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Lions Roar : July 2016
emotions. People here focus on their emotions much more than we Tibetans do, and they are encouraged to do so. As a result of this, I have noticed that the way people do things here is quite the opposite of how we do things in Tibet. This culture places value on focusing on our own feelings more than the mood and energy of the people and situations happening around us. What is the consequence of this way of relating to our emo- tions? First, it can cause us to be extremely sensitive. We react emotionally to almost everything and everyone around us. Emo- tions have become the core of American identity—almost liter- ally, you are what you feel. Even the English language expresses this idea. We identify directly with the emotions, saying, “I am angry” rather than “I have anger,” as they do in other languages like Spanish. In the Tibetan language, we actually say, “Anger is present” and do not connect the emotion with “I” at all. What is the problem with connecting our identity or ego— our very sense of self—with our emotional state of mind? In addition to all of the pain and suffering our emotions cause us when we focus on them, rehash them, and obsess about them, we also lose our ability to connect with others. We lose our compassion for others and have trouble understanding how they feel. We may express things that hurt the people we love without realizing our words are hurtful. Our personal identity takes up a lot of space. We may have trou- ble relating to communities because of the demand to compromise our needs for the needs of others. Or we withdraw because we need to feel we have enough space to breathe and do not want to be influenced by the ideas, words, actions, and energy of others. Many people feel isolated, misunderstood, and lonely as a result. In the end, we have done just the opposite of what we set out to do. We thought that protecting ourselves and paying attention to our feelings would make us happier, but actually, our unhappiness increased. In the dharma we have a saying, “All people desire happiness, but instead they chase after suffering.” When we reflect on our relationship with our emotions, we can see just how true this is. The Buddhist path has tools that help us train our mind so we don’t put so much energy into our emotional responses. By gradually reducing the focus we ordinarily place on our emo- tions, we begin to identify with them less. As we identify with our emotions less, we become more willing to let small situa- tions go, and we begin to feel more relaxed. This starts a differ- ent kind of emotional cycle. As we start to see that letting small situations go actually brings us peace of mind and happiness, we become willing to let other situations go too. When we relax and let go, we identify with our emotions even less. When we identify with our emotions less, we are less self-protective, less emotionally reactive, and we feel happier. Meditation Practice: Changing Your Relationship with Difficult Emotions HOW DO YOU TRANSFORM the relationship you have with your emotions? I suggest a few different techniques, all of which fall into the category of lojong, or mind training. First, I suggest working diligently to develop mindfulness toward your emotional reactions. I am not suggesting that you identify with your emotional reactions, but simply try to notice how changeable your moods and feelings are. One way you can do this is to contemplate the impermanent nature of life. By cultivating mindfulness, you notice the energy of your mind changing from moment to moment. In one moment you feel calm and relaxed, in the next agitated or afraid. You might feel comfortable sitting outside in the sunshine, only to notice five minutes later that the same sunshine is now burning us. Our minds might jump from the past to the future, from here to somewhere across the planet, all in a matter of moments. Our emotions are unpredictable, momentary, and fickle. You should ask yourself: why am I so willing to believe that every feeling I have is true? After you watch your mind for some time, you start to notice that sometimes your emotions arise as a reaction to a certain situation, and other times they arise for no apparent reason at all. You might be sitting on a cushion in a quiet room, with no one around, and suddenly feel angry or sad. One way we ordinarily react to this kind of emotional energy is to look for its cause—or for something to blame. However, as part of your lojong training, you can start to break the habit of linking your emotional feelings and reactions to outside causes. Rather than looking for a cause or someone to blame for how you feel, notice instead how prone you are to certain types of emotional reactions and how deep your emotional habits are. After all, you can have intense emotional feelings even when there is nothing present to trigger them. As you begin to notice that you have certain dominant emo- tional habits and are prone to certain kinds of feelings, you begin to identify less with them. You can relax more and find more contentment in the moment. All the masters of our Buddhist tradition have shown us that true happiness comes from pacifying our emotions and accept- ing the people and circumstances around us. When we feel relaxed, comfortable, and confident in ourselves, we no longer need to interpret unwanted circumstances as attacks on us. We can simply see the interplay of events, people, and circum- stances around us and feel free to make the choices that suit us best. This is a step on the path to freedom. ♦ LION’S ROAR | JULY 2016 63