“When you fully experience any negative emotion, with no story, it instantaneously ceases to be there. When you truly experience any positive emotion, it is endless.”
The questions I am most frequently asked are related to emotions. Many people seek to be free from difficult emotions such as anger, fear, and grief, and want to attain more of the pleasant emotions such as joy, happiness, and bliss. The usual strategies for achieving happiness involve either repressing or expressing negative emotions in the hope that they will be pushed from sight or released. Unfortunately, neither way reflects the truth of one’s inherent self, which is an unmoving purity of being that exists deeper than any emotion and remains unaffected by any emotion.
There are certainly times when it is appropriate to repress or express an emotion. But there is also another possibility: to neither repress nor express. I call this “direct experience.”
To directly experience any emotion is to neither deny it nor wallow in it, and this means that there can be no story about it. There can be no storyline about who it is happening to, why it is happening, why it should not be happening, who is responsible, or who is to blame.
In the midst of any emotion, so-called negative or positive, it is possible to discover what is at the core. The truth is that when you really experience any negative emotion, it is not there. When you truly experience any positive emotion, it is endless.
Because there is not much in our culture that confirms this truth, we spend our lives chasing positive emotions and running from negative ones.
When you fully experience any negative emotion with no story, it instantaneously ceases to be there. If you think you are fully experiencing an emotion and it remains quite intense, then recognize that there is still some story being told about it—how big it is, how you will never be able to get rid of it, how it will always come back, how dangerous it is to experience it. Whatever the story of the moment may be, the possibilities of postponing direct experience are endless.
For instance, when irritation is experienced, the usual tendency is to do something to get rid of the irritation or to place blame as the cause of the irritation. Then the storylines around irritation begin to develop. It is possible to not do anything with the irritation, to not push it out of awareness or try to get rid of it, but to directly experience it. In the moment that irritation arises, it is possible to simply be completely, totally, and freely irritated, without expressing it and without repressing it.
Direct experience reveals something deeper. Irritation is perhaps just a ripple on the surface. Deeper than irritation, there may be rage or fear. Again, the goal is neither to get rid of the rage or the fear, nor to analyze it, but to directly experience it. If anger or fear is revealed to be under irritation, then let your awareness go deeper; let yourself be absolutely, completely angry or fearful without a narrative about the anger and fear..
Fear is often the biggest challenge because it is what most people habitually attempt to keep away. Of course, as they try to keep it away, it grows even larger, threatens even closer.
What I am suggesting is that you can actually open to fear, you can experience being afraid without any need to say you are afraid, and without following any thought of being afraid. You can just simply experience fear itself.
Participant: A couple of nights ago, I woke up in the middle of the night with more fear inside me than I have ever experienced in my life. At first, I got mentally involved with it, and I thought, Okay, where did this come from? How can I explain it? Finally, I just let myself be with the terror, and it just kept coming and coming. Gradually I had a sense of falling through it. I was just there, and it was moving through me.
Gangaji: And this morning, what is your experience?
That fear can come and go, and there is a part of me that is separate from fear.
What is that part?
It is what is here when fear is present and here when fear is not present.
So, there is a part of you that is independent of fear, that exists whether fear exists or not?
Yes! There is a wholeness that is whole whether fear is here or not.
There is a very useful Buddhist term, “skillful means.” Skillful means is the right use of emotion. The skillful use of fear or any difficult emotion is to meet it consciously, undefended. Then that emotion naturally reveals what is whole, what remains when that which passes has passed. These are natural insights. They are not learned, they are not theoretical, but are directly discovered.
Skillful means is the capacity to recognize and be fully aware of the emotions that underlie our behaviors and our beliefs about who we are. This is what you are reporting. To consciously meet whatever appears fully and completely is awakening, because meeting anything fully and completely reveals true Self, what is always here. Whatever is being met is revealed as something passing through that which is permanent. This meeting reveals stillness, and when stillness is met, it reveals itself to be infinitely present. The revelation, the insight, the realization that arises from this meeting is what all spiritual practices throughout time are pointing to.
When it comes to our emotions, most of us still live in superstitious times. We imagine ourselves to be sophisticated and realistic, relegating superstitions to another era, to a time when people would see a solar eclipse and, thinking that God had left them, would cry out, “What have we done? What do we need to do to get the darkness to move off the sun?” Then, after performing certain rituals, sure enough, the darkness would move off the sun, and there would be great rejoicing and release. Those rituals would then have to be performed over and over to keep the darkness from coming back. When the darkness eventually did come back, new rituals would have to be devised.
It is easy to see the superstitions of the past, but we are often blind to the superstitious practices of today. One of the superstitious practices is the relationship we have with our emotions. Often, they are clung to as if they were signs from God. Signs of either anointment or of being sent from the Garden. This superstitious relationship is the cause of much unnecessary suffering.
For example, when any difficult emotion arises such as fear or anger or sadness, we believe that then love is absent, and so a huge amount of energy is spent in the attempt to avoid or get rid of the difficult emotion. This is superstitious behavior. We want to be free of the so-called negative emotions and so we devise sophisticated psychological and meditative techniques, different escape hatches, for dealing with them. These are all built around the superstition that these emotions actually, inherently, mean something, rather than seeing them as simply weather. A storm comes, caused or causeless. It is most unpleasant, some things get battered, but the storm passes.
When anger or fear or despair arise, there is the opportunity to take a few seconds to simply stop, to not do anything in relationship to it, to not act it out, to not deny it, but to simply be still. Then a wonderful discovery is revealed.
The sun itself is never eclipsed! If a cloud or even the moon passes in front of the sun it appears as if the sun is eclipsed, but from the sun’s viewpoint, the light continues to shine.
When you discover that these emotions, these sensate phenomena, do not in reality exist as you have thought them to exist, then you discover what does always exist, what is existence itself. What a discovery this is! Then whatever emotion arises, you recognize that it does not have to be fought or denied or indulged but allowed to simply move through like passing weather.
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Gangaji is the author of The Diamond in Your Pocket, Freedom & Resolve: Finding Your True Home in the Universe, You Are That, and Hidden Treasure: Uncovering the Truth in Your Life Story.