mean that the capacity to love and accept
is not there; love is always with you.”
Last week, I spent time here presenting the notion that simply "cutting loose of the storyline", the process of refocusing our awareness from discursive thought to other aspects of our experience (preferably what we are feeling in our heart), can sometimes take us from hell to heaven in the blink of an eye. (See Your Courtesy Wake Up Call: Once Upon a Time...)
Although I certainly have experienced something approximating that quite often, perhaps a bit of Karmic Comeuppance was necessary to burn my tail. and burnish my humility and compassion a bit. The lesson? Being a calm and kind and clear and compassionate human being is NOT that easy. It is a daunting discipline that takes courage, patience, skill, time and effort.
During the past week, Life has interjected a pretty dramatic bout of upset apple carts and a deep funk into the Grand Mix. It's been enough to remind me that it certainly can take a bit longer than a "blink of an eye" to regain a sense of ease and wonder about it all. It may even take what may seem like one hell of a long time.
As a child and a young man I had what folks might call an extremely bad temper. Having grown up in the midst of frequent anger, verbal and physical abuse, I internalized the patterns -- with a vengeance. Not infrequently, I would react to things in my world with bursts of fiery emotions -- and even physical violence. I could roar and smash things and strike out verbally and physically with the worst of them.
As a result of my rather chaotic and bruising childhood, I was also quite prone into falling into a deep, deep funk. Even when my external life seemed relatively successful, I could get really, really depressed. A dark amalgam of frozen anger, fear and pain would emerge to dominate my attention, zap my energy, and turn my world upside down for days at a time -- if I was lucky. At times over the years, it swirled me down into the classic "burn out" experienced by all too many folks involved with human service and political activism.
Nowadays, I feel quite grateful to the Teachers and the Teachings, especially the View and the Heart Practices taught by Pema Chodron and others. Through Grace and Practice, neither Fire nor Ice are very common emotional energies in my life. They may emerge, but generally they dispel readily.
BUT, there are still times...
Fire and Ice
This week, for the first time in quite awhile, I got a good dose of both.
In both these instances, there was no amount of simply cutting loose of the story lines that was about to rapidly dispel this cauldron of emotional energy that had emerged. What was called for was some patience, and the willingness to make some time and space (both on and off the zafu), to stay with the actual feelings rather than withdraw or act out. Embraced by as much mindfulness and heart as I could muster, I was going to have to hunker down and be present for these energies as they ran their course.
During that time, both Shamatha/Vipashyana and Tonglen practice afforded me the opportunity relax the body a bit, to feel and examine (not analyze) the nature of the emotional patterns involved. Although repeatedly cutting loose of the story lines was central to the process of focusing on the actual energies involved, (and helpful in keeping some of those storylines from escaping from my mouth and complicating matters. LOL), it took hours and, in one instance, some sleep, to finally release and transmute the energy. Yet, ultimately, that Gracious Spaciousness -- and a relaxed exhilaration -- returned. First in subtle bursts, then with a slow and gentle expansion, I felt my heart open again.
I was able to then do some Lovingkindness Practice quite easily.
It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it, right?
Working with Fire (and Ice): Two Good Articles
Shambala Sun, a magazine which offers a "Buddhist view for people of all spiritual traditions who are open, inquisitive, passionate and committed" has two articles that may be helpful to you if you are interested in ways to look at and work with the more difficult emotions.
"The Answer to Anger and Aggression is Patience" by Pema Chodron and "Loosening the Knots of Anger" by Thich Nhat Hanh are both available on-line and can be quite useful.