We digest everything we consume: food, drink, sensations, and experiences. Some of our thoughts and emotions are a symptom of this background processing, although more is done at night in dreams. However, it’s batch processing so we can only vaguely associate the activity with the prior experiences. You can see this clearly with dreaming.
If we’re under stress, energy is diverted from digestion and the higher forebrain to ready the body for fight, flight, or freeze. We also fall into resistance, grasping at what we want to keep and resisting what we don’t want. This resistance further impedes digestion. Combine the resistance with the backlog and you get still more inner noise.
Many people experience an ongoing background of anxiety, fear, anger, or similar. The emotion and stress is essentially constant. This can lead to various avoidance and addictive behaviours to distract us from the dis-ease.
Remember the two sides to what we experience – what arises in experience and how we respond. What happens is partly due to how we responded previously. (karma) And how we respond is partly driven by past experiences too.
If we want to change these dynamics, we don’t need more not’s or should’s. Healing doesn’t happen through more rules but rather through letting go.
Beware the controller, wanting to manage the process and control the outcome. And beware the controller wanting to control the controlling. (laughs) This is a process of feeling and allowing. Control is another form of resistance, the hallmark of the identified ego.
Letting go happens through relaxing what we’re resisting. Relaxing happens through consciousness. Why is that? Because pure consciousness is deep peace and alertness beyond the mind.
When something is mostly unconscious, we’re in habitual response mode and will fall back on old behaviors automatically. Some of those are fine, like drinking when we’re thirsty. It’s the reactive plays of resistance that are problematic. We’ll notice after the fact we’ve done it again and may just create a new layer of resistance, resisting the resistance. Or we may notice the resistance and put up a resistance to seeing the resistance. The big stuff gets multi-layered and is often compared to peeling an onion.
Of course, if it’s unconscious, a lot of this is not obvious at all. It’s only in retrospect that we see these dynamics and realize how caught we’ve been.
If we make a practice of something like effortless meditation, we become familiar with consciousness itself. When that becomes lively in our life, it is only a matter of bringing attention to something and we make it more conscious. Thus, when something arises in experience, we bring awareness to it rather than reactivity.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, at first we become aware after the fact. Oh, I did it again. Then we become aware during – while we’re reacting. Sometimes, this allows us to diffuse it. Finally, we become aware just as the reaction is rising up. This gives us conscious choice. And still more conscious, we gain the option to diffuse the response rather than acting it out.
Not only have we then not acted out, but we’ve diffused (digested) the reactivity so it won’t arise again. It won’t show up yet again as another experience. If it’s not fully diffused, it will have a lower charge next time and an easier eventual resolution.
This process has a huge effect on our quality of life. Over time, as events come up or memories trigger inner reactivity, the option comes up more and more to end that drama. The stories of suffering wind down and our life becomes smoother and happier. Maybe still eventful, but not as difficult.
But note this isn’t a thinking process. We don’t get there by figuring out a better story or understanding articles like this. Resistance is an energy process so we gain skills by becoming aware of our energy dynamics. How do we experience energy? Mainly as emotions and bodily sensations with some kinds of thoughts. Things that are blocked or incomplete have a sense of charge or reactivity and resistance has a sense of friction or contraction.
In many cases, we learned as children to repress energy (and emotions) like the adults around us. We didn’t take out the trash but collected it within, partially digested. The result is what Eckhart Tolle calls the pain body. Most people are walking bags of unresolved pain. No wonder we try to repress it.
The first step is noticing how you feel. This is why many teachers have you do body scans to check for sensations and make you aware of how this or that area is doing. Or they ask you to notice how you are in this moment. The emotional-energy body infuses the physical body.
Also notice what emotions are arising. How do I feel right now? Or less personally, what emotions are here? (identification with our emotions can cause more resistance to letting them go) If you get a blank, that’s fine. It means things are in shadow. This is common.
The mind doesn’t like to just have emotions in the experience for no reason, so it looks for reasons for what you’re feeling and tells a story, often one of blame. I feel sad because X did that. But the story justifies the feeling rather than resolving it. I found it easier to just recognize that a lot of the inner babble and sensations are a symptom of processing going on – a kind of taking out the trash. That’s story enough and I can let it be as it is then.
Also, beware the mind thinking what we’re supposed to be feeling. As mentioned, this isn’t a thinking process. Difficult challenges can bring with them “supposed to” stories about emotions and behavior. X died so we’re supposed to feel Y. Or the mind judges right and wrong or emotions as good or bad. That just gets us back in the mind, away from what we feel. This can be a deep habit too.
Remember these are your emotions, your responses. It’s not about what someone did but how you’ve responded. And that’s OK. Blame is mind. It’s natural to be angry if someone is a jerk. But it’s unhealthy to hold on to that anger. That will do you more harm than the jerk ever did.
Of course, if we have very difficult events in our history, some professional support may be needed.
When you master the art of just feeling emotions, you’ll notice them coming up and then passing. The big ones may wash over you. Most times, they’ll be gone in a few moments. Fully experienced, they’re done. As the backlog is cleared, you’ll come to find quiet peace, happiness, or similar there most of the time. If we’re in a more challenging period, there may be more ongoing emotions. But if we stay out of the way and give ourselves time to process they won’t overshadow for long.
Once we’re in the flow of it, we can allow big ones to come to the surface to be processed, like unresolved grief. Grief arises because of loss due to change. Death, job loss, illness, even a friend moving away. I found unresolved grief in all important relationships that had ended. But this didn’t become conscious until I was ready to resolve it.
But please – this is not something we do all the time or obsess over. It’s about changing how we are with life as it comes up and becoming more conscious. Most of our day will be on work and others.
As we clear the deck, we gain the opportunity to favour more uplifting emotions. This becomes especially important after we wake up. The power of attention has become much greater. We want to steer our attention to the positive. What we put our attention on grows stronger.
As we deepen into this, we open to deeper feelings and intuition from beyond the mind. Then the heart can open in ways beyond expectation. And we can step back into the flows of nature itself. When enough people make these shifts, the world will change.