Last week, I promised to share with you a meditation technique to help you go to the source of your emotions so you understand them better. The more you understand something, the better you can cope with it. At face value, it appears logical that we like or dislike others based on how they treat us. The reality, however, is a bit more complicated. Our feelings towards the other person are not entirely based on how they treat us, but how we think they treat us. Most of the time we have already formed an opinion about someone long before they have even done anything for or to us.
We, then, selectively pick instances that support our impression about the other person. Whenever their actions reaffirm our view of them, it gives us joy, else, it gives grief. There is a constant battle between how we want them to be versus how they really are. The wider the gap between our perception and their truth, the greater the pain. To resolve the inner conflict, we continue to focus on incidents that validate our opinion about them.
But, because our view is not real, we constantly get tossed between happiness and suffering, between joys and sorrows. And why is our view not real, you may ask? Well, because it’s mostly based on our perception of the other person than on any tangible reality. Allow me to elucidate the actual meditation to simplify it for you. As follows:
Imagine you are in a room with three other people — your best friend, your worst enemy and a stranger (just recall the face of any stranger you might have seen in the last 24 hours for this meditation). Take a good look at your friend, at your enemy and then at the stranger. Thinking about your best friend will evoke positive emotions in you whereas meditating on your enemy will bring negative emotions to the brim. Recalling the stranger should induce neither positive nor negative emotions in you. Reflect on them repeatedly and do so for about ten minutes.
Now, concentrate on your friend and examine the feelings it arouses in you. Ask yourself why do I feel this way about this person? Your mind will come back with a number of answers to justify your feelings. You may recall moments when she helped you out, motivated you, supported you and so forth. Also think of those moments when you had an argument with your friend, or when they opposed you or weren’t there for you.
Repeat the exercise with your enemy or the person you dislike. Ask yourself what do I dislike about this person? Once again, you may recall both pleasant and unpleasant incidents. For example, the person you dislike today might have been your partner until a few years ago. So, you are likely to have both sweet and sour memories. Think of the stranger now and ask yourself, why am I feeling neutral about this person?
If you do this meditation sincerely for just fifteen minutes, you will realize two important truths:
You automatically gain control over your emotions if you are aware of them. In this meditation, as you consciously kindle negative and positive emotions by thinking about your friend and enemy, you will experience that your emotions are not able to overpower you. It’s almost as if they are not real.
People are not absolutely good or bad. There must have been times when your friend didn’t exactly act like one or when your enemy was kind to you. So, why does your mind lean towards one aspect more than the other? You will discover that your view of the other person is more based on what you are willing to recall about them than what they actually did. One of the reasons you feel neutral about the stranger is because you don’t have any good or bad memory of them. They didn’t help or hurt you.
The source of emotions is our perception (and interpretation) of reality and not the reality itself. If you choose to question the validity of your emotions with awareness, as in this meditation, a blanket of peace will cover you. You will come to understand that we cannot label people as precisely as we often do, and, further, our categorization is not completely fair or objective either. With this understanding, you experience a deep sense of equanimity. And, a sense of equanimity is the first definitive step towards inner peace. This is another name for enlightenment, if you ask me.
In Anthony De Mello’s One Minute Wisdom, a disciple asked the master what is enlightenment. The master replied:
To be public-spirited and belong to no party,
to move without being bound to any given course,
to take things as they come.
have no remorse for the past.
no anxiety for the future.
to move when pushed,
to come when dragged.
to be like a mighty gale.
like a feather in the wind,
like weeds floating on a river.
like a mill-stone meekly grinding,
to love all creation equally
as heaven and earth are equal to all
—such is the product of Enlightenment.
To be in touch with yourself is to be in communion with the Divine. Positive and negative emotions then are simply the dewdrops that vanish upon the emergence of the sun of mindfulness.