"When understood, the Buddha’s universe..is anything but alien and inhibiting. It is a world full of hope, where everything we need to do can be done and everything that matters is within human reach. It is a world where kindness, unselfishness, non-violence, and compassion achieve what self-interest and arrogance cannot. It is a world where any human can be happy in goodness and the fullness of giving." ❦ Eknath Easwara

September 6, 2012

Feeling Stuck in Emotions and Feelings? There Is a Way to Get Unstuck!

If you feel stuck in some painful feeling, emotion, or adamant sense self—Stop!  Notice it.  Pay genuine attention to it, but without judgment.  The feeling, the emotion is just that—it’s just what is!  No big deal, really.

Then, with full attention, breathe into the stuck place.  Notice where the painful feelings reside in your body.  Find the knots, the heat, the tense places.  And gently breathe into those places, too.  Imagine that your are bathing the “hurty” places with your breathe, bathing them in loving-kindness and compassion.

Let yourself really feel the "stickiness" of the feeling.  Don’t worry, you won’t get more stuck!  Just the opposite, actually.  With attention to the feeling, you will feel it begin to release, to relax.  With gentle interest, see if you can notice just what it is that is clinging to that sense of a suffering. When you fight against the feelings and strike out, you are actually just hating yourself.   All you'll accomplish is just beating yourself up and being more stuck than ever.  Don't do it!

Here's the point: if you look closely, can you really find an “I” there, a “me” there, or anything you can really call “mine,” except through the process of your own self-identification with it?  Think about it.  Do you have to call the feeling “me” and “mine?”  Is it really yours? What about the painful feeling could possibly be intrinsic to who and what you are?

Feelings come and go, with causes and conditions.  You don’t own them or control them at all.  They arise and pass away, whether you want them to or not!  The problem is, the feelings and emotions we self-identify with, well, they tend to stick around, literally getting stuck in the glue of “I” and “me” and “mine.”  But mindful attention helps dissolve this sticky, grasping, clinging “glue”—this “I glue/my glue” that entraps the energies of feelings and emotions and makes them throb and ache—because they need to be set free, released!

So, just pay attention to everything that’s going on, and try to see where you can let go, and where you are stuck.  Use your breath as an anchor and safe refuge.  Mindfulness of the breah is a safe place to come back to should you get stuck in the “glue” or get panicky about the fearfulness or strength of the emotions.  So, stay with your breath and bathe your feelings, and your “hurty places” with the gentle energy of the breath.

See your breath as a powerful yet gentle flow of love and compassion and wisdom to the places that need healing.  Your breath, and the good intention and aspiration you invest in your breath, are a powerful medicine of mindfulness that you can apply again and again to the suffering.  And be patient!  Some of these feelings may be old visitors that have stuck around so long that you now feel they are “family,” if not the ugly, uncomfortable furniture of your mind! Long ago you may have stopped really paying attention to these feelings and just accepted them and the suffering they bring.

But, no more! It doesn’t have to be that way.  The first big step is to catch yourself and really notice the feelings—and to stop!  Really stop. And say, “Hey, wait a minute. What’s going on here?  What am I really feeling right now?” (Don’t get side-tracked in to why you are feeling what you are feeling.  Your mind will find every justification and blame for that—of yourself, of others, and of the world—believe me!)  The big idea here is to stop and see the feeling as just feeling, the emotion as just emotion, and to really, really pay attention to it, like a naturalist suddenly discovering some rare and amazing flower.  “What is this?”

With the “full stop,” your next step is not to “think” or analyze but to breathe.  Just breathe! And if you can, smile, to yourself, with kindness.  If you'll do this, you'll usually find you've utterly derailed the runaway train of emotions and are at the very precious still point where you can begin to awaken to what is, and what is not.  With each breath, with each embrace of the emotions and feelings with the breath, you can unbind, just a little bit. Let go, just a little bit.

Paying attention to the breath and it’s movement in the body, and in your mind, you will begin to see your capacity to just be present.  You will begin to understand that you are not what you think, or feel. You will begin to sense that, yes, you can safely include what you think and feel in something so big and limitless that nothing can ever get stuck there.  You don’t have to name this big, open spaciousness -- some Buddhist traditions call it "Big Sky mind", noting that nothing can get stick in its openness, any more than clouds can get stuck in the sky.  I love that term, and image!

But what you call it or how your characterize it isn’t nearly as important as taking the skillful steps that help you see that this spaciousness, and openness is always available.  It is our “natural mind,” or “citta,” as some traditions call it, and it never fails to “show up” (not that it goes anywhere!) when we begin to unstick ourselves by paying attention to what is going on, and then letting go of that which is not ours in the first place.

Yes, it’s a great work.  Self-identified emotions are sticky!  They can seem adamant. But, they are not!  They are not intrinsic. They do not have a real self.  They are not permanent. And the suffering they bring helps wake up so we want to let go of them—sooner or later!  So, stop, catch yourself, pay attention, work with the breath, and see what opens up.  It works!

I hope you find what I’ve shared here helpful.  It’s all right out of my own dharma practice. Believe me, like you, I struggle with my feelings, emotions, and the various traumas of the past. But I have never found anything as effective for getting “unstuck” as some of the “skillful means” (Buddhists love that term) I’ve shared in this essay, and of course, there are many many more in the buddhadharma.

With mindful, attentive loving practice, we can experience more of that Big Sky mind and the freedom that always appears from getting unstuck.  May this essay be a help along that great, and very happy way, of getting unstuck!

Steve Goodheart


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