Day 20--Calling Up Difficult Emotions

As I come to the end of the third week of the 28-day meditation challenge, I'm really getting into it. How much I've learned and forgotten! I relish this opportunity to move through practices I realize I've been exposed to and studied but perhaps never worked with experientially as much as I could have in "real life," the secular world, the mundane sphere--whatever we call experience outside a retreat setting or a dedicated practice facility.

Specifically, I'm realizing how the four weeks of practice relate to the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, very basic and traditional Buddhist training in meditation, described in the Satipatthana Sutra. In the Shambhala tradition, Chogyam Trungpa describes the four foundations as Mindfulness of Body, Mindfulness of Life, Mindfulness of Effort, and Mindfulness of Mind. A more common translation or understanding of the series is Mindfulness of Body, Mindfulness of Feelings, Mindfulness of Mind, and Mindfulness of Phenomena or Objects of Mind.

We started the first week of the challenge working with mindfulness of the breath, then moved to mindfulness of bodily sensations. This week was mindfulness of emotions, thoughts, and feelings. I've done this on retreat. After a while, on retreat, emotions, thoughts, and feelings are mainly what's going on, and I've spent plenty of time watching them rise up and go, rise up and go. But that was on retreat.

What happened this week was that I got to investigate emotions that arose in the context of everyday life, not retreat life.

Two in particular: a difficult and a positive emotion: avoidance of conflict and gratitude.

Gratitude: a positive emotion. I feel it in my chest. I feel joy. I feel fear--fear that it won't last. Fear that if I like something too much it will go away. I did the mental noting Sharon recommends, and I noted joy, joy, fear, grasping, sorrow at loss, the wish to share joy with others--underneath it a nagging feeling that if I don't feel gratitude everything will be taken away. Of course everything is going away anyway! My gratitude is often about impermanence.

Now here it gets personal. Difficult emotion!

I HATE when people get mad at things. Particularly when they rage at computers or appliances. I feel physical discomfort when someone is banging on a mouse, screaming "GODDAMNIT! GODDAMNIT!" I panic. I try to fix it--the computer problem. I try to fix them--by telling them it's not important, that things will be okay, that all they should do is walk away and calm down and that they should not spend 45 minutes screaming at the DVD player when there are other things to do. So I looked at it. What I felt when this upsetness came up.

I found that I wasn't so much upset that someone else felt bad. I was in discomfort and wanted to relieve my own discomfort. Mental noting helped: fear, fear, irritation, irritation, fear, impatience, judgment of others. I could see what was going on. It doesn't mean I suddenly smile beatifically whenever people blow up now. It still bothers me.

But seeing how it does can be the beginning of shifting from judging and trying to fix others. And perhaps of shifting from judging and trying to fix myself.

The foundations are being built. They come in order for a reason, I think.

Definitely time for compassion practice next week! I'm looking forward to it.

- Ellen Scordato

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