The last couple of posts explored how our negative emotions manage to control us. This brings up the question of how can we actually apply this understanding to put an end their tyranny?
The first step, I believe, is to truly accept how harmful negative emotions are. This is not easy! I have heard many teachings about the destructive nature of negative emotions, but I still find it difficult to let the truth of this message sink in. When I ask myself if I am really convinced that negative emotions are harmful, my honest answer is that I have heard it and it makes sense to me, but deep down I haven’t truly taken it in.
When I investigate why it so difficult to truly accept this fact, one answer that comes back to me is that I haven’t found the right approach yet. I know the theory, but in practice I am not able to make it work and this causes me to harbor a resistance deep inside myself to truly accept the message.
In the last few days, I tried to look at how I deal with negative emotions. For example, I asked myself, “What do I do when strong anger comes?” I know intellectually it is harmful, but my habit of going along with the emotion is very strong. Often the habitual reaction is very fast and has already built up a forceful momentum by the time I become aware of it. When the thought that the anger is harmful finally pops up, it already seems hopeless to make the anger go away. Then one of my instinctive reactions is to to try to ignore the warning. I pretend I didn’t have that thought! Sometimes I come up with some ‘logical’ sounding reasons to justify that it is OK to keep holding onto my negative emotion. Unfortunately, both ignorance and attachment also belong to the category of the five poisons and thus my instinctive reactions only feed the negativity and give it more strength.
Even when I am able to step back and try to act on the knowledge that the anger is not good for me, I usually just want the anger to go away. However, trying to suppress the emotion is reacting with aversion, another negative emotion, and again only strengthens the destructive dynamic. It is a vicious cycle indeed!
Part of my problem is also looking at my emotions in a moralistic way. A part of me likes them and wants to have them, but another part of me realizes they are “bad” and that “I shouldn’t have them.” Trying to overcome negative emotions this way just becomes an internal struggle. Its ‘me’ agains ‘me’! Whichever side wins aren’t ‘I’ bound to loose?
Fortunately, it is not a hopeless situation. Whenever my emotions are very strong and it seems hopeless to overcome them, I remind myself of an advice that Kunu (or Khunu) Rinpoche, one of the teachers of the present Dalai Lama gave about this. When he was young, the Dalai Lama once asked Kunu Rinpoche why it says in the teachings that negative emotions are weak because they seemed very strong to him. Kunu Rinpoche replied just with one sentence, “Do you need an atom bomb to destroy them?”
This tells me there is hope and that it is possible to overcome destructive emotions. But it is dawning on me that I need to fundamentally change my approach if I want to be successful in this endeavour. The question of “How?” I will leave for the next posts. You are welcome to reflect and comment too!