2022-06-17 Wise to Emotions (5 of 5) Reactive and Non-Reactive Emotions
9:18PM Jun 18, 2022
In this fifth talk on becoming wise toward emotions, I want to talk a little bit about attention to the source of our emotions: knowing where emotions arise from. Certainly there are layers of sources from within. I talked a bit about that yesterday.
Certain emotions might have other emotions that are their source or their immediate predecessor. For anger, it might be hurt or fear. For joy, the source within us might vary. It might be praise, affecting our conceit, resulting in an energized, joyful feeling about that. Or it might be the delightful sense of freedom or ease which comes when conceit disappears, when it is not there.
In the teachings of the Buddha, there is a distinction between two sources or two kinds of emotional lives. One them, I like to call "dharmic." And the other, I call "non-dharmic." Some people might call them "spiritual" and "worldly." There is a variety of things these sources are called. But at the heart of the Buddha's teachings on mindfulness is the distinction between that which belongs to the sensual world, and that which belongs to something deeper, the non- sensual world.
The distinction between spiritual and non-spiritual is not a criticism or a denigration of the non-spiritual or that which is sensual. But there is a distinction between those emotions that get triggered by our reactivity, and those emotions that do not arise in reaction to something. Rather, they emerge, flow through us, arising out of us almost independently of the conditions around us.
So if I am driving, in a hurry to get somewhere, and someone is driving really slowly, my eagerness – my strong desire – to get someplace is frustrated. I might then get angry, or feel afraid, in reaction to the person who is driving slowly. In the same situation, I need to go somewhere – maybe I need to get there on time, but I drive in a relaxed, open way. Someone is driving slowly, I see it, and say, "Oh. Someone's driving slowly and it looks like someone who is old and is just trying to drive carefully." So I let it be. And I use it as occasion to just relax.
In that relaxation, just being with the situation, there is now a deeper sense of room. I am not reacting to anything, and there is a feeling of contentment, a feeling of gratitude for the day and the sky. There might be a sense of care and love for the person who is driving slowly. I am not being triggered by what is out there. It is just a natural upwelling of warmth for someone who is driving carefully, a caring for them.
Then, we sit and meditate, and we might feel very ambitious to get deeply concentrated right away. In that ambition, maybe we have a bad feeling for ourselves. We feel as if, somehow, we do not succeed very well with things in our lives, and meditation is supposed to help us. This is supposed to be an alternative to the challenges of life, but "I have to be successful in meditation." And then we are not getting concentrated. Already, there is a built up tension behind doing meditation. When meditation is not going successfully, we react to that. We get angry at meditation, angry at ourselves, angry at Buddhism, angry at the world.
Reacting. On the surface – I think of it more as the surface level of who we are – we are carrying tensions and stresses – emotional, physical, and mental. Those stresses, when they are touched by the world, get triggered. When we have a great capacity and lots of space and ability to be open, relaxed, and present without those surface tensions and stresses, then, for someone who is really mature in this practice, there are no triggers.
In Buddhism, there is the idea of holding up conceit. If something comes along that threatens this conceit, there is a collision. Then there is a reaction to it. If there is no conceit and someone comes along and criticizes us, maybe it does not hit our conceit. It just goes right through.
That going right through, that capacity to not be caught, reactive, to not have something inside that the world hits, makes room for an upwelling of a lot of wonderful emotions. There is an upwelling of healing, of movement toward harmony, of movement toward unification. There is an upwelling of contentment or peace. Sometimes, of joy and happiness. And that which wells up is not reactive.
That is what is dharmic. Dharmic emotions, dharmic feelings, are those that arise in an empty space in us, in a certain way. A space empty of tension, empty of holding on to certain emotions, empty of certain kinds of demands on the situation, empty of expectations, cravings, ambitions, or a strong sense of self we are protecting or hiding. Those are dharmic emotions.
Non-dharmic emotions are ones that arise when there is a collision with something hard inside us. That is the non- dharmic. The dharmic is when there is nothing in there. There is space and things can go right through. But more importantly, there is space for things to well up. The classic analogy for this, the simile for it, is that of a mountain lake. There are no rivers and no rain filling up the lake. It is getting completely refreshed from an underground fount, an underground spring welling up from the bottom, spreading fresh water throughout the lake.
In the same way, we are not depending on input from the world around us: the rivers coming into a lake. And we are not depending on the rain: all the thoughts and ideas we have in the mind. We are depending on neither in order to have this upwelling. Rather, there is a settledness, a relaxation, a real sense of presence, an attention to here. Then, an upwelling has a chance to arise.
We have, within us, a tremendous dharmic capacity for a flow, a naturalness of positive emotions – things like love, care, joy, contentment, gratitude, delight, compassion. Beautiful, beautiful states. But they are not states that we make happen, reactively. They are almost like a gift that comes when our capacity to be present is expansive and open. We are patient and available, without the stirring up of, or the agitation of reactivity. Without a lot of desires and aversion pushing us around. There is a settledness happening.
There is a distinction between emotions born of our reactivity, and emotions arising from a deeper upwelling. This upwelling is not a reaction, but is more like the innate capacity of our psychophysical system to express itself, manifesting something responsive and in harmony with our environment and with what is happening.
I do not know how well I have articulated this, but I think maybe well enough for this distinction to give you something to reflect on this weekend. Think a little bit about the source of the different emotions that come through over the next few days. Are the emotions more reactive emotions – even the joyful ones? Are they reacting to something that is happening in the world so that it is touching or hitting something inside that then just reacts? Or is there an upwelling? Is there a naturalness? Is it almost as if you are getting out of the way and something wells up – dharmic joy, dharmic happiness – which does not depend on the conditions of the world? Reactive emotions depend on the conditions of the world, the world being ourselves as well. Dharmic emotions are independent, non-dependent, in a certain kind of way.
One announcement that some of you might be interested in: In a couple of weeks, on July ninth, through Insight Retreat Center, we are going to have a daylong online retreat on Zoom. I will be teaching it. If some of you would like to continue this in a deeper way during a daylong, you can go to the insightretreatcenter.org website. At some point, there will probably be announcement about this on the IMC website under What's New.
Thank you all. I was thinking that we might continue next week with the theme of emotions, but maybe going through and choosing five different emotions to consider and reflect on how to practice with. Perhaps we will consider how what we have been talking about this week might apply to particular situations. Thank you.