Love and Anger

I notice a deep pattern in myself in which Love is felt to be an opposite to anger/hostility. For example, if I’m talking to someone one who is expressing angry or hostile political ideas, I often feel an antagonism toward that person. I don’t want to be exposed to those feelings – the physical sensations that go along with anger and hostility. I feel an opposition between myself – who wants to have loving feelings in this body – and the other person – who I feel is making me feel bad.

If I look a little more closely at how I’m reacting, I can see that this opposition that I feel toward the other person creates antagonism. In other words my own reaction is really causing anger and hostility in me and is making me feel worse. The key or clue for me is this strongly felt, physical sense of opposition toward another person. Of course something in me justifies this reaction of opposition by saying that the other person is wrong or bad or negative (which they may be.) I am beginning to notice that the strong feeling of opposition is not helpful. Certainly not to me, to my immediate well being.

So if I’m faced with someone making very angry and hostile statements – perhaps very loudly and threateningly – what kind of response can their be other than creating a sense of opposition?

As soon as I posed this question above, I thought, “Well, I’ll be loving toward them,” but this may still involve seeing them as “wrong” or as threatening to my well being. In other words there may still be this sense of opposition going on in me, with its sense of danger, sense of separateness, sense of needing to protect myself – and the physical discomfort that goes along with this. This is a subtle point that needs to be considered carefully.

Is it possible that the sense of opposition doesn’t take hold? If I’m with someone I care about and they somehow say something that makes me defensive, I’ve noticed that if the energy goes into being defensive, I stop feeling close to them at that moment. I start to feel almost like they are a stranger. When this happens, I feel sad, though at the same time I may not be able to shake the feeling. Something in me doesn’t want to stay in that defensive, isolated place. I want to get back to feeling connected with my friend. But if a stranger makes me feel defensive, I probably never felt close to them in the first place and the defensiveness in me digs its heels in, becoming a stronger habit.

Because I don’t want the habit of defensiveness to ruin my close relationships, I don’t want to nourish it by letting it becoming stronger in my reactions to angry or hostile strangers. It happens anyway. But I don’t want it to grow, so I’m watching my reactions to everyone, whether I like them or not.

If a stranger (or a friend) is talking in an angry, fearful, or hostile way, and if I don’t immeditately slip into defending my feelings -trying to keep out angry feelings and trying to access loving feelings – then something different from my usual reaction happens. I’ve noticed this. I might feel in my own body the physical “echoes” of the other person’s anger. Because of that I might understand more intimately what is happening for them. Or I might feel both the angry vibrations and the sadness of that at the same time.

When this happens then I notice that at that moment for me there is both the anger/hostility becoming visible and feelable AND the love and affection that sees this and feels the sadness of it – the sadness of isolation and of a body exhausted by anger. In such moments it is clear that love and anger are not opposites. Love, interest, affection, sensitivity can all operate at any moment to shed light on any emotional state that is taking place. It doesn’t matter then whether it is happening in me or in a person standing across from me. It doesn’t really matter whether the body is experiencing difficult sensations in that moment. What seems important is that whatever is happening can be listened to and felt, wondered about.

When this happens for me, then the body seems at ease, even though there may be challenging sensations moving through it. And there is a sense of both humility and energy. Humility because I have let myself be affected by the world around me. Energy because the love and interest let the world’s vibrations be felt and move through the body in as healthy a way as possible. There is no sense of opposition in this. No sense of being a separate something. There is just the vast flow of life moving in this body, with its own wisdom and healing.

And what about this “other person” that is usually felt as causing the problematic feelings? For me there is often a sense of understanding where they are coming from. Of being able to hear their anger and, usually, the fear behind it. It’s not hard to understand that a person can have those feelings. But instead of guarding myself against those feelings, there is empathy for the other person.

So if someone I like says something that scares me and the whole defensive pattern is about to start up, then what? Is it ok if I don’t know what to do? Can I stay around that person even if I’m feeling scared? Can I stay open to that person, keep listening, continue to be sensitive to them, despite the thoughts that might be shouting out that I should be afraid?

Recently I let this happen, not knowing what was going on, nervous to be in unknown territory. Eventually I learned much about the other person and found that love reappeared. And I felt that certain deeply held strong reactions in me were exposed as pretty useless. That was a surprise and a relief.

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Is Time Running Out?

I imagine that, like me, you often are under the pressure of the feeling that there is not enough time for everything that needs to be done. This usually involves practical things – getting a window painted, getting the garden fixed up, making plans for a trip, making sure I don’t run out of household supplies, etc., etc.

But when I step back a bit and consider what I think of as “my life”, there is a different sort of feeling that time is running out for me. Do you know what I mean? It’s almost a feeling that life is slipping very quickly through my fingers. I don’t feel like this all the time. There are many moments that are full and joyful, not concerned with the future. But right now I’m bringing up this feeling that time is running out in order to enter into it a little and wonder about it.

Time is running out for us! What does this statement bring up for you?

One reason I’ve thought of this is that, as we get ready for our annual retreat, I’m in touch with people who have been talking with me about coming to retreat for five, ten, or more years, and have not been able to get to retreat during that time. Wow. Ten years. At the age of most of us, that’s a long time. A long time of feeling that I have plenty of time left to take care of things later. Plenty of time in the future to devote a handful of days to the inner things that so much need attention in me and to being at peace with the outer world, which usually seems so impossible.

It seems true to me that we do all have a very heavy backlog of unprocessed past experiences, difficulties, traumas, fears, longings. And around all of that there seems to be a powerful defense system that doesn’t really want any of these things to be touched. It’s as though we have learned to live in a world defined by these things. And a big part of the defense system, for me, is the thought that I have plenty of time to deal with issues in the future.

If time is running out, if time in fact has already run out, then the need for me to face the inner challenges, to meet them directly right now, to let them open up in me and reveal themselves – then that need is very clear and urgent and present. It needs to happen now. It can’t be put off. To me, these inner challenges, when they are put off till the future, become even heavier and more difficult. And the heavier our burden of unfinished business, the more difficult it is to mobilize ourselves to meet them directly and begin to heal. In other words the longer we put off healing, the harder it becomes to start the healing process.

Retreat is the time and setting where we help each other create a space where healing becomes easier. And the more healing happens, the easier it is for healing to continue.

The time leading up to retreat is the time for reflecting on how much I’ve been putting off till off to the future so much of my unfinished, internal stuff. It’s the time for summoning up the energy to set aside time for the healing process. Maybe this requires reaching out to others for help doing this. Maybe it means noticing the resistance to stepping out of one’s routine. We only have one retreat here a year. When thinking about going to retreat starts to feel anxiety-producing, it’s very easy to think of putting it off till next year. But maybe together we can try something different. Maybe we can talk together about what it takes to step into healing – despite all the fears and concerns and resistance. This is something that we do together.

If there were no future – if your time was to run out tomorrow – what would that bring up in you? Do you feel the huge amount of unfinished concerns, feelings, maybe blankness?  That’s the stuff that wants the time and space to open up and be heard and felt. And perhaps, finally, healed and finished, while we’re still alive and have the strength to heal.

What Needs Attention?

I have a friend who, when I asked him why he goes to so many retreats, replied “Because there is always something that needs attention and because of nothing at all.”

This struck me as a wonderful and true answer. There IS always something in us that needs attention, isn’t there? In fact it often feels like there is an overwhelming amount of “stuff” that needs attention.

How do we give attention to these things? It seems that our usual first attempt is to verbalize what’s going on. That’s a natural first step, although it has some limitations as well. What I “think” about what’s going on is often not very accurate. Sometimes the very act of identifying a “problem” actually reinforces it. Certainly, being able to verbalize an issue clearly is helpful but I’m just reporting what I’ve observed in myself. I need to take the verbalization with a grain of salt and I need to let go of it at some point.

A second step is to look for some help or insights outside of myself. This is also helpful, including reading books, talking with others, and getting professional guidance. I’ve found some really wonderful help this way.

Ultimately, there is another step that is different in that the first two involve what I know and what other people know. This “new” step involves moving beyond the limited realm of what is known and into the open space of being with the wholeness of what is happening inside and outside, beyond trying to know what is happening. In other words to really be with what is going on requires, in my experience, a letting go of that activity of the brain that tries to put new, fresh input into my existing knowledge. The key is that that activity of the brain lets up so that the brain can experience more fully and deeply what is right here. Knowing may happen or not happen but the brain can learn to relax away from the compulsive attempt to know so that the brain can operate in a new, direct sensing way.

In my experience deep healing of what needs attention comes most directly out of this unknowing, relaxed deep and still sensitivity.

This deep listening can operate in us even when we come together as a group for dialogue. In fact coming together – if we don’t wander to far away into trying to figure things out – can amplify this process of stillness and listening penetrating into the hidden areas that need attention. By habit we don’t usually talk and listening together in this way but we can learn to by coming together, if we give this process enough chance with each other.

So part of this shared healing process is making the effort to come together from time to time and learning – sometimes awkwardly – how to talk and listen together in a way that begins to penetrate into those areas that need attention. This is the purpose of our group activities in and out of retreat.

What about the “because of nothing at all?” This is a beautiful way of saying that healing, opening, growing together is a natural expression of life that just happens and takes care of itself if we give it a chance. We don’t have to struggle to do it. And while this healing and listening is happening for us in a group or alone, it is an expression of the wholeness of the world all around us at this very moment. Just as the sun sometimes pokes out from behind clouds, the heart sometimes open in joy or in pain, for its own sake. Not for some future goal. We can say that wholeness in a moment is exactly what heals and it happens for its own sake.

Consciousness versus Wholeness

QUESTION: Here is a separate question. I briefly saw the title of an article that suggested that science had proved that when we die our consciousness moves on to a different universe. Perhaps parallel. What do you think? What implications does such an idea have?

Jay: I’m not overly concerned about consciousness. I used to feel that’s what I was – my consciousness – and I didn’t want it to end.

But through careful observation and still listening it has become clear to me that consciousness is the smallest part of who I am. It has become clear that life is a living thing that is vast and does not depend on my – or anyone’s – consciousness.

Consciousness is a useful and sometimes beautiful expression of life but it comes and goes. Life itself – the wholeness of things – doesn’t come and go.

This is my experience, not a philosophy. Usually our experience feels very different than this. We usually feel very limited, isolated, and in danger of being changed or destroyed by life. We tend to live in our consciousness – our thoughts and story – because it seems safe.

Questioning this and beginning to look more carefully and listen more deeply is what meditative work is about. We do it because our usual way of living is very often unhappy, fearful, and isolated. We also do it because some people who have looked carefully confirm that in us that knows that the way we usually see things is not the way things really are.

But we have to do this exploration ourselves in order to discover the simple wholeness of life.

I know that’s not exactly what you were asking but it’s my honest response.

Health

Questioner: To what degree does meditation make one aware of their physical health? I would like to gain knowledge on how to become stronger and avoid health problems. But it occurs to me that many health problems like strokes, seizures, and heart attacks hit people without obvious signs beforehand allowing the person to intervene.

Jay: To me meditation – taking quiet time to be in touch – by definition is an increase of sensitivity. But sensitivity certainly isn’t a magic bullet!

I can understand your concern about becoming a victim to some bodily state that happens so quickly that you can’t defend yourself. This seems to me to be a deep fact of life. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t care for our health but at a certain point it seems true that things are going to happen to us that are out of our control. So one meditative concern of mine is how do I relate to that fact, that reality.

First of all, at this moment that I’m typing these letters, the concern that something out of control is likely to happen to me is a thought in my imagination. If someone asks me if that thought actually reflects reality, I’d say it most likely does. But at this moment if that thought grabs hold of the mind, the mind begins to wonder how to deal with these theoretical future events. And this is more imagination. And with the worrying, more discomfort right now.

The curiosity arises as to whether I can just not worry about it right now, since nothing bad is actually happening at the moment. Or even if there is something uncomfortable and out of control happening – maybe some pain in the back – relating to a real situation is very different, much simpler, than imagining relating to an imagined future difficulty.

Another aspect of this for me is coming in touch with the deep feeling of vulnerability that comes to me in realizing how easily the world can affect me beyond my ability to control things. That is a very deep feeling. Have you ever allowed yourself to really feel your vulnerability?

I don’t have much to say about other health problems you might face. There is so much reactivity and defensiveness programmed into our brain that it is often impossible to sort out what pain is caused by a medical situation and what is caused by our resistance to what’s going on. Meditation helps foster the sensitivity to distinguish this.

And meditation may help foster a direct experience that we are not just the body, that our actual existence is much vaster and that the sense of the body may fade away almost completely and we are still here. This is helpful to explore.

I hope this addresses your concerns a little. You’re welcome to write back with questions or comments.

What is the Problem?

If you are like me, you spend a lot of time considering the problems in your life and trying to creatively work with them. Sometimes the problems seem impossible to deal with. Sometimes they respond to some new approach.  Sometimes they come back in different forms. I’m sure this sounds familiar to most people.

Let’s consider for a moment what a problem even is. Maybe I’ve recently interacted with someone in a way that has been painful for both of us. There may be a sense that my interaction was not “skillful,” that I could have done better. And I may wonder about it, think about what happened. Maybe ideas pop up of what I could have said or done that would have worked better. This seems like a natural process.

At some point in this process I may feel like I’m done thinking about it. I don’t need to continue to drum up the memories and mentally review them. This is an interesting point. It feels to me like at this point there are still some questions that hang in the air, some feelings that still sit in the body. At this point it feels helpful to give these “silent” questions some attention and space. To feel into how the body is doing with all that has happened. To come in touch with who it is – right here – that has gone through all of this. This “who it is” contains not only the memories of the current experience but all of “Jay” – the whole organism with its laid-down memory traces in the nerves, muscles, guts, bones and the vast space in which this organism exists.

Perhaps in this space the current problem – the one that for the moment the mind is most worried about – may come up again. In other words the memory gets pushed up into conscious awareness, along with the anxiety surrounding it. As I consider this and write about it, the question arises What is the problem? Or maybe we can say Is there a problem, Is what’s happening right now a problem?

The memory has been broadcast into the conscious mind. There is a sense of urgency to change something that seems to have led to pain. But that’s not all there is right here. There is a spacious awareness of the environment, the sense of the body and mind as a whole phenomenon – ever dynamic, subtle, sensitive. There may be the sense of other people nearby. What happens to the energy if one goes into the “problem” – the memory, the strategizing? Can the energy stay with the wholeness? I find that it is possible, even though it may seem impossible. It is possible to stay with wholeness and yet have some insights about the “problem situation” arise, with maybe a little conscious help or maybe no conscious involvement at all.

When this happens, the problem doesn’t become overwhelming. It seems to disappear – perhaps to reemerge from time to time.

When this doesn’t happen – when all of the energy becomes narrowly focused on fixing something, it really feels like I’ve lost touch with what the problem is and the context in which this “problem” exists. I’ve lost touch with myself. I’ve lost touch with what other people are. I’ve lost touch of the humanness and of the aliveness of the situation and of life. And the actions that come out of this kind of problem solving, for me, may lack humanness. They may not address the wholeness of the situation.

In such narrow moments things may suddenly open up, along with the realization that I don’t really know what the “problem” is or even if there is a problem. And I enter into this not knowing, this wondering. This os forgetting of the problem and awakening to the precious wholeness in which all of life – with its beauty and its challenges – takes place.

The Heart of Life

It’s now the coldest, darkest time of year. The winter holidays are nearly past. For unknown reasons this is a time when the sorrow of losses, disappointments, unmet hopes comes more readily to mind and drapes itself on and in the body.

This year the hope for having a government moved by intelligence, caring, and community has been – for the near future – dashed. The prospect of being treated harshly, manipulatively, hangs over the heads of millions of us.

How do we relate to loss – the loss of loved ones, the loss of opportunities for goodness, the loss of a sense of security and safety? How do we relate to dashed hopes and looming difficult times?

I notice that the mind wants to find some words to comfort itself. To read something inspiring. To regain a sense of positiveness or happiness. But I wonder if it is necessary to interfere with the sorrow that may be going on right now in the body/mind. Is there some interest in entering deeply into the sense of loss or sorrow at those moments when it presents itself? To be very sensitively in touch without trying to move away. To let these feelings open up and do whatever they need to do, to reveal anything they may need to reveal? To not short circuit that process by moving away from it? To maybe find out something new and fresh about the energy that we call sorrow.

Right now, sitting here, feeling into disappointment, anxiety, sorrow, there is also the feel of cool air on the skin, a sense of groundedness in the body, the sound of water trickling in the fountain and fans moving, dim light of a cloudy day. In listening deeply and openly with the heart, the mind, the body – and all of the emotions that have arisen – isn’t this life one energy without borders, including everything? When the heart opens with all of its emotions and sensations, isn’t it the heart of all life?