I received an e-mail on a person’s response to challenging emotional states. Here is the email and my reply.
I received this email – a reminder of the benefits of spiritual practice/mindfulness/meditation and the support it provides in emotionally challenging situations.
Here is the email along with a short response from myself. The writer gave me permission to post her email on the blog.
Last week, I experienced the most emotionally challenging situation in some years with intense feelings of sadness, despair, anger and overwhelm. In the midst of it, I also noticed change.
Would I have found myself in this situation some years ago, I would not have had faith in the fact that this too will change. The mental state of despair would have lasted for days if not weeks and would have resulted in nights without sleep and mental and physical exhaustion.
This is not my experience anymore.
Instead, whilst still experiencing quite intense suffering, there is something inside me that knows that this will not last. That just like everything, this feeling of despair will go away and be replaced by joy again. I now know what to do in a situation like this: Go out and walk. Look at nature and wildlife. Talk to friends. Concentrate on bodily sensations, even if it’s just possible for a few seconds to remain with these. Not beating myself up for how I feel and act. Not beating myself up for not sitting down to meditate. Not being ashamed.
In this difficult situation, I strangely experienced a feeling of happiness that I had not experienced before. I felt a gentle flame burning inside of me that didn’t want to be extinguished, not even in this situation of despair. A deep willingness to be alive in this world with all its suffering and beauty. For a short while, I was even thankful for this suffering, because it had shown me a resilience inside of me, I hadn’t felt in this way before.
This resilience has slowly developed over the last years and to know that it will grow even bigger in the years to come fills me with joy.
I am writing this text knowing that I might not feel this hopeful in an hours time, but what I do know is that there is something inside of me now that can never be taken away again.
There will be situations where I won’t be able to feel this way, but I do know that this doesn’t mean this light inside me is not here anymore – it is only invisible to me for a short while and will become visible again.
The change that has taken place inside me didn’t happen by accident. Some years ago, at the lowest point of my life, I was lucky (and persistent) enough to find a good therapist. I started practicing meditation and became interested in Buddhism. In the last year, my practice deepened through the help of very good teachers. I could not have done this by myself.
During these last years, I have learned some lessons. I forget them frequently, sometimes on a daily basis-hence I am writing them down for moments when I can’t see clearly.
- There is always light. If you can’t see it today, look for it again tomorrow. And the day after tomorrow.
2) Don’t hide your true feelings. Get help from outside if needed. Friends, a therapist, a teacher. Or a dog.
3) If you don’t feel like going for a walk, force yourself. If you can’t force yourself, don’t beat yourself up about it. In fact, don’t beat yourself up about anything. Just try again tomorrow.
4) If you’re caught between pride and love, choose love.
5) What other people think about you is none of your business.
6) Change inside can change every situation. Yet it sometimes needs outer change, in order to start inner change.
8) In the darkest of your nights, go outside and hug a tree. It might not help, but surely the tree won’t mind anyway.
9) Your childhood might determine how easily you can be happy. It does NOT determine WHETHER you can be happy.
10) Fear is not a good advisor.
11) If you feel a purely positive impulse inside of you arising, don’t hesitate and wait for your mind to supply you with reasons not to act.Follow it.
12) You don’t help other people by making their problems your own. You help by being there, listening and keeping your calm.
13) Everything changes.
Thank you for your very thoughtful reflection.
Your wise responses to the arising of emotions that can oppress consciousness develop a deepening of your trust in your capacity to accommodate these troubling moods – like dark and stormy clouds.