A balanced truth is that sadness, fear, anger, and even jealousy are very healthy dynamics within a state of deep knowing, presence, thriving; yes, enlightenment. If we fail to recognize this then we can easily succumb to mind-numbing intellectualizations as we try to convince ourselves to become detached from our experiences in order to rise above them. I am not sad my lover left me, this is just impermanence, I need to drop my attachments. It is fine that my brother has died as he will simply be reborn. I don’t care someone is punching me, karma will come back at them. These are all extreme in there own way, and each and every one has been debated openly though these mind-numbing intellectualizations that we come up with ourselves or have heard from others.
These aspects of our humanity; however, are not meant to leave us. The goal isn’t to loose who we are it is to rid ourselves of violence towards ourselves and others. It is the violence that causes suffering. To do this we must recognize that each of these emotions has a very healthy place in ourselves, though perhaps expressed differently than we currently express it. Just like seeing a wall in front of you, or hearing a car coming at you, or feeling a hot stove, emotions tell us very important bits of information. Ending suffering doesn’t mean the world suddenly no longer needs the inputs of these emotions to navigate our life. It is not that we open our third eye then close the other two. Ending suffering is about changing our relationship with these emotions, our relationship with life itself.
Some may take issues with a few statements I have made so far, so let me take a quick interlude to give some examples of the benefits of some of these emotions. In no way is this interlude expected to be exhaustive; just make a few points.
If you are walking though the woods and a tiger starts attacking you or your child, fear could save a life. Fear, and/or perhaps even rage, can trigger your body to become stronger, faster, and gives piercing focus. It is extremely biologically adaptive if you are being attacked and is a deep part of our psyche. Now, I am not one to suggest that just because humans engaged in one way in the past we should continue. I accept and appreciate that we are still evolving and that mindfulness can play a part in this evolution. Nonetheless, I would still contend that fear is very healthy.
Enlightenment isn’t about dying earlier that life demands. In fact deep mindfulness awakens one to understand the true value of their life and the many ways that their compassion and devotion can enrich the lives of others. It doesn’t devalue our lives, it enriches the value of our life. Therefore, fear from a young death would be normal and healthy.
Sadness is another very beautiful expression of our humanity. If someone you love dies sadness is the flower that shines upon the love you shared. When we loose someone we love, or see violence upon an object of our affections we feel sad. This is a natural part of being a compassionate person, something that only grows as we move towards deep knowing, again, not diminishes.
In each example I chose a very strong expression of the emotion, but the logic applies to many lesser expressions of these emotions as well. Lets remember even those who have trained their mind to handle extreme heat without reaction, still feel it. They just don’t suffer from it. Ahhhh…
What is suffering?
Suffering is often confused with these emotions because we so commonly suffer when we experience them. We experience suffering in the halls of these emotions so frequently they become inextricably tied to one another. This is not necessary though. Mindfulness, meditation, energy work, and interbeing teach us how to rid ourselves of the violence of suffering so we can gain the incredible insight of deep experience. This deepening opens our hearts, our compassion, our love, and even our sadness in ways that naturally offer perspective. Great perspective comes from the sensitization of our experience not though desensitization or eradication of it. Paradoxically the drive to rid ourselves from these emotions creates and perpetuates suffering. This is because suffering comes from our attachment to having an experience which is most desirable instead of the experience which is present, or fear that our current experience could leave us for one that is less desirable. When we see the gift and beauty of our reality in perpetuity, and when we learn to feel complete and comfortable within ourselves, we cease suffering.
What to expect | how to get there
Meditation is a common tool here because it is like a neural massage. It calm the nervous system, strengthen and expands neural connections, and proves to ourselves that we can become comfortable without any outside stimulus. The latter point is an important one. We can take substances to relax, but our brains understand that this relaxation was not a product of the self; therefor, it doesn’t gain the necessary efficacy of self control. There are many tools used to get to this place like malas, rosaries, guided meditations, breathing exercises, asanas, etc. that help us make the first steps towards just being present, still, and complete with just the experience of living.
Embrace Our Emotions
The second element is to create new relationships with our emotions. We do this on a few levels. We address the contextual triggering of the emotion, how we respond to the emotion once it has arisen, and what meaning we give this experience. Lets take a look a jealousy as an example of what I am referring to.
Jealousy is an important human experience that gets a bad wrap due to a misunderstanding of the core architecture of this experience. It manifests in so many objectively trivial ways that it is easy to dismiss as immature. This, perhaps, makes it the perfect surface level emotion and experience to discuss (the core emotions of which would be sadness, disconnectedness, etc. depending on the experience).
There are many routs to jealousy. Fairness, love, wants and needs, even fear. So we need to ask ourselves in what contexts is this arising and at the core of this context is the issue one that is simply amplifying work that we haven’t done within ourselves, or is it something that is arising because of a connection outside of ourselves. We can further explore if those connections outside of us are healthy connections and advantageous for us to be so emotionally involved in. I’ll take two extremes to make a point. On one side we are jealous because our friend just bought a new car, that we wish we had the money for. On the other end our lover cheated on us.
1: Triggering: Context matters.
When we are jealous of our friends new car we are reacting to a need for fairness in our lives. This is an important need because there is a natural believe that fairness is needed in order to have a safe loving environment. We can address this by using the tools from step one. We can usurping these feelings by providing a safe and loving environment within. What do I mean by this? By finding peace and happiness within ourselves in ways that makes an ouside need obsolete. You can be happy, safe, and loved with our without a new car. Our emotional attachment to that particular version of happiness can be replaced by a new goal; namely, happiness itself.
In high school I would find it funny to watch friends get upset that they missed the beginning of a concert because they got caught up having fun with friends on the way to the event. Do we really need to set happy moments in competition? Why do we care what makes us happy when we are in fact joyful? But their joy on the way there wasn’t complete. True joy must come from within, so they fail when they search constantly for something more joyful externally. Always looking for something they will never find outside of themselves.
The pursuit of happiness is a great way to move past materialism. Materialism being an unhealthy attachment to material objects. It is unhealthy because we are looking to an object to serve us in a way that it has no power to actually serve us. We can fix this issue by using methods that do hold the power to serve us. There is no more need to be jealous when we recognize that what we are jealous of really has nothing to offer us in the first place. Then the jealousy naturally disappears.
If our lover engages in an intimate act with another and we feel jealous that is a little different. Here the feeling of jealousy is contextually relevant. Unlike a car, the bonding that is created between lovers is very important in our lives. This bonding is a part of the human experience in a way that has fundamentally shaped our humanity. Namely, the bonding between the mother and father of a child allows for a pooling of resources so a child can be born unable to fend for itself. Post-natal development in the brain allows for us to have larger more complex brain structures. Humans typically have one or two babies at a time and give considerable resources to them for many months, even years. On average this is easier than trying to raise a child with two parents than on their own. The bonding goes beyond these basic needs as well, as we energetically connect with one another. We can create safe, nourishing spaces with our lover that is unique to other experiences.
As we can see jealousy that arrises in cases like this come from a breaking of the safe container we have created with another, and quite literally a breaking of the chemical bonding that we create with them (The nature of this bond is variable and stronger for some than others. This gets into a different conversation of healthy monogamy and healthy polyamory while I’ll address in other writings). No matter how “enlightened” we are this bonding will happen when we stimulate our bodies in certain ways together, so, unlike the car example, it is of no use to try to just refocus our intentions.
With a lover ignoring jealousy ignores our deepest truth, where with the car example embracing jealousy ignores our deepest truth.
2: Responding; with love.
This is a practice of non-violence. Non-violence towards ourselves and others. So how we respond to these emotions when they arise fundamentally shapes how we reorient to them, and reengage with the experience of them. We should look to feelings of materialism with curiosity. There is nothing wrong when you feel jealous, look into why it is showing up for you. What within makes you feel so strongly that you need something. What deeper insecurities are these material attachments aimed at? As you nourish yourself more and more, this will naturally disappear. There really isn’t a need to enforce it such an action. Just keep being curious and loving towards the self. Be efficent by recognizing when the material need is incapable of the outcome you seek.
With our example of a lover we engage love a little differently. We set healthy boundaries; an unparalleled practice of self love. Jealousy lets us know when we have a connection that perhaps is not being nurtured in the way we need. It shows up when the bonds we have created are not being honored. Be it the chemical bonding through sexuality and/or any other form of energetic and emotional bonding. Over time we can learn to engage this experiences by naturally reassessing what boundaries we need with this person to keep ourselves and them safe. When we are actively engaging and enforcing our own boundaries we stay in an empowered state. The release of these bonds is a chemical detox for humans. As such we can embrace the sadness and pain that comes with the detox with love. Once we have set a new boundary for our relationship we can grieve. We let go of the idea of what was suppose to be and carry forth with what is. It is an experience that will pass. This is suppose to be sad. Thats ok.
We suffer in our emotions because we so rarely see healthy expressions of them. Many of us have not yet learned how to be sad, afraid, jealous, etc in ways that are non-violent and loving toward ourselves and others.
With anger we can boldly offer compassion where disappointment is coming easily, stand back and watch as anger melts into love. Anger is there to stop an action. Once the action has moved on we can too. We can grieve and feel the sadness within us as sadness is also another form of love. The more loving we are towards ourselves the more this will make sense.
Our brains are lazy, or efficient. I like the adjective lazy though. This means that if every time you feel jealous, or angry, you react by being effectively nurturing to yourself and others eventually you will do this naturally, and skip the more destructive tendencies to these emotions.
Finally we address what the experience means to us. Humans place great meaning on little events. Like little ants carrying large leaves, we pile on the entire history of our conundrums onto each and every experience. While not particularly logical, it is actually quite helpful. When used appropriately it allows us to see patterns that shape and evolve over time. When used inappropriately it can tear our relationships apart by making communication very difficult.
Meaning is an important part of the integration of the experience, and a great opportunity to grow. Meaning is fundamentally connected to context and our response. Meaning is also why the belief that somehow ending suffering would mean the end to sadness, jealousy etc can be damaging to a spiritual path. We can’t learn from our experiences if we reject the gifts they have to offer. Suffering ceases when we engage our emotions with non-violence. That is, when we learn to celebrate their presence and engage them without making them out to be any more or less than what they are.
When we give proper meaning to the events in our lives we won’t feel the need to exasperate the circumstance. This is because we will begin to trust ourselves to react and respond in ways that are nourishing to us. What does the emotions you are feeling mean to you? As a quick little note here: as you master “1: Embracing Yourself” this really transforms. You might be shocked at how much extra energy you place on experiences looking for an outlet for untreated existential anxiety.
Deep Feeling Moves Past Suffering
It is the same with our emotional body. If we listen to the subtle ques of ourselves then we don’t have to yell unless it is necessary. When we address triggering, responding, and meaning we can reshape our experiences in a way that reshapes our emotional responses to be contextually relevant. We begin to engage with the world in a way that is simply more efficient, more true to our highest self; thus, more powerful.
Those who are quick to stong and misplaced expressions of anger, jealousy, fear (everyone to some degree), are being over protective of themselves in a way that ultimitly hurts themselves. We are so afriad of not being heard that we instantly go to an emotion that can’t be ignored. This is much like a partner blowing up over something small. They have lost faith in being heard, so they feel they must demand, justify, and assert themselves with great power right from the start. We must stop doing this with eachother and within ourselves.
Ending suffering is simple. Sadly, that doesn’t make it easy. It is the most difficult and most rewarding venture we can take on in our lives. Maintaining this state is in it of itself an art as well. And, as I discovered, progress will go away without continued practice.
As stated earlier, when we see the gift and beauty of our reality in perpetuity, and when we learn to feel complete and comfortable within ourselves, we cease suffering. Our reality is created by the sensory and energetic connection to the universe, so we must learn to engage these senses in a ways that are non-violent towards outselves and others. We become comfortable with our existential self though mediation practices. We embrace our emotions by listening to them. We look at what is triggering the emotion within us, respond to that trigger with love and attention, and allow it to hold no more and no less meaning that it needs. Finally we become sensitized to our experiences in proportion to our increased efficacy in being non-violent towards ouselves and other in their presence.
The end result is that we can be sad, jealous, and angry without suffering. We can experience these emotions only as they serve us and in the contexts by which they are most adaptive. We can experience these states not as a replacement of love and peace, but as coloration of such love and peace. Enlightment is a state of peaceful being in a space of love and creativity. The deepest capacity of ourselves can hold this state along side all of our emotions.