This is blog will be a musing, I think, an exploration of some questionings I have about emotions which the Buddhist’s claim are just like clouds, they come and go and sometimes those clouds are stormy and contain a lot of rain, and the wind lashes around (which could be a metaphor for angry or confused thoughts which blow this way and that), and then at other times emotions such as peace can feel like a calm, sunny sky that shines upon us making everything feel right with the world.
There is a saying in recovery circles, too. That feelings are not facts. I actually had a hard time with this one, because if you are someone who has met with a lot of dispute, or confusion when you are expressed emotions, or been told not to have then, then the saying feelings are not facts seems like yet another form of negation and invalidation. Is this just yet another example of a superficial view in which a philosophical other, questions the validity of a reaction to something, the roots of which reaction may lie in a different place? This does not mean the feelings had no factual basis, for in fact those feelings may have been triggered by something similar happening which evoked memories of experiences of an earlier time.
It does seem to me that we cannot find a way to live centred lives if we don’t understand our emotions and have tools to deal with them. Keeping ourselves free of the foggy and sticky aspect of depressive thinking also does involve a degree of skilfulness in dealing with our reactions to things, finding ways to lovingly tend and soothe painful feelings in a way which stops hurts from becoming ever deepening wounds or ruts that we get permanently bogged down or stuck in.
From this point of view the Buddhist concept of sitting with feelings and sensations and paying attention to their rising and falling, their coming and going is an important practice for the development of skilful means of dealing with feelings.
It is interesting to me that some people have a very intense reaction to certain things, while others can just let them roll off their backs. This intense reaction speaks of a wound in the psyche which is triggered into defensive mode. This is most especially the case in psychological disorders such as Borderline Personality and Narcissism. Here the wounded, sore spot in the psyche which was generated by earlier experiences festers and is susceptible to re-activation and infection in the present which is very painful for the person experiencing it and those around them.
Skilful means for dealing with the hurting places is so important. Finding ways to self soothe, look inward, flesh out the causes, and take steps to be at peace in the midst of emotional turmoil are good skills to have.
In Buddhism there is much talk of the concept of non-attachment, of not attaching as much to emotions, of holding them with a looser grip or learning at least to open the clenched fist when we are struggling with them.
Earlier in the week I was re reading some sections of the book Towards a Psychology of Awakening in which the author John Welwood was talking of the different states of ego and egolessness. In this regard he was talking more about negative ego states where we become closefisted and attached to a personal view or intense feelings and reaction and he was broaching the idea that egolessness was a way of not attaching to feelings and taking pain so personally.
In my own experience it is not human to expect we wont have emotions, nor to expect that we won’t, at times, have extreme emotional reactions to things. Our ability to let go may very much be influenced by the amount of understanding we have been shown in the past or the depth of insight we have into our selves.
At times for our own psychological health it is important to erect a strong boundary while we work through feelings. It is important to allow the process enough time to play out so that feelings can transform within the creative fire. Many of us may need to spend long years in sadness and depression, or anger before we can fully understand the purpose of these feelings and lean skilful ways of holding. For some of these feelings may not be passing but rather constant visitors who make their presence felt very often.
Being able to be present with these feelings, to give them space, to treat them and ourselves with compassion as we undergo them may be a very necessary part of our healing. Knowing the nature of our own wound and sore spot may also involve the acceptance that for some of us the pain we feel will never be entirely gone, although in time it may lessen. We may not be able to heal all things, loving ourselves and accepting this is hard, but it seems to me it is better than endlessly beating ourselves up for not being happier.
In our modern society it seems that there is much focus on happiness, far more than is realistic for some people. Pete Walker makes the point in his book on Complex PTSD that he sees many clients in his healing practice who beat themselves up for not being happier when really they are just having a very normal and realistic response to the trauma of their upbringing. In a feeling wounded society things can be judged as madness which are really just legitimate responses to suffering. Peter Levine an expert who has studied and worked with both animals and people with PTSD for may years has made the point in his book In An Unspoken Voice that Post Traumatic Stress to his mind is not really a disorder at all but a natural response to witnessing and suffering horrific life threatening events.
The dark night of the soul that accompanies suffering, sadness, trauma and pain may in fact be a supremely important spiritual passage, one that deepens a person beyond the superficial and gives them an insight into profound states of being beyond peace and happiness alone. Developing a tolerance for the dark places, being able to find a way to bear them rather than fighting may mature us in ways we could never have imagined. It may develop within us a patience, a calm clear seeing, a sense that on some level difficult things were essential and had lessons for us.
When I named my blog Emerging from the Dark Night, I guess I was trying to articulate a sense of this, but it may be that emergences are only temporary at times and just when we feel we have emerged the dark night claims us for another round. What I do feel is that when we stay with and in the darkness for long enough there comes upon the soul a deep feeling of and experience of light and peace. No longer fighting we have touched base with the dark gift hidden there within the darkness, painful as it is. And we have come to know ourselves as sojourners on a plain that others have trodden too leaving wisdom to share which can inform our journey and make it more bearable.