Thursday, March 18, 2010

Releasing Emotional Reactions – Method Two, Taking & Sending

Transcript of a podcast talk by Ken McLeod, RER04, accessible here.
Studied by Luminous Mind Friday night, March 12, 2010.

Mahayana is characterized by two themes: emptiness and compassion.

Theravada—3 Marks: impermanence, suffering, non-self
The experiences that arise through coming to know experience.

1. The arising and falling of phenomena shows transitoriness.
2. In the presence of emotional reactions, all experience is suffering.
3. What we think of as ourselves, there is nothing we can point to and say, “I am that.”

These are all realizations that come from a clear perception of experience.
It challenged the basis of the caste system in India.

Mahayana—3 Gates: no characteristics, no aspiration, emptiness
1. No characteristics is connected with impermanence. When you observe things coming and going, there is nothing you can hold onto which makes it the thing itself. It derives its “thingness” from its relationship with other things (interdependent origination)

2. No aspiration – connected with suffering. It’s just not going to get any better.
Dilgo Khyentse, why do we practice? “To make the best of a bad situation.”
Chogyam Trungpa: “It’s hopeless.” which he repeated with various pauses for the next 20 minutes.
When you stop wanting or trying to gain something, it creates the possibility of being present in what is arising right now.

3. Emptiness (relates to non-self)
While the original formulation was that there is no thing that corresponds to the pronoun “I”, it’s not a long step to say that you can’t say what a cup or bell or light is. What it is is always in relation to something else. Everything is empty of independent existence. Which is simultaneously liberating and terrifying.

Yesterday we worked with ways to use the breath to come into the union of knowing and experience.

We’re still going to use the breath, but the approach we’ll use today works much more with our emotional reactions to experience.

The basis for this is found in the four immeasurables (Four Brahmaviharas): where a noble person hangs out.

Lovingkindness, compassion, joy, equanimity

Unlike ordinary reactive emotions  jealousy, etc – organized around a sense of self,
the four immeasurables are not organized around a sense of self. Not defensive emotional reactions.

Shakespeare: “The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”

This is different from the emotional reactions.
When you feel anger, it HURTS you and the other person. When you move into compassion, you are present with the other person’s pain, but there is no reaction taking place in you. The consequence is a quality of presence. It “opens a field.” And in that field, the person who is in pain is more able to be with their pain.

Similary dyanmics happen with equanimity, lovingkindness, and joy.

What prevents us from being present in our lives? There are many different patterns of emotional reaction and behaviors that arise. At the core of all of them is an identity, an image of ourselves which stands apart from experience. That self-image we tend to think of as consistent – in fact, it is not. Different self images arise in different situations.... But it always stands apart from experience.

So in certain situations, we may hold onto the image of being the authority. In other situations, we may hold onto the image of being the helpless one. Some people get attached to the role of scapegoat, or the person who doesn’t need any help from anybody.

And most of the time we don’t even know which we’re operating.

But the identity profoundly influences the way we interpret experience, and the way we interpret experience is always in such a way as to reinforce that particular self-image.
So this way of relating to the world which reinforces our sense of who we are, we call “self cherishing.”
Everything that confirms that self image, we like and are attracted to.
Anything that threatens it, we try to push away.

Example: How many are uncomfortable with compliments? It doesn’t fit the self-image.

One of the more profound methods of undermining that tendency to interpret experience to reinforce the sense of self, is to turn the thing around. So we take IN exactly what we’re trying to avoid, and give away what we’re trying to hold onto.

Most of us at some level are pretty selfish. Taking care of me first. This practice reverses that.

One of the main practices of Mahayana is exchanging oneself for others. You imagine taking in the pain and suffering that others experience, then breathing out and giving all the happiness, joy, and wellbeing that you experience so that they can have that themselves.

5-Step Technique

All of this is about working with emotional reactions.
Emotional reactions arise when we encounter something we don’t want to experience.

1. Take in the pain. (your own or someone else’s)

2. Open to your own reactions to the pain.
This in essence is a practice of compassion. By being open and willing to experience our own reactions to pain, we discover the ability to be present with pain. We don’t have to shrink or hide or change the world. When you do this, you may feel a little sad. So in the midst of that...

3. Touch your own happiness and send it out to others.
This is the practice of lovingkindness: wanting others to be happy. What do I give? Anything that makes you feel good. An intellectual: give away your intelligence. What happiness? If you have enough to eat, shelter, able to walk, healthy, that’s enough. Or you can use the word wellbeing.

4. Take joy in the process of this exchange. 
Why would I take joy in this? A student of Kalu Rinpoche said, “Why would I commit emotional suicide?” Kalu Rinpoche: “If you could actually take away all the pain of the world in a single breath, would you hesitate?”

It is our attachment to our idea of who we are which separates us from experience. And we’re so conditioned to protecting that, that the idea of opening and having this actual exchange threatens that sense of self. But that’s exactly why we’re here.

So... what has your sense of self done for you lately?
When we grasp onto it, maybe it’s not such a useful thing.

If you open to another person’s pain and suffering and wish them well, something begins to change. There is a sense of connection. One is no longer separate and apart from the world. Something good is happening. When that takes place, there is a natural joy that arises. Stepping out of our cocoon of self-focus and being part of the world, in whatever way that takes us, there is joy in that.

5. Rest in no separation.
As you rest in the joy — joy is the emotion which is connected with the exercise of power — so in this process, you will feel simultaneously more present and less separated from experience, so experience no separation. And in doing that, continue to take in the suffering of the world and give your own happiness, because now you are no longer separate... there is just a flow of energy back and forth.
In a certain sense, restoring balance in the scheme of things.

In your meditation, it is recommended to go through the steps relatively slowly, 2-3 minutes on each one, so you can feel them. Once you’ve done that, you can move to the practice of taking and sending...

Take in the suffering in the form of thick black smoke coming in through your right nostril  to your heart so you experience it...

and your own happiness and wellbeing — everything you appreciate about your own life — taking the form of white moonlight going out from your heart through your left nostril, to everyone in the world.

With each breath you do both. With the in-breath you take in the suffering, with the outbreath you send out your own happiness.

In this practice, you are practicing every one of the four immeasurables.

Sending out your own happiness = lovingkindness
Taking in the suffering of others - compassion
Feeling joyful about the exchange - joy
Doing this without any prejudice or limitation - equanimity

While doing this, at some point you may notice that you are just present in experience.
So continue taking and sending but really rest in that sense of no separation, just presence.

This is what all the meditation techniques are designed to lead you to: to dissolve that boundary between the false duality of self and other.

For some, you may find there are elements of your own experience that you are alienated from. Maybe certain reactive emotions or patterns or physical things.
You can do taking and sending with those too, to dissolve the sense of I and other.

For seemingly positive emotions that you cling to...
Work with the painful part of the emotion.

Work as deeply as you can without losing your attention. If the emotions are so powerful that you lose your attention, use one of the methods from last week: experience a fraction, proximity. Work the edge. If you only work within your comfort zone, you will just reinforce your patterns. If you work beyond your capacity, you will recondition your defensive mechanism. Neither of these is helpful. It’s important to go to the edge and be willing to... bring the appropriate energy and effort to the practice.

You can get more from 30 minutes of sitting with a powerful emotion than 5 years of resting in equanimity.

If it doesn’t manifest in how we actually interact with others, what good is it?

Work with objects that are easy first. Then people who are more neutral or easily elicit lovingkindness (the sick or poor). Then people who are more difficult.

There is no point in working any situation in which you cannot maintain your attention.
If you don’t push the edge of the envelope, your practice never progresses.

There you are face to face with a reactive emotion. And you find that you can actually be there. What do you experience? Joy. You’ve exercised power. You went straight through.

The underlying theme: Can I experience this?

Eight Thoughts of Great Individuals
Composed by Karma Rangjung Kunchab (Kalu Rinpoche), translated by Ken McLeod

By the power of the truth of compassion of all the supreme refuges, these seeds of virtue and this pure noble motivation

May all the suffering of sentient beings who are as extensive as space be cleared away through my own efforts.

By excellent virtue, both ordinary and transcendent, may the hopes and wants of beings be fulfilled.

May the flesh, blood, skin, and other parts of my body be useful to any sentient being who has need of them.

May the suffering of all beings, my grandmothers, be absorbed by me. May they all receive my virtue and happiness.

As long as I dwell in the world, may not a single thought of harming others arise in my mind.

May I strive energetically for the welfare of beings, not faltering even for a moment from discouragement or fatigue.

For all beings who are poor, hungry, or thirsty, may I be able to give them whatever they want effortlessly.

All the great burdens of intolerable suffering such as the hell realms may I take on myself. May those beings be free of them.

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