By Ruth Lera
“Primary feelings are simply feelings, and every day consists of pleasant, painful and neutral moments. Our painful experience does not represent failure.” -Jack Kornfield
Last week I was mad.
I mean I didn’t want to be mad. I didn’t want to be all wound up blaming this person and that person for my internal sense that I was inadequate and failing in some way, but like it or not that was the primary emotion that was arising in my system.
This was a difficult emotion for me to accept because I could see logically that there was no reason for me to be mad. The situation that was bothering me had no one at fault, but still I was trying to find blame—someone to be mad at me, either myself or another. And instead of lashing out or trying to find a solution, I stayed with myself through the anger. I kept using mindfulness to come back to the moment by asking myself: Do I want my attention on anger and blame? Thankfully the answer was, no.
What I really wanted was peace in my heart, but like most of us I didn’t know how to get there.
I think many of us are feeling this way right now. We are feeling incredibly confused about what to do with our anger, and we are really not sure how to steer ourselves back to peace in our hearts, and we are wondering if that is even the best action to take in the face of political distress and injustice.
I told a friend yesterday that my vision for myself is to just wake up every day and share my love with the world to the best of my ability, and that even though this goal sounds nice out loud, I simultaneously find it incredibly naïve and inadequate in the face of the type of hateful policy actions taking place presently in America.
For me all I can do is hold on to both of these things as true. Even though I don’t like it, a truth that needs to be accepted is that we will always feel inadequate in the face of global injustice.
The Buddha told us this: Life is suffering. People are going to suffer for the simple fact they have incarnated into human form, and have created karma in the past, are creating karma in the moment, and will create karma in the future.
This is what we are all doing.
In the face of this reality we need to choose our actions carefully. The Buddha told us that we need to constantly be choosing “right action,” which seems like a lot of pressure and too difficult most of the time, really. But if we view right action as simply intention in the mind and heart, then this creation of peace in the heart becomes a little bit easier.
Feeling at peace is not one big, sweeping motion we make. Instead, it looks like incremental compassion for ourselves and others.
Because we will never know what the next moment is going to ask or require of us. We don’t know when we are going to need every little bit of internal strength to fight for what is right. Presently, in North America this might be sooner than we ever imagined. However, dwelling on an imaginary future which might never manifest is a direct route to despair, burnout and an ineffective use of our energy.
The only moment we can ever respond to is the one we are experiencing. If a direct threat of injustice is not right in front of our face, then we need to ask ourselves: What do I want to do with my heart and mind with my actual, visceral experience of this real moment?
This is where an ability to use self-awareness, mindfulness and emotional literacy becomes such a great ally.
When we can honestly look at ourselves and admit what we are feeling now we become empowered to make healthy karmic choices. It probably took my at least 50 times of looking at my own anger last week before I got my real answer about what was bothering me.
What I learned was that I wasn’t actually mad, but instead I was sad.
I was feeling hurt, lost and lonely, and as those feelings are very vulnerable for the human system. I had gone to default by being mad.
Joanne Macy, the Eco-Buddhist, tells us that if we are going to be successful at turning life on earth into a self-sustaining environment (rather than the self-destructive one it is now), then we have to first admit that we are sad about the state of the planet and grieve. This lashing out at each other in the face of these all too real threats of global injustice and destruction that are being presented to us all day long right now makes complete sense.
When an animal is hurt or scared, it scratches and bites as it struggles for safe ground.
If we are not using mindfulness to be clear about our emotions, mental state and intentions, we can easily and often do find ourselves lashing out and causing more pain in the world instead of peace. I think we need our sadness right now—not a sinking into despair, depression and hopelessness kind a sadness, but a real connection to our sense of loss.
Only when we are honest about what is making us sad and full of grief can we admit what we really want. When we are using our energy to push against what we don’t want we are giving too much power to the negative. Attention has a magnifying power. Growth occurs wherever we focus our attention. We can see this happening all around us right now, and perhaps you have noticed this happening in your own system. Attention to anger, creates more anger.
Perhaps you see the newspaper or hear the latest report on the radio and your anger just grows and grows until you can barely see the room you are in through the heat of your own frustration. And my guess is you might be noticing that this isn’t working out so great for you—that this anger doesn’t make you feel good and doesn’t make you treat others well.
This is a beautiful awareness. The awareness that letting our mind and emotions go unchecked leads us in unintentional directions that are not aligned with our core beliefs.
And what we know from mindfulness meditation is that we have a choice—a choice where we focus our attention. This is not about sticking our heads in the sand and ignoring the world around us. Instead, it is about paying close attention and being honest about our true reactions and choosing how we want to steer our reactions.
Compassion is always a choice.
Compassion is not passive. It is not bowing down to the enemy and just choosing to lose or die. It is saying, “I know being human is hard, and I know we are stumbling about and struggling to figure this is all out, but what is true in my own heart is I want peace for all. So I am going to be part of that movement.”
Compassion feels good. It feels like who we really are. We are raw and tender. We are confused and full of false illusions. We are simply trying our best in an unjust world.
We don’t know what the world is going to need from us in terms of action in the next months and years. We don’t know if the people around us are going to turn their minds and hearts to love or to hate. And the difficult truth is that we can’t control this; we never have been able to and we never will be able to.
But we can empower ourselves through being willing to really ask ourselves what we are feeling, and what do we want to do with this feeling.
If you are feeling mad, that is perfect, just as it is meant to be. But also, there is an opportunity to look deeper. What is under that anger? How would you like to mobilize that anger in the direction of peace? What intentions would you like to hold in your heart and mind?
After I admitted to myself that I was sad, my communication became softer, more honest and less guarded. And the situation that was hurting my heart was solved instantly. All the anger vanished in a poof of light.
These strong emotions are just moments. They will arise and dissolve just like every other human experience we have ever had, and will ever have in the future. We can choose the karma we are creating right now.
What are you going to create?
Editor: Dana Gornall