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Lions Roar : November 2018
OVERWHELMED BY EMOTIONS I’m afraid of the intense emotions that come up when I am meditating. Sometimes I feel deep sadness and other times I’m taken over by anger. Should I stop meditating when emotions begin to overwhelm me, or are there ways to work with them in meditation? SUSAN MOON: The quiet space of meditation can be an open house for troubled thoughts and feelings, who enter uninvited and take advantage of the captive audience of my mind. When this happens to me, I find that it’s what I then say to myself—the judgments, the self-blame—that does the damage. I try to remember my bumper sticker that says, “Don’t believe everything you think.” One thing you can do is turn from thoughts to the body that is always with you. What are the sensations of anger? Is your scalp burning? Feel the simple heat. When sadness over- whelms you, put your hand on your heart. Spread your fingers and feel the warmth of your chest. Keep your hand there as long as you want. One day, torturing myself with habitual regret, I tuned into my body and saw myself bent under the weight of the heavy chains I was dragging behind me. “Drop the chains of regret!” I roused myself. The weight fell away. When I stood up from meditation, I was taller and straighter. Buddhist teaching urges us not to turn away from what’s difficult, but there are different ways to meditate. There could be times when it’s better to leave the cushion. Years ago, I went through such a rocky time that sitting in meditation only made matters worse. I had to move. Those days, I walked hard and fast in the hills behind Berkeley, calling to the trees for help, and they helped me. I came back to the cushion, knowing that there’s no wrong way to meditate. SUSAN MOON is a writer ( This Is Getting Old, The Hidden Lamp) and lay Zen teacher living in Berkeley, California. PRACTICING ON MY OWN I live in an area where Buddhist centers are few and far between, and the ones I can get to aren’t really my cup of tea. That means it’s hard for me to have a relationship with a teacher or community, which are supposed to be essential. Is it OK to practice on my own, and how do I do it without support? MITCHELL RATNER: Learning to follow the eightfold path of mindfulness practice is similar to becoming adept at stage magic or tai chi or anything else. There is a lot one can learn from books and online videos. But it is also a great help to be around and learn from those who are proficient, especially those who are really good at it. I suggest you first look for a Buddhist tradition that feels right to you. Many traditions now have online communities and live discussion groups that use internet audio and video. Then, if you can, attend an event in that tradition, such as a weekend retreat, even if it requires some travel. If you feel the tradition speaks to your heart, stay in touch and attend when you can. Two weekend retreats a year can help a lot. Some practice communities, such as the Plum Village tradi- tion of Thich Nhat Hanh, which I am a member of, encourage even new practitioners to start their own local face-to-face communities if none exists nearby. We all do the best we can given the context of our lives. It may also be helpful to remember a teaching Thich Nhat Hanh gave me several decades ago when I was having some doubts. He told me, communities and good teachers can offer wonderful nourishment, and, also they are human and imper- fect. The present moment is our true home, our true teacher. It is the teacher that will never let us down. MITCHELL RATNER was ordained as a dharma teacher by Thich Nhat Hanh and is founder of the Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center in Maryland. LION’S ROAR | NOVEMBER 2018 50