I am often asked if it’s possible to remain even under all circumstances and if so, what is the path? Many have tried meditation, yoga, therapies, counseling, and everything else under the sun without great results though. Why? Allow me to get you to the root of this issue.

Our emotions and responses have a sense of spontaneity to them. You may plan an artificial reaction to something you are already aware of, something that has no uncertainty, but each emerging moment holds in itself a surprise, a miracle. Emotions and feelings are our response to that surprise. You cannot plan your emotions, you cannot tell yourself to feel a certain way when you come across a piece of good or bad news. Where do those spontaneous feelings and emotions stem from, what causes a reaction?

Our feelings and emotions, particularly negative ones, stem from provocation. The trigger of provocation may be external or internal, but ultimately, if nothing or no one can provoke you, you will never find yourself saying or doing the undesirable. Someone’s statement, their actions, or simply a thought in your own mind can be the provoking agent.

In a monastery was a master fond of a certain sweetened herbal drink. It was a concoction of many herbs, mixed with honey. It took him hours to prepare the concentrate. He was protective about it and would keep it in his room, under his watch. One day the master had to go for a sermon in the nearby village. He would be gone the whole day and he well knew that his younger disciples might give in to the temptation.

“This is a bottle of deadly poison,” he said to the young disciple in charge of cleaning his room. “Don’t touch it and don’t let anybody else in my room.”

The young monk knew better. He resisted the whole day but in the end, the temptation won. With the intention of simply tasting a drop, he opened the bottle. A wild and exotic aroma roused his olfactory senses. Before he knew, he had already finished half the bottle. Greatly worried, he needed a way out of the situation. He drank some more, splattered some on his robe, spilled a few drops on the floor, and shattered the bottle on the ground. Presently, he just sat there waiting for his master to arrive. Many long moments of worry and anxiety passed.

“What happened?” the master said as soon as he came back and saw the disciple.
“I’m your culprit, Master,” he replied. “I was cleaning your room and this bottle of deadly poison slipped from my hand. Before I could do anything, it broke. I was devastated that I goofed up. Thinking I deserved to die, I drank whatever I could. I even sprinkled it on me hoping the wild smell may kill me. Many hours have passed but I’m still not dead.”

At the bottom of provocation sits temptation. It’s like the urge to itch, it can be irresistible. And what is temptation?  It’s a thought that has got us by surprise. Subsequent thoughts, contemplation, and actions are only the post-effects, the aftermath.

It is important to know that you have practically no control over your feelings, you cannot choose to feel good or bad. You can, however, train yourself to not let a bad feeling stay beyond a few moments. You can get to the root of those feelings — your mind —  and divert them completely. Whenever you feel your emotions, your habits taking over you, ask yourself: Am I being provoked? And then answer yourself: I am aware that I’m being provoked. This leads to self-dialog. It raises your level of consciousness.

Provocation is like using a short stick to tease a venomous snake. By the time you realize, the snake with sharper reflexes has already struck. You are mindful, careful, but sometimes you are caught off-guard and before you know it, the spontaneity has done the damage, you are stirred and you find yourself trounced by the negative emotion.

You are provoked when you cannot stand the other person. You may be equally incited when you cannot stand yourself either. It is not always under the burden of being negative or bad, sometimes, you may be trying to be too good, too sweet, too accommodating. When you completely ignore your own needs, you feel down, you feel provoked in the most subtle manner. Such provocation can prompt you to act out of the same frustration as in anger. You may also want to read about how to overcome distractions?

Know yourself so you may free yourself. It takes a lot to be provoked if you are comfortable with yourself.

Peace.
Swami