Saturday, May 31, 2014

Healing and the luminous nature of emotion

I was speaking with a friend who was feeling so much anger; she was so upset with herself and with a person in her life that she was struggling with. She asked me to help her understand what was going on and how she could get rid of her anger as she could see how it was destroying her, and eating her from the inside. She had also heard that if the anger remained in an uncontrolled way that she could even develop cancer or heart disease. She was worried. She knew that anger was not a very 'spiritual' quality and that it was really important that she work with it, transform it, forgive it, melt it into kindness, and so forth. 

For all of us, there are times when that energetic quality we call 'anger' explodes throughout our bodies, our minds, and our hearts—often uninvited—and can be so destructive. As with other difficult emotions, there are two primary ways that we respond: on the one hand, we either repress the feeling, cover it up through addictive activity, or otherwise act as if it isn't there. We can even use spiritual practice to this end. Or, we act the emotion out, seeking to discharge the very disturbing energy and to remove it as quickly as we can from present experience. But if we look carefully we can see that, while it may appear that 'getting really angry' is a way to be in direct relationship with our anger, we can start to see that it is not; rather, we are spinning 'around' our anger and actually abandoning it. We are practicing the ancient art of self-aggression toward our lived experience and this so painful, for ourselves and others. 

It is of course very natural to want to get rid of anger, change it, 'heal' it, spiritualize or meditate or pray it away. But the one thing that I’ve seen about anger over the many years is that when slow way down and rest and open—and start to care so deeply about our experience and what is actually happening—we can discover that anger is most often a cover for deep, unmet hurt, grief, shame, and sadness. In many ways (not always), anger is a very surface-level experience for many, a defensive reaction to protect oneself from deep unmetabolized hurt. It is not too difficult for many to touch and to feel anger and rage, but it can be very challenging to embrace and open our hearts to a deep sense of hurt or shame. It's so risky. It requires that we step all the way inside our embodied vulnerability. This can be icky. This hurt is often a very primordial one, the essence wound of love itself. 

In this radical commitment to our experience, exactly as it is unfolding, it is possible to receive the secret transmission of the somatic-emotional world: there is no suffering inherent in that wild energetic movement we call 'anger' (or grief or despair or sadness or hopelessness, etc.). The suffering we associate with this movement comes only in the abandonment of it, in the subtle movement away from it, and is wrapped up in the emotional conclusions we've come to that its mere presence is evidence that somehow we've failed, this time as a spiritual person; that we are fundamentally flawed, that some great mistake has been made, and that we are ultimately unlovable as we are. We feel as if we have 'lost the path' in the face of these disturbing emotions. Remember the secret, friend: these ones are the path itself, emerging out of the grace of the beloved, pointing to the pink moon of love resting inside your heart. Stay close. Receive that transmission. Allow your cells to soak in that grace. Nothing has gone wrong. No mistake has been made. Grace has chosen to come in a disturbing form, that is all. 

So with my friend I suggested that we could go into her anger and talk about it and really try to understand out what was going on—the historic causes and conditions of this particular feeling state; we could learn more about it, its role in her early life and the responses of her caregiving surround to it, and we could explore behaviorally-oriented strategies for how she could work with it in less destructive ways. But first, I looked at her and we connected in our hearts together. We were so close and right there; we slowed way down. She felt me fully attuned to her and I felt her right there with me. I asked her: have you actually ever turned toward your anger? Have you ever actually made contact with it, somatically, inside your body, and opened to it all the way through? Have you ever been so curious about the actual nature of this passing energy we call 'anger?' Would you be willing to open your heart to your anger, to finally befriend it, and offer it just a moment of kindness? Could we do this together, right now, friend? 

It was then as if time stopped. She looked at me and started to cry. These tears became an avalanche of grace. These were ancient tears, which contained joy, sadness, bliss, and grief—the crucifixion, resurrection, and transfiguration all rolled into one. In an instant of true intimacy with her anger, in that willingness to touch and hold this movement inside her, loving herself so much, and being so courageous to stay right there, and to no longer abandon herself (as she had intelligently chosen to do so many times in her family of origin), she fell apart. She allowed herself to cosmically disassemble, to be taken apart by love. In that falling apart, she could no longer find the anger; it was no longer there. There were rising and falling sensations in her body, but the 'angry one' was no longer organizing the show. Yes, that energetic quality we call 'anger' was moving and dancing, but it was doing so in empty space. She came to discover in that moment that this space is what she is, that eternal and infinite capacity for all form to arise, play, and dissolve. She could meet this anger, befriend it, and watch it self-liberate in front of her eyes, no longer any need to repress or act out. What she was in this moment was pure brilliance, utter majesty. We were astonished. We cried together. We fell apart and came back together, only to fall apart again. We gave up being put back together. We just rested in the eternal revelation of love as it moves in this world of time and space.

When we can somehow find a way to turn directly into our emotions and into our feelings, a tremendous freedom is often waiting for us. When we can stay at the sensation level of our experience, we may become bewildered as we are no longer able to find a 'problem' there. Our feelings and emotions are not what we think they are. They are not nearly as solid, continuous, and enduring as they appear. Like all form, they are made of light and, ultimately, of the particles of love themselves. They are our long-lost friends, our ancient heart-companions, emissaries of the beloved one herself, just waiting for us to take a moment out of our busy lives to touch them. Once they are seen, heard, validated, and held, they are then free to share their gifts with us, and to serve the purpose for which they came: to be radical vehicles for our own freedom, and luminous pathways through which love can dance in the playground of this very special world.