Being present, being mindful is about tuning into the experience arising in this moment. It’s not about bypassing, altering or escaping that experience. But of course this can be a temptation. We have sensitive forms and as well as a range of physical feelings we have an array of emotions that can arise. Whether we like it or not, we have feelings and those feelings can be difficult to deal with. Some are difficult to live with at all.
We often talk about positive feelings: happiness, love, joy but these feelings don’t last do they? They change, like all things, and some feelings arise that are far from pleasant. It’s in our nature to try and have more of what we find pleasing and to try and avoid things we don’t like. It’s no surprise then that we’ll go to great lengths to avoid feeling emotions that we find unpleasant.
Alcohol and drugs can dull our feelings, social media, TV, music, games can all distract us. In fact anything we do to actively fill our time can distract us. Some even turn to medication to ease unpleasant feelings. Unfortunately our emotions are part of us and about as easy to escape as our liver or kidneys.
Whatever we do to find distraction, to avoid the sensations that arise, in some unguarded moment they will pop back up. They can stick around for years, a whole lifetime in fact. As long as they remain unresolved, unprocessed, our emotions will lie buried but always present. So at some point, they need to be dealt with. So how do we go about that?
The spirit in which we approach our feelings and emotions should be considered at the outset. Our path or our practice can’t revolve around seeking to change what is, improve what is or get rid of this or that. Why? Because what is, is. The fact that these feelings are here means they already have arisen. Do we understand where they came from? Can we see clearly how this happened? Do we know their source, their nature, their origin?
If not then we really don’t understand. We’re not clear. And if we’re not clear and conscious of our feelings then we’re only able to be mindful of them on a very superficial level. Like seeing the surface of the sea, which may be stormy or calm, but having no idea what reefs and rocks lurk beneath.
So the spirit in which we set out to clearly see the emotions must be one of understanding. This is about seeing; seeing how it is, not trying to change what is. Emotions are there because they’re meant to be there. We don’t suffer because of our feelings we suffer because we don’t want to have them.
For me it was all about fear. When I first realised I felt fear as a strong and often prevalent emotion I really did want to get rid of it. I read a lot of books and tried various techniques for doing so (breath in love, breathe out fear). But none of them really worked, the fear kept coming back. The more conscious I became of fear, the more I started to realise where I was feeling it. I noticed it wasn’t really in my head, the sensation itself was in my body. I could feel it in my lower right abdomen. At any moment of any day I could tune into it and find it right there. It was always there.
Then I read the words of a Buddhist Ajahn, who took the view that we shouldn’t try to get rid of fear, we should accept it as it is. When we accept it, then it’s not really a problem any more. It took quite a while for me to take this on board. I didn’t want to accept my fear, I wanted rid of it. Now that seems a bit ridiculous, but back then it seemed a perfectly normal request.
Over time I came to realise I couldn’t and wouldn’t be getting rid of my fear. Fear was just there, it was a part of this human experience. And gradually, bit by bit, I began letting go of my need to be rid of it. In fact a curious thing happened. In this ever changing world I noticed that my fear was always present, that it hardly ever changed. I started to take comfort in the fact it was always there, a bit like a faithful companion.
That started to really change my attitude towards it, because up to that point, I had actually been afraid of my fear. When my attitude shifted round to one of gradual acceptance and even affection, I had created a space into which a more welcoming and loving feeling arose. I wasn’t afraid of my fear any more.
All those years, all of that time spent trying to get rid of something that was just a normal part of me. All I had to do was see that it’s meant to be this way. Fear is meant to be a part of this experience. The only animal I know of that didn’t exhibit fear was the Dodo, and it didn’t end too well for the Dodo.
And this has now become the pattern for how I see and deal with feelings and emotions. In meditation or being mindful, it’s about seeing how this is, how this experience is in the moment. What are the feelings? Being fully conscious of them, allowing them space to be present; a welcoming space. Because when we’re fully conscious of them we’re much less likely to act them out in an unconscious way. When we’re not mindful or we’re pushing them aside and using energy for that, they can affect how we act or speak before we’ve realised it.
So dealing with emotions and feelings is about tuning in, allowing, giving space to and being present with them. We don’t need to indulge and we don’t need to resist, we just need to see. It is this way. In this moment it feels like this.