By Tarthang Tulku
From a Gesture of Balance - A guide to Awareness, Self-healing, and Meditation.
By utilizing the penetrative quality of direct awareness we can become sensitive to our emotions before they arise and thus begin to break our habit patterns and our attachment to them.
Awareness is always accessible within ourselves, within our energy. But when we are distracted or emotionally entangled, we may have no idea what is actually happening in ourselves. Everything may seem very dream-like, and we may find ourselves going from one conversation or activity to another, moody and anxious, or possibly with a false sense of spontaneity and freedom. At other times we find ourselves thinking concurrent 'problems' inadequacies, hesitations, self-deceptions, fears, infatuations, and guilts our energies so caught up in a variety of emotional entanglements that we feel confused, worn out, tense, and anxious. By working with these emotions in our meditation, we can learn to free ourselves from their influence.
Emotions may not have eyes, mouths or stomachs, but they can still suck our energies, hypnotize us, and destroy our natural state of balance. Emotions have the power to lure us into an artificial realm of sensation that is able to gain control of our positive energies. People seem to need emotions, like they need salt for food. But emotions are dangerous and unstable, for what begins as pleasure, often ends up as pain. And when we are in the midst of an emotional situation, we can be blinded by the dynamics of the situation so that our perceptions and perspectives are no longer clear.
One of the most difficult emotions to handle is anxiety. On the surface anxiety may not be seem that great a problem, but as far as our human consciousness is concerned, it can disturb our meditative openness to the point where we completely lose our balance. We let positive opportunities slip away through loss of awareness; anxiety pushes and divides us, creating separateness, confusion, and dissatisfaction. And when we are not mindful of our anxiety it becomes increasingly hard to control.
Needing can be very demanding. We continually feel the need for what can satisfy me . . . my ego, my mind, my feelings, my senses. Our lack of confidence causes us to feel the need for support or stimulation by friends, intellectual perceptions, or material objects. When we do not receive this contact, we can sometimes feel so alone and without support, that anxiety drains all the energy from our bodies. Once our energy is gone, we feel empty, depressed, and even despairing.
It seems that the only way we know how to search for satisfaction or self-fulfilment is through endless craving. Although we sometimes manage to temporarily satisfy our desires, the satisfaction usually lasts only a short time, and we are left with disappointment that leads to even more anxiety. Most human beings run on anxiety. Craving and grasping are like a candle, and anxiety is the flame. One word for this continual frustration is samsara, which means that we are dissatisfied and unhappy because we can seldom get what we want. We are continually seeking moving toward what is outside ourselves. When we lack confidence in ourselves, our lives often go on, day after day, having little meaning or value. Eventually we realize that we cannot afford to spend our entire lives on a seesaw of pleasure and pain, and that true fulfilment comes by giving up our grasping and finding contentment within ourselves.
No matter how our lives may seem on the surface, problems always exist at deeper, subtler levels of consciousness. There are various methods we can use to bring them to the surface; but as soon as we think we have solved one problem, more frustrations or dissatisfactions set in. It is like digging in sand on the beach as soon as we remove a handful of water, more water seeps in. So, we just continue to get trapped in an endless progression of problems, temporary solutions, and more problems. We can relieve some of the surface tension by emotional outbursts and once these are over, we may even feel a little lighter or more relaxed. But this is like shifting weight from one place to another; the problem still remains, even though we may wishfully sense a change for the better. Because the underlying causes have not been resolved, the same problems or patterns continue to occur.
We may decide to fight these negative forces, but fighting often just perpetuates the negative energies and further alienates us from ourselves. It seem that the more we fight our negativity, the stronger it becomes.
So we somehow need to find a positive approach to deal with our problems. But first we need to understand that consciousness is only a collection of habit patterns. No matter how fixed or persistent they may seem, the patterns are not solid or substantial we can change and rearrange them. Negative reactions create forces which form a pattern; but this pattern can be broken. Once we understand the way habit patterns operate within the mind, and once the process of awakening awareness begins, then awareness penetrates and transforms our problems and obstacles. When we are mindful, instead of getting lost in conflict and indulging ourselves in misery, self-condemnation, or self-indulgent melancholy, we can quickly and easily see through our difficulties and transmute negative energy into positive energy. This takes some practice, but when we use intrinsic awareness to learn to see and quickly change destructive situations, our problems clear up, and peace and light begin to grow within us.
When problems arise in meditation or in daily life, when we are overly emotional or trapped in a pattern of behaviour which causes us to suffer, that is the time to practice openness and balance, and to awaken mindfulness. For example, when we are extremely sad or angry, if we concentrate properly on the emotion, looking at it intensely from above and below, and then facing it directly, it can actually disappear because we see that it is really 'nothing'. With practice, we can quickly balance a depressing or frustrating situation by switching the mind back and forth making it happy, making it sad, making it happy again all the time watching what is happening inside ourselves. First, we can do something positive, then something negative. One time, switch the mind to depression and really cry. Then, immediately switch to laughter. What, really, are these emotions? Why should I be controlled by these emotions? Why should I be controlled by these transitory mental states? This exercise may seem almost schizophrenic, but as we work on it we discover that an important change takes place within our consciousness and in the way we look at ourselves and the world. Sadness is not so serious and happiness is not so frivolous.
Life is moving and changing much faster than even a few years ago. Many exciting and fascinating things are happening every day it is all a very beautiful dance, and every situation, every activity, and every thought has its place in our practice. Each experience can teach us how foolish it is to be so dramatic and serious and that even our difficulties can be transcended, for nothing is permanent.
Yet at the same time, this realization is not easy to put into practice. We are so tied up in negative patterns that we may even be strengthening our negative emotions without knowing we are doing so. When we are unaware, when we are sad, depressed, or unhappy, we are like bees trapped in a jar they buzz around in restless patterns, with no way of escape. Yet we are not completely trapped. Our emotional problems and negative attitudes are in one way part of our learning process.
By means of awareness we can become sensitive to our emotions as they arise and thus begin to break our emotional patterns and our attachments to them. The more our awareness increases, the more time we have for positive action; three weeks for the person who is aware are the same as three months for the person who is not. When we remind ourselves to keep our bodies and minds in harmony with our awareness, we become familiar with every change in our thoughts and moods; and we can remember to bring our awareness immediately into the midst of any situation that could disturb our balance. This practice is like learning to swim; once we learn the first strokes, with practice we will gradually be able to swim not just for five or ten minutes, but for as long as we like. Similarly, we can develop continuous meditation if we sustain an open attitude in whatever activities we are involved.
Because anxiety causes, consciously or unconsciously, many of our problems, it is important to deal with it as soon as it arises. The best antidote to anxiety is meditation. When we learn to control the emotions through meditation, we become less burdened by our problems; our bodies and minds become very still, and anxiety then starts to dissolve in calm relaxation and quiet. We can then begin to work with our problems directly, for we no longer feel the need to escape them. Our tenseness and blockages naturally ease. Thus, we are no longer caught in a cycle of craving and anxiety, and we can enjoy living in our bodies and minds. This is the first stage of meditation.