Be Friendly with All Your Emotions
by His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa, Jigme Pema Wangchen
Negative emotions such as anger, greed and pride are corrosive to one’s balanced and happy state of mind, but rather than try to suppress or ignore them, it is better to become more aware of when they come and where they come from. By acknowledging negative emotions and understanding why you are experiencing them, it will be easier to let them go.
One of the greatest obstacles to happiness that I see increasingly often is anger. This saddens me so much. There is the obvious, extremely dangerous anger that creates the mind of a terrorist or someone who harms another person. And then there is the anger that I see on the streets on a regular basis. People today seem to become angry with hardly any provocation – you can feel it bubbling up even as they sit there. Or you might see somebody walking in front of another person and you will feel the anger of that first person flare up immediately, like a lit match. So someone walked in front of them … so what? Is it a big deal?
It can sometimes seem as though the accepted norms of a society’s behaviour feed this type of anger; the rules are giving people the sense that it is their right to be angry. I met a woman from England who told me that there are ‘silent’ carriages on the trains there; this is a nice idea in principle, but when people don’t see the signs and are chatting on the phone, others around them will begin to simmer and then boil over in their rage, throwing the culprit disapproving glares and pointing at the signs. Of course, I understand that we are all trying to act according to a good set of ethics, but we have become too quick to get upset when other people don’t know the rules or have a different set of ideas altogether. I must admit I can be quite a chatterbox and so I’m sure I would get told off on one of these trains – but it is the anger in the reaction that worries me; all it does is cause suffering, and mainly to the person who is holding on to it.
Without ‘friendliness’ happiness cannot be there in our minds. If we are not friendly towards others, towards nature or towards ourselves, then we don’t give happiness a chance. So even when you are taking a very honest look at yourself in the mirror and you don’t like what you see at first, be gentle with yourself and always be friendly with all your emotions. If you can’t be compassionate to yourself, then how can you help to make the world a happier place? You are wasting all of your amazing potential by concentrating on feeling bad about the things you don’t like about yourself and others.
YOU DON’T NEED TO CARRY YOUR ANGER WITH YOU
Carrie’s passion is her strength, but occasionally we all need to recognise when our emotions are holding us back. They are still very important, but we may develop the confidence to acknowledge them and then let them go, rather than carry them all with us:
I remember being on a Pad Yatra when we came across a man who it turned out was buying historic artefacts at very cheap prices from the local villages with the intention to make a big profit once he got back to his home country. As a lawyer, I was incensed by this man and I became very angry with him, right there, on the mountain path. I felt I had to stand up for the people and their villages, some of which we would be visiting along the way of the Pad Yatra. The argument became so heated that we almost came to blows, which is crazy because this man could have literally pushed me off the side of the mountain. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but I was still so angry and when I spoke to His Holiness later that day I told him all about it and how we must make sure the man is arrested and prosecuted. His Holiness told me, yes, yes, we will make sure to let the authorities know so that they could decide what to do, but then he looked straight at me and laughed that wonderful, kind laugh of his. I was still so full of anger I couldn’t believe His Holiness was laughing at me, but then I realised what a comical scene we must’ve made: two people shouting at each other on the side of a mountain in the Himalayas. He then said to me, ‘Now, are you going to leave your anger here, or carry it with you every day, because we still have a long way to go.’
It’s amazing that when you look directly at your anger or craving, for example, it often evaporates there and then. And while it is very difficult to do this in the heat of the moment, if you give yourself a chance to investigate when you are feeling calmer, then it often becomes a way in itself to get out of negative thinking and see things a little differently.
PAUSE TO REFLECT
Allow yourself the space to learn from interactions, to learn from your friends, for example, or from your disappointments and even your anger. By being a better watcher of your mind, and therefore your reactions, you will gradually give yourself that little bit of space which will take some of the heat out of the situation. If you don’t give yourself space, then rather than learn from these things you might feel as though everything is going down in a negative way. And tomorrow, instead of feeling happiness or feeling motivated to make a change in your life or to develop and take care of your mind, you will feel like you have a hangover in your mind and your heart. It is as though a heaviness takes over, which can be the cause of a great deal of unnecessary suffering, and rather than picking yourself up to find out what interesting things today has in store, you remain stuck in negativity.
Our emotions are our teachers and usually signal when we need to interact more, rather than continue to hold back and feel jealous or frustrated or fearful of what might happen. So when you get upset with people, don’t run away or let yourself get carried away by emotions like anger or disappointment. Just give yourself a second and allow the space to come between you and the anger. Realise that the sensation of anger in your body is just that, a fleeting sensation just like a cloud momentarily covering up the sun’s warmth. Allow it to pass, instead of holding on to it. Understand that you are not anger, you are experiencing anger. Then you will receive one of the biggest lessons of all.
For many of you there is no space at all right now between you and your emotions. Anger or impatience feel as though they are instantaneous, as though you have no control over them. It will take a great deal of conscious effort, but if you can allow even the smallest gap between a thought you have in your mind and the emotions that rush in, you will begin to let the river of your mind flow just a little more smoothly around the rocks and over the rapids – not because you are blindly drifting along, buffeted by the waves, but because you are becoming a great navigator, aware of what is going around you. You will begin to notice that you feel more prepared to be friendly with your emotions, that you feel you have more time to gently meet and flow around the obstacles in your life, rather than lurching from one extreme reaction to the other. By doing so, you get to enjoy the journey so much more: you have the time to look around and notice all the beauty, and you have the chance to listen, whether to the birds or to the people who are dear to you in your life, rather than everything being drowned out by your waterfall of thoughts and emotions.
Of course, you still have all these emotions, but by putting a little space around them, you may get to know them better and understand where they come from. The best time to practise is when you feel an emotion like anger or impatience: you need not see your emotions as enemies, which will make you feel even more upset as you feel bad about being an angry or impatient person, but you can turn things on their head and instead use them as friends. Instead of rejecting the emotions, think about how you might transform them. It is like fighting with someone who is much stronger than you: the best way is to talk with them – and the same goes for your emotions. Investigate them, ask yourself what is their purpose and remind yourself that whatever happens in the moment, you don’t then need to cling to your reactions.
If you hold on to anger, you will end up burning yourself. When you feel so sure about your own definitions of what is right and what is wrong, you chase your own happiness away through stubbornness and ego clinging. You replay arguments or situations in your head, and rather than making peace, you feel even more outrage or hurt as you re-experience a situation over and over again. Anger and other negative emotions have a way of closing up the mind, making everything feel very tight, as though you can’t breathe. A mind filled with hate destroys all good things and eats away at your capacity for compassion and kindness. It is impossible to feel joy if you are consumed by anger.
I say to people, ‘Sit on your cushion to look at your emotions.’ When we remove all the other distractions of life, we are left just with our minds. Then we can use what is in our minds to practise patience, compassion and love and emotions like anger and jealousy begin to dissolve into emptiness. I like the phrase ‘all things being equal’. Because at the end of the day, all things are equal – nothing is permanent, everything fades, so why cling on so tightly to things that aren’t even there any more?
This will take many years of practice, but the good part is that just a little understanding will go a long way to developing your life and helping your happiness to blossom.
HAPPINESS IS PATIENT
If you have patience and tolerance, then you can have a lot of things. By practising patience, you allow a space to very gradually develop that gives you at least a little room to think and to compromise with people or in situations that would usually make you unhappy. From a distance, even just the smallest distance to begin with, the whole scene will look much better.
People may behave wrongly in your view, in a way you find hard to accept because it doesn’t fit in with your own wishes, desires and beliefs. You want everyone to be understanding of you, but you can’t accept others as they are. If you don’t try to be accepting, to give others a chance to live their own lives, this kind of impatience can become a great obstacle to happiness.
When you are in a difficult situation with another person, the main way to practise patience is to put yourself into the other person’s shoes. Take a breath and remember that person is just trying to get along in their own life, and that they have just as much misunderstanding and attachment to their beliefs as you are feeling in the heat of the moment.
If you don’t practise patience, then you are unable to control your anger when the time comes, and soon your happiness is covered over by negative feelings directed towards others, life, the universe and sometimes towards yourself. You fall into the trap of the blame game.