If you talk to some people they will tell you to just let your destructive emotions out, other people will advise you to keep them locked inside. However, Gautama Buddha stated that emotions aren’t things to be dealt with, they are things to let go of. So how do we learn to let our destructive emotions go? We are all different and so what works for one, may not work for another, but for me, I learnt by doing a daily review session at the end of each day.
Before I go to sleep I sit quietly and review my day. I especially concentrate on things that haven’t work out as well as I would have expected. I start with the consequences of my action and work backwards. I look at how I acted, and what drove me to act in that way. I go all the way back to the thought, emotion or feeling that started the sequence of events off. Change is only possible once we have seen what the driving force for our action is. Let’s look at an example:
The other day I got into a very heated discussion with a friend of mine about politics. I have always had a sense of fair-play and dislike it when others seem to be holding a selfish view. This is what was going on here. We were discussing Obamacare and he thought it was wrong and should be scrapped. I, of course, felt it was a great thing and was going to help hundreds of people. The discussion went on for some time and we both got quite angry. It ended by him just walking away in a real rage.
So that evening I looked at the situation and traced it back to a feeling of ‘I am right and you are wrong.’ I was being stubborn and inflexible – neither of these are very endearing qualities. I saw that once he started to attack my views, or that is how it seemed to me, I started to get defensive. I felt the anger start to rise and saw the consequences of that anger. So I replayed the events in my head, but this time without the defensiveness and anger. The outcome was obviously more positive this time round.
Next time I am in a situation like this, I will be better prepared, because once I feel these destructive emotions start to rise, I will be able to let them go and fashion a better outcome. This takes time and a lot of effort, as we are lazy and keep going back to our comfort zone, even if it causes us to have destructive emotions – they seem familiar and safe. Training the mind is like potty training a baby, you have to keep going back and pointing out a better way to act, but once you have trained your mind it is well worth the effort.
It is very important to practice moment by moment awareness, so we do not miss our destructive emotions arising. When we are not aware the emotion will rise before we have chance to let it to. So awareness is an imperative part of the process of letting go.
This daily review has been one of the most useful tools I have learnt and I would encourage you to try it out. It has to be done on a daily basis and not just when things have gone wrong. It is important to look at what has gone right as well, so you can reinforce your positive thoughts, feelings and emotions.
I have to impress on you that this is not a ‘quick fix’ solution to letting go of our destructive emotions. It really does take time, a lot of patience and constant reaffirming, but the outcome is a mind that is less tense and at peace, so it has to be worth the effort.
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Thank you for this. At my sangha we often talk about “resistance” and opposing others negative actions on the vulnerable – Obamacare is a great example for many of us. To me, living Buddhism is not about capitulation or walking away. By recognising our emotions and the destructive influence they have, we can be more persuasive in a positive atmosphere. Your practice of daily review is useful as it can be difficult to recognise emotions in the heat of the moment – we all experience knowing what we wish we had said! Through review it is possible to learn to see them as they arise and respond more immediately.
I am happy you found the post of interest. You are right when you say it is hard to face our emotions in the heat of the moment. I hope you try the daily review and find it helpful. Yeshe