Friends of Godwin Samararatne

Learn to be your best friend and also to be a friend of others. Learn to forgive yourself and others and then heal any wounds that you are carrying.

Where is Your Anger Now?

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I like this very simple quotation from Thich Nhat Hanh, a meditation master from Vietnam. He says that when we have a toothache we suffer from the toothache, but when we don’t have a toothache do we ever say: “Wow, I don’t have a toothache today!” Even when we don’t have a toothache we are thinking: “Maybe I will get one tomorrow”. Aren’t we funny?

I really like to emphasise this aspect very much. When negative emotions are absent really to know that they are absent. There is an interesting Zen story in this connection. Someone went to a Zen master and said: “I have a big problem.” The Zen master asked: “Well, what is your big problem?” “My big problem is that I get angry”. “So”, the Zen master replied, “where is your anger now?” Of course, the anger was not there. The Zen master continued: “If it is your anger, you should be able to produce it!”

Really Free of Negative Emotions

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When negative feelings are not there, just to know that they are not there. Often when we take to meditation, when we start to follow the spiritual path, we are trying our best to get rid of our monsters. By doing that we give them a lot of power. But when they are absent we hardly know that they are absent. Sometimes I feel that this is one of the tragedies of the human condition. We don’t realise that there are moments when we are really free of our so-called negative emotions. When they are absent, it is too good to believe that they are really not there. Meditators come and tell me: “Maybe I am repressing them!” So they don’t really want to accept that they are truly not there.

Waiting for Negative Emotions

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Normally when we have negative emotions, we give ourselves a minus. As a reaction to our these emotions we start hating and disliking ourselves. It is very interesting to explore emotions without giving them and yourself a minus. If you can develop this attitude of wanting to learn, you are really waiting for them to arise. And what might happen if you are really waiting for them to come is that they don’t come! When we don’t want them to come, they come and when we want them to come, they don’t come!

Thoughts and Emotions

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What we are trying to do with an open attitude towards our negative emotions is to learn to make friends with our monsters. A phrase you can say to yourself which can be helpful sometimes is: “It’s okay not to feel okay.” It is really about being friendly with yourself, accepting what is happening. I know it is not easy, but slowly, slowly, something interesting might happen. Your monsters might lose some of their strength. Helpful here is our friend the breath and the sensations in our body. These two friends help us to experience the present moment, and they can prevent emotions from blowing up.

Another tool related to this is learning about our negative emotions, learning about our monsters. Because we don’t like them we don’t experience them fully. We don’t really make an effort to know them, to learn about them, to discover, to explore. There are so many things that we can learn about these emotions. One thing you may discover is the connection between thoughts and emotions. It can be a very useful discovery, that it is really the thought that is creating the emotion. One can then work with the thought that precedes the emotion as it arises.

A Model of Perfection

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Often in our model of perfection there is no place for negative emotions, and we feel we should not have them. I suppose only enlightened people may not be having these unpleasant emotions. But as we are still human, as we are still imperfect, we should not be surprised when they come. Not being surprised and being open are related. There is a phrase that I use very often: learning to be friendly to them.

When I say this I am reminded of a myth which is presented in one of the Buddhist texts. It is about a demon who was living among human beings. When a human being got angry the demon used this anger as food, so as you can just imagine he had plenty of food. But demons can get bored with the same food every day, and one day this demon thought: “Maybe I should go to the heavens where the gods live and see whether they will have any food for me”. So he goes to heaven, he looks around and he finds that the throne of the chief god is vacant. Nobody was there so he sat himself down uninvited on the throne. When the gods arrived and saw this they got angry. And when they got angry, the demon for the first time had a taste of divine food.

In the beginning when this demon had sat down on the throne he was very small, but when the gods were getting angry with him, shouting and resenting his presence, he became bigger and bigger. The boss, the chief god, realised something was happening. He came to see what was going on and he spoke to the demon in a very friendly, a very gentle way. He welcomed the demon and said: “Would you like anything to drink?” and so on. You can guess what happened to the demon when the chief god became friendly to him: the demon could no longer feed himself on the divine food and so he shrank.

A Tool

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What I call tools are ways to work with our so-called negative emotions, the monsters. It’s interesting to draw up a list of the emotions that sometimes bother us. You can ask yourselves what are these monsters: what are the names of these emotions? It is a long list: fear, shame, lust, jealousy, greed, anger, distrust, sadness, guilt, self-pity, insecurity, loneliness, doubt, and so on. A long list, and I don’t think there is anyone who likes the emotions on this list.

A tool for working with them is to see them as opportunities, learning experiences, and opening ourselves to them. By hating, disliking and resisting them we give them a lot of power. I know it is not an easy thing but slowly, slowly, I think we need to learn to be open to these emotions.

Light-Hearted

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A very interesting exercise is to ask yourself every day: “How many minuses have I given myself today?” Then try and see also the differences in the minuses you are giving yourself: big ones and small ones. Finally, rather than feeling bad about it, you can laugh at it. Then there is a lightness and even a joy. In the practice of meditation I think it is very important that we work with ourselves in a light-hearted way, even with our shortcomings, rather than be heavy, beat ourselves, or be very serious and intense.

Only a Habit

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The self-destructive force in us can be so strong that it is difficult to be friendly to ourselves. The self-destructive feelings can really overwhelm us. This is why awareness is so important in the practice of meditation. When you realise that you have this self-destructive tendency, and this aspect arises together with the minuses, you should immediately catch it. You realise that it is a very strong tendency, a strong conditioning, a habit. It is important to realise that it is only a habit, it is only a conditioning. It is not representing something real. When you see it as a habit you don’t give it such a power and energy as when you take it as real.

A Very Friendly Conversation

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You can have a very friendly conversation with yourself. You can ask in a very friendly way: “What did I do? Why did this happen to me?” instead of: “I shouldn’t have done this”. That last thought is a big minus. Just try to understand why you behaved in such and such a way. So then you can really learn from your mistakes, without giving yourself a minus. In a sense you should give yourself a big plus, because as you have become more aware of your mistakes you can learn from them. You can even rejoice. You can see in this way the importance of loving-kindness. In the same way that you relate to your own mistakes you can then relate to the mistakes other people make.

Cool But Not Cold

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To have this quality of equanimity – to be cool but not cold – is extremely important when helping others. Sometimes in helping others we create suffering for ourselves because we are reacting instead of responding. When we react in the course of helping others, we get emotionally excited and stirred up. Responding is trying to do something while keeping a clear mind. It is important to learn to respond and not to react in any situation. But as you are still human, it is possible that you will react instead of responding. In that case you can reflect: “Why am I reacting?” It is possible to learn from this experience of reacting and hopefully, ideally, remind yourself not to react but to respond next time.

Normally we react because we are surprised. Again it is human that we are surprised, because we all have a model and expectations about how things should be. When something happens which goes against this model and our expectations we are surprised and react to it. It is quite human to have ideas and models, but at least when you are reacting, you can reflect on it. Ask yourself what the model is, what the expectation is that you are having.

But don’t have the idea, I will not react. Because if you have this ideal of not reacting, then when you react, you will be reacting to that. When you react, make friends with it and try to reflect on it in a very gentle and friendly way, otherwise you will be giving yourself minuses. This is the important thing. We all make mistakes. When we make mistakes, try to make an effort not to give yourself a minus. Though not giving yourself a minus doesn’t mean that you just allow such things to happen; you do not indulge in them.