Tools for Dealing with Difficult Emotions Part l
In the past articles, I have talked about the importance of staying present with yourself. Learning how to develop simple awareness of what is going on with oneself, in Witness Consciousness, and even one step further, having an attitude of Metta, wishing oneself well. We talked about how the development of this kind of consciousness and attitude toward oneself is a type of love. Love borne of understanding (clear seeing) and acceptance of whatever arises within and without.
We need help though to stay in this place of unconditional acceptance for ourselves. It gets harder to remain open when we have difficult situations that bring up difficult emotions, or when hard emotions rise up from within. We are not taught in our traditional Western Culture how to deal with the feelings. That is why we have a culture with so much addictions. Even so called healthy drives (work, relationships, exercise etc.) can be used to excess to run from feelings and thus, become addictive.
In the Tibetan Monastic Culture, there is a meditative practice called Tonglen. It is a very strong practice that trains the practitioner to open their heart to the suffering of others. First, though, the practitioner is taught how to open to their own suffering, their own difficult emotions. It is here, that it is applicable to the journey we take in psychotherapy. Helping a person to understand their past and difficulties in the present, does not always help a person live through it in the moment. Tonglen practice is one very concrete method I have found that I can give my clients to work with difficulties in the moment. Furthermore, the practice extends to having compassion for all others experiencing a similar difficulty in the moment. So, it is a practice of self love and love of others.
I have modified the traditional Tonglen for use with my clients. The key to the practice is to breathe in the difficult emotions one is having. This is very different from what we usually do, which is that we want to run from them. So, first, we are aware of the feelings, the pain, the anger, the jealousy, whatever, and then, we actually breath it in. You might think of your body as a transformer, the difficult feelings mixing with the wholeness and light in your body, and as you breath out, you send out whatever is needed in the situation. Love, understanding, compassion, tenderness. Breathing in the difficulty, mixing it with transforming energy, breathing out what is needed. Over and over again. You will notice that the difficulty becomes transmuted as you send yourself the love, compassion or whatever could help. One person sent herself a cup of coffee! That was what she felt would help...what was soothing!
The next step is having compassion for others. There are others right now having the same pain as you. Send them love too. You are using your suffering to remember others. Just that will help you feel uplifted.
For this week. Try it!
When you are in the middle of a difficult situation, drop the story line. Notice the main difficult feeling. Unworthiness, jealousy, anger, emptiness? Stay with that. Breathe that into yourself. All the pain and then breath out what is needed. Love, kindness, compassion, a feather bed...whatever. Over and over. See how you feel after a few minutes. Is it better than a drink...or running to food? This is true love. Being with yourself in the midst of suffering. Now, remember all the others feeling the same pain this moment...send them love too. You are now on the way to having the heart of a Buddha.