Sunday, July 6, 2008

Can you sit with negative emotions?

"How do you respond?!" asks the Zen Master. He bangs his stick on the floor. If it were the 16th century, he'd hit you with it.

Today I have a small stew of negative emotions. They began last night. Instead of meditating, I lay down on the floor, trying to stay with myself, with my body, and not run away emotionally. I did yoga and felt for the places where I was holding my feelings. One tear streamed down my cheek and I noticed my reaction; "do not let yourself cry."

I would have preferred to have cried. The only places I've felt safe crying have been Zen and Yoga centers. What does that tell me? That only in places of serious practice do others not rush to judge, comfort or any of the myriad ways in which we do let others experience the full range of emotions? And even if that is the case, it shows me that I still feel insecure about my "right" to feel what I feel, as long as I do not lay it at the feet of others.

Of course, I am at the heart of the judgment. I tend to think I'm okay only when I'm feeling good. What's wrong with feeling bad? Sometimes it is totally appropriate. But somehow we've narrowed down the times when it's okay to cry to a limited number of experiences; death, life-threatening illnesses and, perhaps if we're only marginally in touch with our connectedness to others, genocide and disasters (which is only more death, isn't it?)

Oh, we can also cry at weddings or if we win a huge prize. I forgot.

I felt a deep sadness last night and it lingers today. I laid upon my floor and asked myself if it was okay to feel my feelings. I weighed and judging them. Was I entitled to my sadness?

Twisting myself in knots over simple emotions, I twisted my body this way and that while acknowledging my pounding heart, the lump in my throat. I tried to stay loose when I would have preferred to curl up in the fetal position and throw some blankets over my head. Sleep would have been a relief, but I wanted to find out how long I could stay present to my feelings.

I have tended to run from negative emotions. I tried to look at them last night through a Buddhist lens. How much of what I felt was based on greed, anger and ignorance? Some. I stripped my feelings down further, throwing away the parts of my thinking that were based on those big three. What was left? Some.

Feeling good is not about being happy all the time. It's about letting yourself be, without judgment and recriminations.

Feeling good, essentially, allows me to experience the "bad" without falling to pieces. Oh, the urge is there! Old habits are hard to break. Very hard indeed.

Painting note: René Magritte, Les Amants (1928) Our nearly universal delusion of separateness causes great suffering.

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