Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The ego and emotions

Often people believe that spiritual advancement means being in control of one's emotions - particularly if they are disturbing emotions. Nothing could be further from the truth. What we need to practice is the willingness to accept our difficult emotions without judgment but to choose not to feed them, not to give them extra energy. John Welwood speaks to this in his book, Toward a Psychology of Awakening:

If ego is the tendency to hold on to ourselves and control our experience, then feeling our emotions directly and letting their energy flow freely threatens ego's whole control structure. When we open to the actual texture and quality of a feeling, instead of trying to control or judge it, "I" - the activity of trying to hold ourselves together - starts to dissolve into "it" - the larger aliveness present in the feeling. If I fully open to my sorrow, it may intensify for a while, and I may feel all the grief of it. Yet opening to this pain, without stories, also makes me feel more alive. As I turn to face my demons, they reveal themselves as my very own life energy.

Emotions, we could say, are the blood shed by ego - they start to flow whenever we are touched, whenever the defensive shell around the heart is pierced. Trying to control them is an attempt to keep this shell from cracking. Letting ego bleed, on the other hand, opens the heart. Then we rediscover ourselves as living beings who are exposed to the world, interconnected with all other beings. Letting go of judgments and story lines and feeling this naked quality of being alive wakes us up and nurtures compassion for ourselves and others.

So accept whatever you're feeling. Don't judge it by either condemning it or justifying it. Also don't assume that you have to act on it. Let the feeling just be itself. Then remember impermanence. The feeling will dissolve according to its own time table.

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