Link to Karla McLaren’s podcast, Making Friends with Anxiety … and All of Your Emotions
Visioning. The word is kind of tricky. Is it an intentional process you’re engaging in? Maybe. Sometimes it isn’t. We hold ideas, images and values in our body, speech and mind, I would even say our subtle body, that energetic body, that we are made of light, living energy, and in that we are always unfolding into the next moment.
We hold certain truths, we have certain vantage points and as I bring up the multifaceted jewel we know that there are many ways we can look at things. We can look at reality from many different angles. All of them have validity and they are also all part of one clear light nature, our true nature. Whichever facet we’re occupying, that is a vision, that is a perspective, and it has consequences, whether it’s a good vision or a bad vision, well, who decides who decides?
I guess if we’re suffering a lot from it, it is probably something we might want to look at. Do you want to suffer? If I don’t want to suffer, why am I holding a view that is unexamined, that might be causing suffering? Or maybe the circumstances in my life are very difficult at this moment and then I’m having to face that and work with that, or I can try to ignore it, but it doesn’t go away.
So we have a set of conditions or perspectives, our inner perspective and our outer conditions. Those are always coming together, that is what we call now. We are in interdependence. So what I would say is visioning happens because it can’t not happen .As soon as you have a perspective, you’re having a vision of some kind and you’re enacting it whether you consciously enact your perspective or unconsciously, you’re still coming from a perspective.
There is a way for us to go along with the process and harness the energy of being alive whether we choose it or not and then just consciously relate to that.
For today, we’ll look at what are the underlying skills and capacities that help us do any kind of intentional visioning. Even if we don’t employ a particular approach to visioning, and you don’t have to be at a point in your life where you’re re envisioning everything and you need a plan, a strategic plan. It’s not quite like that. What I’m saying is that every moment we are coming into visioning, we’re always doing it.
There are two key concepts that will become practices today and one of them is embodied work, the literal work of how do you ground energy? We may have all found ways to do that, or we may want more ways.
Then we’ll explore something that I’ve been really excited about lately and today could have had a totally different title, like How to Make Friends With Our Emotions or see our emotions as messengers or deities.
When you confront your desire and you say “I really want X.” Then the ouchies come. If you pretend you don’t want anything, you can act cool. We all know that that doesn’t work. We take on that approach when others are trying to bring us into the space of vulnerability we don’t want to be in. So we act like we don’t care about anything.
When we acknowledge our desires it’s scary, for me anyway. It’s like “Oh my gosh, I might not get what I want” and now I’m aware of that. I know I might not get what I want and that can be a confrontation with ourselves. “Oh no. Can I do this? Will I be able to collaborate with the world or myself to even come closer to relating to things that are important to me?” I’m just talking about day to day desires, simple things, how you want to be in your workplace, how you want to work with your community, how you want to work with your home. It’s so funny how small it can get and still be valuable and powerful.
What I’ve realized with this and what we’ll be doing is just going through some practices of encountering different emotions as messengers and making friends with them. For me, weirdly, that is the cutting edge of visioning, because if I think that emotions are the problem, or that I just need to meditate more, then I could purify the obscuration or the attachment. What I’m realizing is that emotions are not ever the problem. They are always only messages, energy, they are wisdom. There are no wrong emotions.
We live in an emotion phobic culture. It’s interesting. I’m saying that desire brings about the fear of not getting what we desire. So we fear what we desire. We also desire things we’re afraid of. So we kind of want something but it would be scary to go for it so we don’t. That paradox of being human, one of those unresolvable paradoxes, it’s not like if we did it right, if you were good enough at life, you wouldn’t have this problem.
Sometimes we imagine that if we go on the spiritual path we’ll gain realization and overcome emotions. Some texts say these promising things, “be in the imperturbable rest.” Who doesn’t want that?! But really what that means is not that you don’t have emotions, but that you can stay lucid in your blissful nature, which includes feeling pain.
You can experience discomfort, and pain and fear and all of the emotions as deities, as wisdoms. It still hurts, it’s still scary, but you actually are remining in touch with something fundamentally good about your nature and that those emotions themselves, getting rid of them wouldn’t make us Buddhas, it wouldn’t make us happy.
One thing Trungpa Rinpoche said which I thought was very kind and important is he said “No human being has ever removed their emotional responses and remained a functioning human being.” That is so important.
Suffering is a subjective experience. You don’t get rid of that. There is no need to either if you understand the nature of suffering. They say that suffering becomes bliss. Bliss in this case doesn’t mean happy, it means that you know the nature of suffering, and even though it sucks, you’re still on a fundamental level lucidly okay while you’re also not okay.
That is my experience of growing in this stuff. It’s kind of disappointing. It’s paradoxical. I feel fine and horrible and I feel them at the same time, there is room enough for that. It’s like they are both there and they are both in the clear nature. Again, does clear crystal need to not reflect certain things? The crystal is able to reflect any and all colors and any and all emotions and shapes. It is not about this childish fantasy of getting rid of anything bad and only having the good.
What is so weird is the energy of sadness or grief or anxiety or any of these emotions, we often pathologize them and say that they are bad. My experience of them is that each one of them is luminous, full of wisdom, and I see it differently when I’m aware of it and I’m in my pure awareness, open awareness, I feel it and it’s different. You know how sometimes it feels like emotions are happening to you? It’s almost like being a victim to it. That is what we would call unnecessary suffering. The extra layer of resenting what is happening.
We have been raised in a consumerist materialistic society where we think pleasure and happiness is the absence of all of those negative emotions. Even certain levels of view in Buddhism are guilty of this. They talk about positive emotions of joy and happiness and compassion and negative emotions of anger and hatred and jealousy. What they mean, to be more precise, they don’t mean emotions are negative, they really don’t, some of the lower teachings in Buddhism do mean that, but the higher views they don’t. The bridge is how we work with that energy can be more positive or negative. For example, anger can be hugely destructive. If I act it out on you and I’m eclipsed in it, then it really is negative in the sense that I have used it in an unconscious way and it creates harm. That is true with all emotions. However, if I am conscious of the energy and I realize the energy itself is neither positive nor negative, how I work with it is positive or negative. So I think that is really getting at the crux of it.
However, how do I work with it? If I feel like I’m a victim of my emotions or that they shouldn’t be there or if I just wasn’t so emotional, how many times have we shamed people, saying they are overly emotional, or all the ways we discredit people because they aren’t in control? That is a very patriarchal technique, discrediting women, or anyone, men suffer from that toxic masculinity because they can’t have emotions, they can’t cry, they can’t feel things, they’re not allowed. So either way everyone is getting messed up by a cultural problem.
When I look at it more personally, sometimes an emotion gets so strong we do get flooded, we get overwhelmed and we can’t really be compassionate because we’re lost in it and we’re part of that. When we know it’s happening and we relate to it with respect and we want to learn from it and we want to know what is the message here, then we’re escaping that fundamental attribution error of thinking the emotion is bad when really the situation is maybe kind of bad.
Maybe there is something dangerous going on around us and being afraid is appropriate, it might protect us and others. Maybe there is a reason we’re angry, because something is happening that is a violation of safety and goodness. So often we focus on the emotion and not the situation but here we’re trying to look at both the situation and how we work with the emotion internally, as opposed to the emotions, we leave them kind of suspended in the middle with this technique.
How do we do this? First, it’s embodied. Embodied grounded visioning. If we’re looking at visioning as the inevitable thing of being a perceiving being, in life, in interdependence, that has a perspective, how do we ground energy, how do we work with the lightning of the heavens and earthy quality of getting resourced. We need to ground, we need a practice of grounding, because if we’re not grounded, we tend to go up into the energy of fear and thoughts and we might identify with them and get lost in them, and then we’re either retriggered into a trauma response or retraumatized, and that is very painful and it doesn’t address how to work with the energy.
When we work with the physical, especially in the sacred arts where there is a connection and awareness of the connection between the movement and the way it works with the inner energies. When those two are aligned, it is both an outer yoga of movement, but also an inner yoga, which is working with the inner energies.
What is so great about inner yoga is that in things like tai chi or the gestures or qi gong or lujong or any of these things, these beautiful practices, it targets something that is both very subtle, but also quite obvious in our experience, that emotions live as energetic arisings in our subtle bodies, in our centers, in the different parts of our body. We talk about our sexual center, our belly center, our heart center, throat center, head center, top of the head, all of these points have both physiological and subjective psychological correspondents.
It’s been observed in many cultures, many indigenous wisdom traditions have seen this and talked about the same kinds of centers, and even cultures in the modern world where there isn’t such a tradition of awareness we have all these phrases about the body and the centers, “a pit in my stomach”, “a lump in my throat”, “heavy heart” “butterflies in my stomach.” Why do we say those things? We know! Everyone has a subtle body and these different centers.
Emotions can seem more confusing than they need to be if we don’t have some way of working with inner yoga. So that is why something like this grounding qi gong exercise is so helpful. Sometimes we might be like “Oh, I need to think about my emotions differently” and that might be helpful, analyzing and thinking about our emotions is helpful. Moving the energy too, is incredibly important. It’s coming at it from the other side of the story, it’s physical too, all of it is physical, and when we move the energy, we feel different. So that is really important.
Whenever I think about working with this next layer of emotions as friends or as deities or as messengers, I realize that it is hard to sometimes generate emotion that as natural or authentic as it might be when we’re in the wild of our daily life so to speak and it comes up. I do think practicing these kind of skills now where we’re not as activated or flooded or overwhelmed is good because we know we can then try to apply it at different levels of emotion in my life and see when I can and cannot do it. Of course over time it gets better the more we internalize it.
I also just wanted to tie back in the title of when lightening strikes. Sometimes emotions feel like lightening striking. They can come on so fast and so suddenly and out of nowhere. We hear one thing and we can feel our body beginning to erupt. If we resist it and try to control it with our head, our thinking, we’re all well versed in that, and it doesn’t seem to work very well. If it did, we probably wouldn’t talk about it much. It should go away when you think about it. That hasn’t worked for me yet. It’s not that thinking about emotions is bad, but what we’re going to explore is a little more embodied and a little different.
The Buddha, in the abhidharmic teachings, talks about labeling emotions as their different categories and Karla McLaren, who has done amazing work that is really inspiring me in this realm around emotions, talks about the key being having more words for our emotions, so that’s something to think about. Here is her podcast, Making Friends with Anxiety … and All of Your Emotions if you want to listen to it, it is amazing.
It was so gratifying to hear someone talking about things I knew to be true in my own experience. Although it is talked about in higher levels of Buddhism, at the higher level teachings, as emotions as wisdom, it is not as talked about in the more general presentation of Buddhism. So it’s kind of esoteric, but to me, it’s actually just the truth of our experience.
Another way in that I think is really interesting is not regarding them as positive or negative, and she talks about this. That is an ongoing practice. Don’t create a personal culture of “Oh gosh, that’s a negative emotion” or “Oh gosh, that’s a positive emotion.” Really we can work on that just by how we regard them. I would call this befriending them, “You’re supposed to be here.” “Of course I’m panicked.” “Of course, I’m angry.” “Of course I’m sad.” “Of course I’m feeling grief.”