, self-satisfaction, and self-pity share a common provenance—they are all emotions of the ego. They arise in reaction to how people and situations affect your personal identity and how you relate to them. By letting yourself feel your fear without trying to justify it or otherwise explain it away, or worse yet, condemn or suppress it, you gain a better understanding of what makes you tick. By facing your emotions without reacting to them, you develop greater confidence in your own ability to cope with whatever life throws at you.

In the Eastern tradition you are encouraged to sit with your anger, to let it well up and fully occupy the space it requires. Allowing the raw energy of your emotions to expand and grow this way lets you focus on the feeling instead of the objects that produced it. That is, you don’t focus on the thoughts and perceptions that produced the anger, but the feeling with its complexities and interwovenness as it sits heavily inside you. Anger is transformed from a destructive force into a catalyst for empathy and compassion. Fear no longer triggers the instinct to run away and hide but to pay closer attention to what is going on outside and inside. Loneliness reveals itself as the basic human need for connection and vulnerability. In this way, your emotions are transmuted from mere objects to react against into instruments of self-discovery and self-realisation.

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