In my last post, I wrote about the importance of being able to stay with our uncomfortable feelings, and to let them pass. In my yoga teaching and therapy practice, as well as in my own personal life, it is evident that we really struggle with our emotions, and may hold on to perceived hurts for long after the event which caused them. We may feed our sadness or our anger, dwelling on the events or circumstances of our lives to which we attribute the emotion, going over and over it in our minds. We can have a relatively small encounter which upsets us, and by repeatedly bringing it to mind, we can blow it out of all proportion; when it’s a more significant event, we can hold on to the associated feelings for years. Once we dwell on and feed an emotion, it can become a part of us. It is no longer just an energy flowing uncomfortably – but ultimately harmlessly – through us. Instead, it crystallizes and becomes an attitude.
We all have these attitudes or outlooks, which can affect our whole lives and the way in which others perceive us. We all know people who we would describe as angry, sad, fearful or anxious – as well as those we would think of as basically happy, giving and forgiving types. We also flit in and out of these modes of being throughout our own lives. So what started as a brief, passing sensation can last much longer and colour our whole life.
But just because the attitude has begun to dominate our general mood, doesn’t mean it has to be that way forever. The emotion may seem to have solidified, even to have become immovable, and yet it can still melt away once we become aware of it and begin to work with it. Even if anger has become such a basic part of our nature that we react irritably to minor events and explode when faced with bigger challenges; even if we are so fearful that we feel we cannot move forward in our lives. Things which seem permanent can change and dissipate over time.
Firstly, we need awareness. We must not close our eyes to the way we are. We must see the difference between the way we would like to be, and the way we truly are. Not judging, but seeing kindly, with compassion for the difficult parts of ourselves.
Secondly, we need to desire change, and to create the space to change. One way we create this space is through the breath; through meditation. Just sitting quietly – watching the breath, stilling the mind. Noticing the space between the inbreath and the outbreath. Calming the mind so that the endless chatter starts to ease away. An analogy often used is that of the sky – letting our thoughts be like clouds, just floating through our minds without holding on to them or spinning off in all directions. In this way, we slowly learn to stop fanning the flames of our emotions, and to be less reactive in our wider lives. Whilst we are learning – and this may be for the rest of our lives! – we must continue to be kindly observant of ourselves, to reflect on our progress and not only our inevitable failings. And whilst we are developing this kindness for ourselves, and learning not to identify with our difficult feelings – acknowledging, for example, that anger is a passing energy rather than turning ourselves into ‘an angry person’ – we could also think more kindly of the difficult people in our lives, allowing that they too can be other than the way we perceive them.