Mindfulness of feelings and emotions are a very important part of my practice. When I am aware of what I am feeling, I am less likely, as Katagiri Roshi used to say, “to get tossed away by them.” My reactive emotions comes from my basic misunderstanding that I have to protect a “self”. Sometimes I think I am going to die from an emotion it seems so difficult. At that time, I don’t believe that the emotion is going to dissipate or disappear on its own if I just let it exist and feel it. I don’t align myself with the truth that things, feelings, people, circumstance come and go.
Through zazen practice I can really practice and strengthen my ability to just hold things or be present with circumstances and feelings as they are. Pema Chodron has said that meditation practice helps us increase our capacity to hold negative emotions. We need to digest and see the truth of our negative emotions so that we don’t act out or suppress. Acting out actually increases the negativity for ourselves and those around us. Suppression doesn’t work, as eventually that suppressed energy comes out sideways. Awareness is to be awake to our feelings and to be able to be with them in peace.
I have often called our feelings and the energy of our hearts, the melody of humanity. It is the song of the ups and downs of life that come with being a human. We do not want to eradicate them or obliterate our humanness but rather we can aspire to be a fully alive human who can experience the full range of our emotions with integrity.
Zazen in stillness and mindfulness in activity, teaches us how to be aware of what is happening internally and how to hold our life without being reactive. Ken McLeod says our awareness has to be just a smidgeon larger than the feeling or circumstance. As Katagiri-roshi said, “we don’t have to poke our heads in there.” Each part of our life can be held in a gentle loving awareness, without “doing” something to escape it and without reacting.
Thich Nhat Hanh has spoken beautifully of the difficult emotions that arise from past circumstances. From Thich Nhat Hanh, “Touching the Earth” page 41:
Thanks to practicing mindful breathing and walking, I can recognize different mental states as they arise. I know that the wounds of my ancestors and my parents, as well as wounds from my childhood until now, still lie deep in my consciousness. Sometimes painful feelings associated with sadness rise up in me and if I do not know how to recognize, embrace, and help them calm down, I can say things and do things that cause division or a split in my family or my community. I can use this mindful energy to not suppress these emotions but to help them calm down. I know these feelings and emotions for the most part arise from narrow perceptions and incomplete understanding. Investigating and letting go of my narrow ideas and wrong perceptions, my painful feelings and emotions will no longer have a basis to arise. I promise that from now on I shall practice looking deeply to see that the majority of my suffering arises from my ideas and perceptions. I shall not blame others when I suffer, but shall return to myself and recognize the source of my suffering in my misconceptions and my lack of deep understanding.
Larry Rosenberg, “Breath by Breath” chapter on “Breathing with feelings.”: (page 73)
One of meditation’s function is to calm the mental processes. A feeling arises – even one as powerful as fear – using the conscious breathing, you stay with the feeling, stay with it, stay with it. You let it be. Conscious breathing and mindfulness take the power out of the feeling so it doesn’t condition the mind to get hysterical. Our feelings lose their potency to propel us into unwise states.
That is what the Buddha finally said about feelings. “The enlightened one has become liberated and freed from all attachments. One sees as it really is, the arising and passing away of feelings. The relishing of them, the danger of them, the release of them.”
I find that so interesting. Buddha said that we tend to relish our feelings and attachment even though we know that clinging to a state by pushing it away or attaching to it, produce our suffering. That’s the danger of our feelings and attachments. If we want to have release from them, we have to find the balance point between taking care of them but also not clinging to them.