There is a wonderful spiritual practice that has helped save me from a downward spiral of negative feelings. It may seem counter-intuitive at first, but stick with me. It has immense potential to free you of any suffering at any given moment and it is fast. Soon, you will do it naturally and not even know that you are doing it. That is the added advantage of make this practice a habit. It becomes a part of you.
First, let me share with you what propensity is. You may already know the word and that it means, "a natural tendency". For example, sunflowers have a propensity for facing the sun. Or: Some cats (like the one in the photo) have a propensity for climbing on people's backs! So, propensity is simply the natural tendency of things.
Once we understand another facet of propensity, it can help us free up from negative emotions, both the big existential crises and the small everyday irritation and annoyances. When looking at the propensities we carry within us, everything that happens around us become signposts and reminders for what needs to be recognized, resolved, loved, released and embraced within us. Let us take an everyday situation that I had a propensity for getting annoyed with. In the morning, I prepare chai which is Indian tea that is slowing brewed on the stove. While I am waiting for the tea to boil, I get myself busy with doing the dishes, in efforts to make the "best" use of my time. And then, the chai boils and flows over the pot when I am not looking and of course, there is tea all over the place. When this happened in the past, I had the propensity to get really annoyed. And, I would get mad at myself for not paying attention and feel bad about the whole thing.
So, here I was with the propensity for getting annoyed at the situation and for getting angry with myself. The situation itself is neutral. Some very cool cucumber faced with a similar situation would just brush it off, clean up the cooking range and pour his tea and move along. Clearly, the situation itself is not causing the annoyance or the anger. What is? It is the propensity within myself, that is. The overflowing tea is only an external trigger that has brought my own annoyance and anger out of me. By understanding this very fact, we can bring compassion to ourselves and to others.
Let us say, your coworker did something again that is really irritating you. They used the last paper in the printer and did not refill it, for example. You are preparing for a presentation and go to print it. But there is no paper! You spend extra five minutes fetching the new stock of paper from the stationery room, unwrap it, refill the printer, go back to your desk and then print. This just took the precious time you needed for preparing your presentation. And, now you are irritated. Not a good mood to be in just before making your presentation. Your propensity, or the natural tendency within you to get irritated was just triggered. The trigger: no paper. Or, the trigger: the last person who used the printer.
Okay, so now you know that the coworker and the empty paper basket is only a trigger and is not causing your irritation, but it is coming from within you. So how does this make it any better? Well, first of all, you are no longer blaming the externals. You know that the cause of suffering, in this case the irritation you felt, is related to some unresolved, unloved part in you. By taking the focus off the outside world and shining the light of your attention within, you bring back power to yourself. Now, you can really do something to ease your pain. It may be a small irritation but unattended it can escalate, pile up or coalesce into major anger. At this small irritation stage, we need to be proactive in healing it, so it does not get big and dangerous and extremely painful. So, what to do?
Thank the situation, the co-worker and your inner propensities for showing you that you have irritation. Know that there is a gift in this situation, even if does not feel good right now. There is a gift. Some of the most amazing breakthroughs have come from someone going through a dark, challenging experience.
Second: Allow Yourself to Feel Exactly What You Are Feeling
We are often so concerned about staying in the positive, cheerful and upbeat, that when we do experiencing anything negative, we run from it. I know I have. Like many of us, I tend not to want to be angry, sad, irritated or impatient. And when I feel a little of it, I go for a walk or try to squish the feelings. The mantra, I now say to myself is: "Sophia, you are allowed to feel like that. It is okay to feel that way." It is amazing how as soon as I give myself the permission to feel whatever I am feeling, the suffocating hold of that emotion loosens up. Yes, you too are allowed to feel what you are feeling and you need to give yourself the permission, too. If you do, either or both of these two steps, you are already dissolving open, unresolved issues within you. And, if you are really wanting to go farther, you can take this third step. It is the taking in of other's suffering.
Third: Take On Other's Suffering
Pema Chodron, the American Buddhist teacher did a powerful talk on this third step, also called Tonglen. At first, it seems counter-intuitive but it feels right. She says that whatever we are feeling, we breathe it in and we also breathe in the feeling of everyone else who is feeling it too. So in our case, we breathe in the irritation that we are feeling and that of everyone else that is feeling that irritation. We take in everyone else's suffering, whether it is people, animals, birds, trees or our Earth. And we allow it to transform within us into love. There is also a very popular meditation in which we transfer all pain energetically into the ground to be transformed into love. This does two things, says Pema. First, it disconnects us from blaming the outside world and second, it opens us to the vastness of our being: "You use yourself and your own experience as the basis for opening your heart as big as the universe and for connecting with the vastness of your being, the vastness of your mind".
This is something that also gets deeper the more we do it.
Understanding my own propensity and recognizing that the external world is really a reflection of my inner world, I learn to embrace life with compassion and to be kind to myself and others. I hope this helps you to resolve the little angers and small irritations that you face from time to time, so that we can bring in more peace and joy into our days. Thank you for reading this extended piece today.
Sophia Ojha Ensslin is the founder of Reflection Pond, Center for Meditation and Healing dedicated to helping people connect with their inner-self to live a fulfilling, joyful life using introspective media including music, films and books, e-courses and training workshops.