Depending upon the lineage you follow or study, the practice is either to move away from or towards your strong emotions. As someone who lives in the world, meaning not in an ashram or hermitage, I find that working with and embracing the many aspects of myself has created a more integrated me. I have found that when I shy away from my strong emotions (which I can have many of), I tend to leave my body, to check out. As Jack Kornfield says so eloquently below, the practice of staying present to the feelings/emotions/sensations takes courage and compassion; to be honest with what is arising and to truly feel it. When we can be in the feeling, there comes what he calls “wise understanding”, that pain, grief and sorrow are inevitable. From this understanding, we can find peace with those feelings, with those parts of ourselves and from there the self-inflicted war can stop. This can be a life long process so be patient with yourself but continue to stay present and observe the inevitable shift within you.
I hope you enjoy this excerpt as much as I do. Much love. xo
“The purpose of a spiritual discipline is to give us a way to stop the war, not by our force of will, but organically, through understanding and gradual training. Ongoing spiritual practice can help us cultivate a new way of relating to life in which we let go of our battles.
When we step out of the battle, we see anew, as the Tao Te Ching says, ‘with eyes unclouded by longing’. We see how each of us creates conflict. We see our constant likes and dislikes, the fight to resist all that frightens us. We see our own prejudice, greed, and territoriality. All this is hard for us to look at, but it is really there. Then underneath these ongoing battles, we see pervasive feelings of incompleteness and fear. We see how much our struggle with life has kept our hearts closed.
When we let go of our battles and open our heart to things as they are, then we come to rest in the present moment. This is the beginning and the end of spiritual practice. Only in this moment can we discover that which is timeless. Only here can we find the love that we seek. Love in the past is simply memory, and love in the future is fantasy. Only in reality of the present can we love, can we awaken, can we find peace and understanding and connection with ourselves and the world.
A sign in a Las Vegas casino aptly says, ‘You Must Be Present to Win’. Stopping the war and becoming present are two sides of the same activity. To come into the present is to stop the war. To come into the present means to experience whatever is here and now. Most of us have spent our lives caught up in plans, expectations, ambitions for the future, in regrets, guilt, or shame about the past. When we come into the present, we begin to feel the life around us again, but we also encounter whatever we have been avoiding. We must have the courage to face whatever is present–or pain, our desires, our grief, our loss, our secret hopes, our love–everything that moves us most deeply. As we stop the war, each of us will find something from which we have been running–our loneliness, our unworthiness, our boredom, our shame, our unfulfilled desires. We must face these parts of ourselves as well.
You have may have heard of ‘out of body experience’, full of lights and visions. A true spiritual path demands something more challenging, what could be called an ‘in the body experience’. We must connect to our body, to our feelings, to our life just now, if we are to awaken.
To live in the present demands an ongoing and unwavering commitment. As we follow a spiritual path, we are required to stop the war not once but many times. Over and over we feel the familiar tug of thoughts and reactions that takes us away from the present moment. When we stop and listen, we can feel how each thing that we fear or crave (really two sides of the same dissatisfaction) propels us out of our hearts into false idea of how we would like life to be. If we listen even more closely, we can feel how we have learned to sense ourselves as limited by fear and identified with that craving. From this small sense of ourselves, we often believe that our own happiness can come only from possessing something or can be only at someone else’s expense.
To stop the war and come into the present is to discover a greatness of our own heart that can include the happiness of all beings as inseparable from our own. When we let ourselves feel the fear, the discontent, the difficulties we have always avoided, our heart softens. Just as it is a courageous act to face all the difficulties from which we have always run, it is also an act of compassion. According to Buddhist scriptures, compassion is the ‘quivering of the pure heart’ when we have allowed ourselves to be touched by the pain of life. The knowledge that we can do this and survive helps us awaken the greatness of our heart. With greatness of heart, we can sustain a presence in the midst of life’s suffering, in the midst of life’s fleeting impermanence. We can open to the world–it’s ten thousands joys and ten thousand sorrows.
As we allow the world to touch us deeply, we recognize that just as there is pain in our lives, so there is pain in everyone’s life. This is the birth of wise understanding. Wise understanding sees that suffering is inevitable, that all things that are born die. Wise understanding sees and accepts life as a whole. With wise understanding we allow ourselves to contain all things, both dark and light, and we come to a sense of peace. This is not the peace of denial or running away, but the peace we find in the heart that has rejected nothing, that touches all things with compassion.”