Meditation: Difficult Emotions No More, by Dawn Mauricio
I first started meditating in 2006 during my solo travels throughout Southeast Asia. At that point I had been practicing yoga for six years, was newly vegetarian, and felt that meditation was a practice that would lend itself easily to my new lifestyle. I soon found myself on a monastery in northern Thailand, all dressed in white, sleeping in an empty khuti (hut) with only blankets and a plastic patio chair as furniture, and a meditation schedule that had me practicing up to 15 hours (sometimes more) each day. After eight years, it is an understatement when I say meditation has changed my life in ways I could have never imagined.
Since then, I’ve more or less only practiced Vipassana Insight meditation, although I have dabbled in a few different approaches. My understanding thus far is that the teachings are based on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, particularly the first two (mindfulness of the body and its senses, and mindfulness of feelings), with an emphasis on cultivating concentration.
Last year I traveled to Burma to practice with the revered Sayadaw U Tejaniya. The approach taught at his monastery, Shwe Oo Min Forest Meditation Centre was also Vipassana Insight, however, the focus was on cultivating wisdom instead of cultivating concentration by being mindful of our mental states (the third foundation of mindfulness). To do this, Sayadaw U Tejaniya encouraged us to ask ourselves constantly, “What is the attitude of the mind right now?” and to observe, without judgement, what is there. If you do this, you might not notice much at first, but if you are persistent enough you will begin to notice that mind states such as aversion, greed, and delusion motivate almost all of our actions and reactions. When practicing in this way, the fourth foundation of mindfulness (mindfulness of the Dhamma) naturally arises, and understanding of the Dhamma and the nature of phenomena also arises, thus cultivating wisdom.
One of the valuable tools Sayadaw U Tejaniya shared deals with cultivating wisdom in the face of difficult emotions. It’s as simple as asking yourself four questions – and answering honestly – to get to the root of things.
The four questions are:
Is it (the difficult emotion) pleasant or unpleasant?
What/who is making you feel this way?
What is really making you feel this way?
Is this emotion necessary?
To paint a clearer picture, I’ll use the four questions in the same way I did during my trip to Burma. I’m a little bit of a worrier, and my partner and I often travel separately, usually meeting up at a pre-determined (usually exotic and unfamiliar) location. The whole time he is traveling to meet me, I worry that he’ll get hurt somehow, or worse yet, that his plane will crash. Telling myself things like flying is the safest way to travel doesn’t ease my anxiety, so this time around, I tried the four questions.
Is it (the difficult emotion) pleasant or unpleasant? Unpleasant
What/who is making you feel this way? The possibility that something harmful may happen to him.
What is really making you feel this way? The thought that something harmful may happen to him. The THOUGHT!
Is this emotion necessary? No, especially since it just makes me anxious.
This process was a felt revelation for me. My fear in this case (and most likely all other cases) was the result of a thought. A fleeting, intangible, impermanent bubble of a thought! Seeing how much power and energy I gave to a thought, and choosing not to continue, was really freeing.
I often say “Practice makes permanent.” Given that our actions are a result of our intentions and mental states, what kinds of heart/mind states do you want to make permanent?
Dawn Mauricio is a yoga and meditation teacher with a playful, dynamic, and centred approach. She is known for her boundless energy and smiling personality that are both contagious and motivating. Drawing from her deep experience in yoga and meditation, she delivers an effective balance of clear, precise instruction and mental reflection. Dawn firmly believes that how we offer ourselves in practice reflects how we offer ourselves in life, inspiring her to find new ways to extend her practice beyond the yoga mat and meditation cushion – and encouraging her students to do the same.