Walking the Path isn’t hard in and of itself. But it is hard for the sense of self, that illusory entity called ‘me’ who is so resistant to liberation. Again, this self is a collection of habits, it’s not a fault. You don’t have a ‘me’ because you wanted one. It just happened. You didn’t want to have an ego, a deluded ego which you may hate right now: ‘My personality – I’m terrible!’ We are very good at self-denigration; indeed, it may even have a comfortable feeling.
So how can we start befriending our emotional nature? Perhaps at first the head leads. We know what to do, we may have read all the teachings on emotions and we are filled with good intentions. Then as Dhamma practice becomes part of our life, we draw closer to our heart. This may be frightening because the heart has a soft, vulnerable, fluid quality, unlike the mental energy in our head, which can be hard and quite rigid. When we come into the heart area we begin to be in touch with a much more nebulous world as we move from the mental energy towards a more sensitive aspect of our mind and body.
We begin to feel and connect with our emotional experience directly, without confusion. We discover that in the realm of emotions things are much less defined. There are no clear partitions and boundaries. Emotions can be treacherous because they can spread and affect other beings. For a mind which is attached to logic and intellectual clarity, practice can be difficult, because seeing clearly has nothing to do with having an idea about things; it is the ability to see things as they are, here and now, with presence of mind.
As we become very present with our emotions, it’s amazing how this presence of mind can cool down our reactions in a very natural way. Just by staying fully present when emotions arise, we can witness how they change and fade away. Whereas if we are not aware of this straightaway, our emotions can turn into an enormous story involving ‘me’ and ‘him’, and ‘them’ and ‘us’, and ‘how dare you?’ Then emotions can become a mountain of problems.
But I’m sure none of us want to have a mountain of problems. We don’t ask for them, they just happen to us. This is anattā. There is no self in control, just the results of habits. When we say,’I wish I was not so angry. I wish I was not so jealous’, we still think we’re in control of our emotions, but actually we are not.
We are only in control when we start looking at them through the lens of mindfulness and clear understanding. In Dhamma practice, mindfulness and clear seeing are simply allowed to take charge. When we are able to look at ourselves in that calm, quiet light of mindfulness, without judgement, compassion naturally arises and we can accept ourselves just as we are. That moment is a complete acceptance of what is.