I’ve been having a particular kind of static operating in the back recesses of my mental landscape lately, which has been interfering with my standard modes of frequency. Sometimes it’s more subtle and quiet; and other times it’s clamor is all I can hear. I’m feeling hesitant to go into more detail here on this public platform, so I apologize for speaking in general, nondescript terms.
Really the specifics matter little, when I think about it. Regardless of what static I happen to be experiencing – anger, sorrow, guilt, confusion, anxiety, stress, jealousy, lust, heartbreak, discomfort and so on – the practice remains the same. The first step is acknowledgment, or recognition, followed by: identification, acceptance, and investigation – with the hope of being able to move eventually into the art of embracing and transformation.
There’s no fire like that of lust,
No grasping like that of hate,
No snare like that of delusion,
No river like that of craving.
Acknowledgment: This first step may seem like a no-brainer. We have to start by recognizing what it is that’s coming up and running the show – to know what it is that we’re allowing to sweep us away from living life fully, in the here and now. So often, we simply have no idea what’s leading us around and propelling our discomfort and/or discontent, in whatever flavor it presents itself in. Adding further complication to this seemingly simply step is the fact that most of us have been taught and trained into thinking that certain emotions are not acceptable or are inappropriate or make us a “bad” person. So there’s a fair amount that can get in the way of being able to truly acknowledge that we even have feelings of anger or fear or craving, and so forth. The good news is: the more we practice to acknowledge our vast range of emotions that arise, the more we are able to understand them and interweave them into our full embodied experience of being human.
Identification: Being able to simply put a name, or label, on what it is that’s coming up for us and creating this static – as I’m choosing to call it here – may seem insignificant but in reality it can be extremely helpful in regards to stepping into the role of Observer, which can support us in creating some distance from the strong emotional charge that’s kicking up. Even just a sliver of distance can be beneficial in terms of ratcheting down the immediate pull that can so often accompany strong or otherwise challenging emotions.
So we start by saying: Yes, I am experiencing static. Then we call it by its true name, whether it be: fear, anger, sorrow, confusion, aversion, heartbreak, shame, hatred, jealousy, lust, etc.
Acceptance: It can be easy to confuse the practice of mindfulness with thinking it equates to being happy and joyful all of the time, but this is not the case. Mindfulness is about being with what’s happening – with whatever it is that’s going on. It’s about allowing space for all experiences to exist without trying to wrestle with them or run away from them or shut down because of them. (In my own experience, the interesting thing here is that once we learn how to hone this skill of acceptance, we can then acquire a certain even-keeled nature in the midst of static when it arises. So, in a way, it is possible to develop a certain level of unwavering joy and happiness that can result even when challenges arise, which may account for some of the mis-perceptions that swarm around the nature of mindfulness in regards to the idea of thinking certain practitioners are always happy all the time, because in a sense, that might be true after a certain amount of practice takes place.) The more we practice to move into the skill of acceptance – and yes, it is a skill – the less we will get caught by the wave of passing emotions when they rise and swell in our daily lives.
Investigation: Emotions are not abstract feelings or spontaneous occurrences. Every emotion that arises has a point of origin – or as is most often the case, multiple points of origin. Emotions result from long-running and deeply-embedded causes and conditions – so we can think of an emotion as sort of the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, meaning that the bulk of it is hiding from view under the surface. So we need to delve deeper in order to investigate what’s underneath. We need to become curious and inquisitive about what it is we’re feeling – and why – in order to better understand where it’s coming from, so as not to get trapped and overwhelmed by those feelings or emotions. And the more understanding we develop of what fuels our internal experiences, the more control we assume in the process of being able to cultivate a deeper relationship with ourselves and move into the kind of release and sense of ease that we’re all searching for.
Embracing/Transformation: I used to think that acceptance and embracing were synonymous – that if you accepted something, it also meant you were embracing it, too. But I’ve discovered for myself that this is not often the case. Acceptance is different than embracing. Acceptance is more about saying, without judgement or ridicule or negative commentary: Okay, yep, I see you _____(fill in the blank: craving, despair, fear…) as part of my internal landscape. You are manifesting right now and I see you just as you are. But embracing is more like saying: Okay, yep, I see you _____, AND I will take good care of you because you have something to show me and teach me right now. So, to practice embracing a strong or challenging emotion means to go a little bit further. To open up our hearts a little bit more, in order to do the work of healing and transformation so that we can grow and strengthen in our ability to carry stability, ease, joy, and resiliency with us wherever we go and in the midst of whatever is happening and unfolding around us.
So, each of these steps is necessary if we have a desire – and the determination – to do the work of internal transformation, which is ultimately what is necessary if we are to live a happy life. If we want to experience the type of happiness that is not easily shaken or taken from us, then we need to make up our minds to do the internal work that it takes to make that happen. Happiness is an inside job and it’s up to us. And this might be both good news and bad news. Bad news because on some level we’d prefer to put our quality of life into the hands of others and outside circumstances – but it’s good news because in every single moment we have the capacity to take responsibility for our own experience. We have total sway over how our lives play out. And while it does take work and determination and diligence, I have found that it’s not only worth the work but it’s what allows me to engage fully with the beauty and preciousness and awesomeness that is steeped in every drop of life. Doing this work results in freedom and liberation.
Parting words of wisdom I’d like to share from a reading I enjoyed this morning:
Be Grateful to Everyone:
Others will always show you exactly where you are stuck. They say or do something and you automatically get hooked into a familiar way of reacting – shutting down, speeding up, or getting all worked up. When you react in this habitual way, with anger, greed, and so forth, it gives you a chance to see your patterns and work with them honestly and compassionately. Without others provoking you, you remain ignorant of your painful habits and cannot train in transforming them into the path of awakening.
– Pema Chodron, from “Always Maintain A Joyful Mind”