One of the lines that I really like in Gaylon Ferguson’s book Natural Wakefulness is “Distraction is married to discontent.” You could test this out in your own experience. There’s nothing as real and direct and counterhabitual as being present with yourself, just as you are, with your emotions just as they are.
As difficult as that can be, the result of that training is nonstruggle: not rejecting your experience, fully engaged with yourself, with the world, there for other people. Another result of coming back to being with yourself, just as you are, is that emotions don’t escalate.
Drop a stone in the water and what happens? The ripples go out. If the stone is big enough, it can rock a rowboat on the other side of the lake.
It’s the same, generally speaking, when an emotion arises and you acknowledge, Oh, I’m getting worked up. Oh, my heartbeat is going faster. Oh, I’m feeling fear. Oh, I’m feeling resentment. Or just, Oh, I’m activated, triggered.
At that moment, when you acknowledge it, there’s a space. Just by the very act of acknowledging or being present enough, conscious enough, you’ll find that space—and in that space lies your ability to choose how you’re going to react.
You can either stay present with whatever it is you’re feeling—with the intensity or heat or edginess or shakiness of the emotion—or you can spin off.
You can be caught in the momentum and carried away, which usually means you start talking to yourself about what’s going on. You churn it all up more and more, and it’s like the ripples go out and out and out.
When you choose to reinforce the emotion, when you choose to exaggerate it, when you choose to let the emotion run you, to let the emotion carry you away, then a whole chain reaction of suffering starts.
It sets off an automatic chain reaction like those ripples. So in meditation, we train in letting the rock, the emotion, drop without the ripples. You stay with the emotion rather than turning to the automatic reaction, a reaction that has been habitual for you for years and years.
And believe me, two seconds of doing something so radical, so counterhabitual, of not setting off the chain reaction, completely opens your life to this working from the space of open awareness. And if you don’t reject the emotions, they actually become your friends. They become your support.
Your rage becomes your support for stabilizing, for returning the mind to its natural, open state. Emotions become your support for being fully awake and present, for being conscious rather than unconscious, for being present rather than distracted. That which has been an ogre in your life has the ability to just sweep you away—or it can become your actual friend, your support. It’s a whole different way of living, a whole different way of looking at the same old stuff.
Excerpted from How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind by Pema Chodron. Copyright © 2013 by Pema Chodron. Reprinted with permission of Sounds True.
Pema Chödrön is an American-born Buddhist nun and the author of many spiritual classics, including When Things Fall Apart (Shambhala, 2000), and the new book, Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better: Wise Advice for Leaning into the Unknown (Sounds True, September 2015). She serves as resident teacher at Gampo Abbey Monastery in Nova Scotia and is a student of Dzigar Kongtrul, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, and the late Chögyam Trungpa. For more, visit pemachodronfoundation.org and www.soundstrue.com/fail-better.