Running away from ‘negative’ emotions

Since we experience them so often, many of us think that we know exactly what emotions are. Generally, we put emotions into different categories and label them either as ‘positive’ or ‘negative’.

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When the ‘positive’ label is applied, we try to do our best to sustain the emotion, and if we cannot sustain it permanently, then at least we try to experience it as often as we can. However, when the ‘negative’ label is attached to it, we try to push it away, numb it away in any possible ways. We just want to get rid of it.

Many seekers believe that liberation is swimming in a constant, permanent state of peace or happiness. This is a huge and unrealistic expectation. If there would be only peace all the time it would stop being peaceful! Peace does not exist without its opposite. Peace can be noticed only in comparison to something else, which is labelled as ‘un-peaceful’.

There is no constant everlasting love or happiness, because after some time bathing in love without experiencing its opposite, love would fade away. Sadness and happiness depend on each other. Without the one the other cannot be experienced. But sadness and happiness are not problematic by themselves. They do not contain any innate characteristics or attributes. What creates dissatisfaction is the wish that the so called ‘pleasant’ things should last forever and no ‘unpleasant’ emotion should arise ever again, and if it still does, it should disappear as soon as possible.

Many seekers talk about accepting everything that arises in this moment, while they are still striving for having a constant state of peace and love. So you want to accept everything, EXCEPT fear, anger, hatred, sadness, frustration, grief…

Liberation is not about stopping being human and not experiencing half of the emotions. Quite the contrary. Liberation is about encompassing ALL aspects of humanness, embracing ALL emotions.

But almost all of us are in a constant run. We are almost always in an escape-mode, hoping for evading this moment, an escape from life, an escape from humanness.

We are attaching mental labels to the experiencing; ‘this is bad’, ‘painful’, ‘sadness’, ‘I don’t want it’, and then we run.

Liberation is about STOPPING RUNNING and ESCAPING. Fear is not fearful. Sadness is not ‘bad’ or ‘sad’. Pain is not what we think it is. Anger is not angry, only mental labels suggest otherwise. But this cannot be seen while we are in a constant run.

‘Negative’, ‘bad’, ‘sad’ are just mental labels attached to the pure sensation.
But the sensation itself is completely neutral.

So stop running and observe what you REALLY are running away from.
The so called ‘negative’ emotions are not what you think they are.

You are running away from ‘yourself’. You are running away from all the stories that you believed ‘yourself’ to be.

But behind all stories, is there really a ‘you’ that could run away from anything, or is there only running?

Then why run?

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Is physical pain a source of suffering?

275We are taught from early childhood that physical pain is a source of suffering. The two words – pain and suffering –, sometimes even used interchangeably, as if they were pointing to the same thing.

However, physical pain in the body is nothing more than an arising sensation that is labelled as ‘painful’. When this label is put onto the raw sensation accompanied with a story about how bad this experience is – that is the cause of suffering, not the physical sensation itself.

The word ‘pain’ is not just a simple ordinary word, because it goes hand in hand with a bunch of other labels: ‘having pain is bad’, ‘I don’t want it’, ‘I want it to go away’, ‘I don’t want to be sick’, and so on. So even if just this single word ‘pain’ is put onto the raw physical experience, all the other conditioned labels are also automatically applied. When this happens unconsciously, and not seen for what it is – only a stream of thoughts – the suffering is guaranteed.

The bodily sensation does not have any innate attributes at all. It is just IS as it is. It is not bad or painful, only thought-labels suggest otherwise.

However, in order to see the difference between pain and suffering, it is not sufficient to believe these lines. You have to see it for ‘yourself’; not thinking about it, but LOOKING at it.

Next time when there is a physical pain, there is an opportunity for paying attention to the bodily sensation itself. When all the thought-labels are ignored, what is the raw experience like? Does it have a shape or form? Does it say that ‘I am the pain’?

What kinds of thought-tags arise interpreting the experience? ‘Oh, it hurts’, ‘this is pain’, ‘I don’t want it’… Are there any accompanying mental images about the body or certain body parts? Maybe a picture from the ‘past’ or an image projected onto the ‘future’?

What is left, when all the stories, thought-labels and mental images are just observed but not believed or resisted? When they are seen for what they are – simply thoughts and images passing by, like clouds on the sky… what is left then?

The story about the pain can be very tricky. Apart from some extreme cases, the physical pain is not constant at all. Only thoughts create the illusion of its continuity.

Let’s say, that there is a headache. The first sign of it emerged about an hour ago, and it has been in the focus of attention about ten times for five seconds (at each time), since the first experience of the headache arose. Some (or all) of these experiences have been stored in memory, and every time when the focus of attention goes to the sensation of pain again, the ‘brain’ links the current experience with all previously stored memories and creates the illusion of its continuity, by stating that ‘I am having this terrible headache for more than an hour now’. When this interpretation is believed, the continuity of time has arisen, and as a result, the illusion of a continuously present pain has also emerged.

Maybe it sounds complicated, but it can be observed in direct experience. The following exercise could be helpful to look at this phenomenon, if there is a curiosity to do so.

For the next ten minutes, label all experiences as they arise. When the focus of attention is on seeing, say ‘seeing’, when something is heard, ‘hearing’, when a food is tasted, ‘tasting’, when a bodily sensation arise, ‘sensing’. If thoughts come up interpreting the experience, ‘thinking’, when mental images appear, ‘imagining’, when pain arising, just simply say ‘pain’ or ‘hurting’.

The exact wording does not matter. The purpose of the exercise is to see that pain or any other phenomena ‘exist’ only when it is in the focus of attention. When the attention moves somewhere else, the experience of the pain is gone. Only the mental interpretation links together the memories of the experiences, creating the illusion of their continuity.

The source of suffering is not the experience of ‘pain’.
The source of suffering is the story about the experience.

What is suffering?

109In order to answer this question, first, we have to make distinction between pain and suffering.

Imagine that you have bought a beautiful framed picture and you are just up to put it on the wall. You position the nail to the marked spot on the wall, lift the hammer, but a sudden sharp noise distracts your attention and you hit your thumb with the hammer instead of the nail. Abruptly, you feel a sharp pain.

Just in a few seconds, a chain of self referencing thoughts emerges: ‘What a fool I am! I should have been more careful. Oh, it hurts so much! What am I going to do now? What if I am not able to work tomorrow? I won’t be able to type, I’m sure. How will I explain it to my boss?’ – and it goes on and on. This is suffering.

The physical pain is real, but the suffering is optional.

When this string of selfing thoughts, which is a story put onto the experience of pain, is seen for what it is, and not believed or taken seriously, then what is left is just the raw experience of pain in the thumb.

Suffering is the byproduct of a belief in the illusion of the self, who ‘lives’ separately from the rest of the world. When the ‘I’-thought is seen through then there is nobody who could suffer from anything.

From the point of view of the separate ‘individual’ the suffering seems very vivid and real, because all the thoughts that generate suffering are believed. Like in the movie analogy, when the character identifies with its role, all the happenings in the movie of the flow of life are taken very seriously. As the story of ‘his’ life plays itself, the character is just tossed around in the endless waves of the ocean being at the mercy of the elements.

When the story is seen through, it becomes translucent and loses its sharpness and seriousness. It becomes lighter and entertaining as a movie intended to be. Even if the story takes a ‘darker’ turn in the form of sickness or some kind of loss – pain, sadness, frustration or anger may arise but they cannot stick to anywhere and linger, since there is no ‘you’ to stick to, who could suffer from them.

Suffering is optional.
Without believing thoughts, there is no suffering.