Introduction to Meditation
Class Three Notes
Feeling our Feelings—Exploring Emotions
Eckhart Tolle states that emotions are where the mind meets the body. Last week we explored the direct experience of our bodies as a collection of sensations. We developed a vocabulary that correlated with the elements of:
- Earth—pressure, heaviness, hardness, and softness
- Air—flowing, pulsing, vibrating, tingling, stabbing, expanding, and contracting
- Fire—cold, cool, warm, or hot
- Water—sticky, slippery, or gummy
Having established this investigation of our physicality, we are now ready to take yet another step into subtlety and open to the evanescent realm of our emotions. Wow.
Emotions are called “feelings” precisely because we feel them. This class is about feeling them clearly—being able to distinguish what emotion we are feeling and the sensations associated with it. Emotions are often triggered by a thought. We’re just sitting there minding our business and a thought arises in our awareness. A strong sensation that we recognize as an emotion then may arise in our bodies in reaction to that thought. If we are paying attention with a mindful awareness, we can see the process unfold and catch the train before it fully leaves the station. Keeping our mindful awareness on the sensation is much easier than tracking the thoughts, which can be firing off like popcorn. It keeps us grounded, and we can weather the process more ease-fully.
Conversely, we might notice that we’ve had a few thoughts in a row that relate to a particular emotion. “I’m annoyed with my wife” pops up. A few moments later, “This place is just disgusting!” emerges. And, some moments later, up comes “I’m sick of the food at that restaurant.” If we check into our bodies with a mindful awareness, we might notice “Oh, I’m familiar with this clenching in my chest and jaw. This is anger. There’s anger in my system now.” We most skillfully attend to anger simply by bringing a mindful awareness to it. This is one of the magical aspects of a mindful awareness—in its light, negative energies tend to diminish as we loosen up around them and stop feeding them. Instead, we feel them clearly and allow them to heal and/or pass through. Now, here’s a really great piece of news—possibly my favorite in all of meditation. When we bring a mindful attention to a positive emotion like happiness, gratitude, or love, it tends to increase because, once again, we feel it clearly and its ventilating, awakening, freeing qualities are given the space to expand. Super cool.
I like to think of our difficult emotions as children who live inside us. We can care for them in the same way we would care for an upset child. What do you do with a child in distress? You bring them in close and ask them how they are and comfort them. If you tell them it is not ok for them to feel the way they do, or to go their room and never bother you again with their hurt, you end up with a very neurotic child. Yet, this is what we do every time we push away an unpleasant emotion. These emotions are our guides and our opportunities for freedom. Remember the five hindrances we spoke about last week. Our difficult emotions offer the same opportunity.
Rumi conveys this so beautifully in his poem,
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
Who violently sweep your house
Empty of its furniture,
Still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
Meet them at the door laughing,
And invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent
As a guide from beyond.
We use the acronym RAIN, which provides a framework for holding these upset children when they grace us with their presence.
- The “R” stands for Recognize. See that the child is there and upset.
- The “A” stands for Allow or Accept. Let the child be just as it is. It is trying to tell you something. It wants to heal and, in so doing, offer you more freedom.
- The “I” stands for Investigate by feeling it in your body.
- The “N” stands for Non-Identify. We understand that this is an energy passing through. We are not defined by it. This isn’t how we’ve always been and how we always might be as we are so apt to think in the moment. Loosen the grip of identification and let go. I recently heard a very wonderful teacher change “N” to Nourish. I love this. We take care of ourselves in the moment by offering ourselves compassion and kindness. We recognize that this is a tough emotion and we soften to hold it and all of ourselves warmly. Beautiful.
The Tibetans call compassion the quivering or trembling of the heart and I, personally, use the acronym, RAFT.
- The “R” and “A” are the same as in RAIN (Recognize and Allow or Accept).
- The “I” becomes “F” for Feel. We feel clearly what’s happening in our bodies, and that is the investigation. Not a head driven examination but a body-centric feeling into the aliveness of what is present.
- The “T” is for Tremble. We bring the trembling of a compassionate heart to ourselves.
RAIN and RAFT also work for positive emotions. Yum!
Balance as Freedom
As we saw in our exercise in class, when we lean towards what we want, we are actually off balance. This is greed for the pleasant. The exact same is true when we try and stay away from what we don’t like—aversion or hatred for the unpleasant. We felt directly in our bodies how stressful it is to be in either of those off balance positions. We, lastly, felt how easeful and open and freeing it was to be in balance—when we met our experience without moving towards or away, but just felt it.
This is the basis for the first three of the Four Noble Truths:
- There is inescapable, unpleasant stuff we will come into contact with in a human life. That’s simply a fact.
- Trying to get away from it causes stress. If we then get attached and need to have things a certain way, we are really caught and we will, for sure, suffer. That’s because we aren’t fully in control. We will have “owies” and ultimately die. Every moment is different than the last. It is a flowing river of change. If we hold on and try and stop the flow, it is like trying to hold on to a rapidly moving rope—we get burned.
- Meeting life just as it is—accepting it fully—with an interested (even wondrous) mindful awareness, liberates us from the struggle to control that which we cannot. This does not mean that we stop enjoying the beautiful. We are free to enjoy it more because we don’t waste our time trying to desperately hang onto it. William Blake put this beautifully in four short lines:He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise.
Leaning towards and away and getting stuck in attachment are very deeply conditioned approaches to life that are inflamed and reinforced by our consumerist techno/scientific, “We’re going to figure it all out, and if you don’t, you are flawed.,” culture. So, we need a way of living that helps us calm that seesaw tendency, and we’ll talk about that in the next class. It’s called The Eightfold Path, but I call it simply a sane way to live.
Really try to establish that 20 minutes of sitting a day. I just read an article in the New York Times about forming habits. Habits are most easily reinforced by practicing a three-step ritual:
- You train your nervous system by providing an easy CUE. That might look like lighting a candle, having a cup of tea, or even putting on a certain sweater.
- Then you do your ROUTINE for 20 minutes.
- Then you have a juicy REWARD like a piece of chocolate or warm shower.
Soon you won’t need the reward.
Finally, listen to the third Introduction to Meditation talk by Gil Fronsdal at http://www.audiodharma.org/talks/audio_player/1194.html.
Think of a reflection to share with the group and yourself. What is your prime takeaway?