Inner  Frontier
Cultivating Spiritual Presence

 

Inner Work


For the week of January 7, 2019

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Reactions

(Spiritual Dynamics: 3)

Among the real and imaginary impediments to a deeper spiritual life, overblown emotional reactions stand among the most insidious. Our reactions and their patterns convince us that they are who we are, that they speak for the real us, that they define us and our world. When a reaction rears up in us, we immediately collapse into it, we let it take our center and take us. We lose contact with our essence, with our presence, with the great unity at our core. Be it anger, worry, jealousy, envy, resentment, self-pity, craving, greed, hatred, disgust, indignation, outrage, or wounded pride, it tends to be intense and destructive, though mercifully temporary. Emotional reactions color and drive our thoughts to justify and perpetuate the reactions, in a pernicious feedback loop, with the thoughts provoking further emotional reactions, which in turn provoke further ruminating, self-centered, self-creating thoughts.

The more obvious destruction is wrought on the people around us and our relationships with them. When we let our reactions invade our speech or actions, we may well hurt the recipients. And if that is not bad enough, we also damage ourselves, in the sense of wasting our inner energies, as well as our precious time. After a storm of anger or other intense reactive emotion, we are left depleted, with little hope of being in contact with our body, much less our entire and deeper presence. Worse still, indulged reactions strengthen our ego, our false sense of separateness, the strongest impediment to a deeper spiritual life.

What to do? We begin with seeing these reactive storms for what they are, wasteful, destructive, and arising from and creating our false self, instead of assuming they are an expression of our real self. But after seeing one of these destructive events unfolding in us, our next step is crucial. Do we react to the reaction, or do we respond? Reacting to the reaction means judging ourselves negatively for feeling such feelings, for being weak in that way. It means rejecting these destructive feelings, and rejecting ourselves in the process. None of that helps at all. It just layers another reaction on top of the first one, further feeding our ego, albeit with a negative self-image. The attempt to suppress or repress our emotions merely sends their energy underground, only to surface in another wasteful form.

Can we instead respond to our reactive emotions by letting them be, by respecting ourselves and not feeding our reactions, by accepting ourselves as we are, and by relaxing into a deeper, centered, peaceful and timeless place in our being? The latter is not to escape from our reactive emotions, indeed we let ourselves feel what we are feeling. But instead of falling into the narrow world defined by our emotional reaction, we put ourselves into a larger context, into our broader presence, into our wholeness. In that place, equanimity arises, giving the reactive emotion room to exhaust itself. We do not buy into or run with our emotional reactions. We just stand still and let them pass.

Timing can help. The more present we are, the more chance we have of seeing the emotional reaction in its earliest stages, before it gains momentum, before it grips us, when it is easiest to let it go.

This type of inner work is on the frontier between psychology and spirituality. The spiritual part comes in our choices: to refrain from allowing the reaction to take us, to refrain from judging ourselves negatively for the reaction, to see that we are not this emotion, to relax into our ever-present inner peace and equanimity, to let the emotional storm pass on its own. Though this can be difficult in the moment when our insides are screaming at us to get angry or fall headlong into some other destructive emotional state, every time we do make these choices it helps purify our heart and create our soul. And it has the salutary side-effect of making for better relationships and a happier life.

For this week, please work with seeing your own emotional reactions, letting them be, and returning to your whole presence.


        

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