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  • Andrew Lewis

Look into the emotion itself, not what triggered it.

What do people mean when they say, 'I can't help the way I feel' ?

Notice the ambiguity.

Do they mean, 'I can't deny that these feelings have arrived. I didn't want or ask for them to arrive but they are undeniably here.'

This is true.

Or do they mean, 'I am helpless to do anything about these feelings and emotions. I have no choice or control. I have no influence.'

This is false.

The distinction is important. We experience feelings and emotions all through each and every day. If we are no more than helpless recipients of these invading visitors, we can have no freedom or choice, our lives will not be our own.

We do not have to abdicate in this way. We begin to see this clearly when we practice mindful awareness and meditation. We acknowledge our emotions as arriving guests. They are real even though they have no colour, weight or shape. We begin to see that an emotion is not solid. It ebbs and flows, huffs and puffs, blows hot, then a little cooler, dies down (almost) completely then perhaps comes rushing back later.

We begin to see that an emotion has no roots, no permanent identity; if left alone it is a short lived harmless parasite.

The trouble is that too often we do not leave it alone. We provide it with nourishment. We fuel it. It is not the emotion in itself that causes trouble, it's the storyline, the drama, the narrative that we weave around it that causes the discomfort.

This is why it is important to practice looking at the emotion with curious objectivity and not dragging ourselves away with some compelling, creative storyline. We don't get distracted by 'rights and wrongs', what's fair and unfair, we don't rage, panic, harden into anger, vengefulness, despair or fear. It is all this ego driven stuff that gets us spiralling out of control.

Dealing with things that may need addressing and resolving is work for later. Our first task is to look only at the emotion and take conscious control of any physical sensations that we may notice. We understand that these physical sensations are real and 'in the world', and largely under our control. The emotion isn't 'in the world' in this sense; can we photograph an emotion? Remember, an emotion has no colour, weight or shape. We can only photograph our physical responses to emotions. Can you take a photograph of what you are dreaming?

Pause breaks the momentum of habit. Do we 'react' to an emotion, or can we take that vital pause which opens up space, awareness, control, freedom and allows us to choose a 'response' to the emotion? The pause allows us to look at the emotion without fear, to take the true measure of it, to work with it rather than against it. The only force it has is our reactive resistance. It is otherwise harmless.

This requires work, practice all through our lives. We will have difficult 'defeating' days; we can expect them. These are important days for our practice, not failures. We respond with self-compassion. We take care of ourselves and carry on with the practice. We develop awareness and a resilience which comes from setting a clear intention that we are going to be in control of the sort of person we want to be. That is our responsibility. We don't give it away to anything or anybody.

It is not magical, mystical or esoteric. It is not always fun. It is practice and then more practice, but it is liberating and better than abdication.

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