Freedom From Affliction
The mental and emotional afflictions we humans experience can certainly feel a challenge! Irritation, anger, hatred, frustration, fear, anxiety, worry, panic, sadness, depression, passion etc can create great pain and suffering in our lives. In confusion, we also spread this pain and suffering to our loved ones and around our community!
In Buddha’s teaching, these painful mind states have two basic characteristics: craving and aversion. We want to get rid of what doesn’t feel good, and we want to keep and increase what feels pleasant. This is because we have ignorantly become attached to impermanent, passing phenomena, which at its root is substanceless, free and ever-changing.
As we begin to awaken, we become aware of the mental and emotional patterns which feed suffering. Initially, our conditioned reactions are so quick, it feels like they are happening to us and we have no control over our responses. When we slow down and practice observing our breath, body and mind, we notice there is space between the senses receiving stimuli, the conditioned mental and emotional interpretation, and the reaction. We see the true nature of each moment, thought and sensation as simply arising and passing away. As the compressed concatenation of association is given space to open and breathe, the dysfunctional patterns of conditioning can begin to disassemble.
In awareness, painful interpretations and reactions start to reduce in frequency and intensity as we stop feeding them. On feeling the discomfort from the stimuli and the distress from the conditioned interpretation, we will start to notice a change in the rhythm of our breath. If we can simply notice our breath and feel the uncomfortable sensations, without following any conditioned interpretation and reaction, we are breaking the cycle of suffering and create space for new possibilities.
This is certainly easier said than done, especially when a very strong pattern of conditioning arises. But if we practice working with the smaller patterns, we will start to be able to stay conscious with the more seemingly entangled patterns and milestone transitions such as the return of our physical body to the earth or that of a loved one, disease, illness, injury, conflict, separation, displacement, difficult endings and painful changes of circumstance etc.
An instalment of passion that in the past had us jealously guarding or craving pleasurable people, places or possessions for months on end, perhaps now is seen through in just a couple of days. An episode of anger or irritation that previously had us frying ourselves for 5 days, maybe now dissolves in just 5 hours. A fit of worry which before had us anxiously imagining the worst for the future for 2 days, might now pass through in just 15 minutes! This is very good progress!
Buddha saw that all physiological experiences are different conglomerations of the basic elements of earth, air, fire, and water. Depression is the earth element. Fear and worry are the air element. Anger, hatred and passion are the fire element. Sadness is the water element. Emotions naturally arise to be felt and pass out of the body. Just observe how quickly emotions pass through young children! When we feed negative thoughts about what is happening, emotions get trapped and recycled in our system. This is how suffering is perpetuated.
When we experience tension in the body or mind, we can ask ourselves – which negative affliction am I feeding right now?
As an unpleasant thought, sensation or experience arises, we can we observe it and let it pass through without trying to get rid of it, knowing it is on its way home.
When a pleasant thought, sensation or experience arises, we can enjoy it and let it pass by without needing it to stay, remembering we are the love we seek.
All phenomena are self-liberating – they automatically arise and pass away. When we stop identifying so strongly with the body/mind as a solidified entity and simply feel what is passing through, we naturally start to experience more peace, joy and ease. This does not mean we don’t take strong action when needed – freedom from fear will allow us to be active in the world and act appropriately according to each situation. However, the action will always be a response from love and wisdom, rather than an unconscious reaction from a painful affliction.
This is true freedom from suffering. And that is something worth spreading to our loved ones and community!
Please note that this is just one way of working with emotion. There are many ways and another approach might suit you better at this time. You will know which way suits you as you will start to see the beneficial results in your life. This may also change over time and another way of working might begin to become more helpful.
Join me to practice meditation for support to free your mind!
If you would like to go deeper into meditation, I recommend the following teachers and courses: