Mental and emotional stress

Since we’ve been talking about maintaining balance, here are some further thoughts:

There seem to be two ways humans suffer when we haven’t yet learned to live from open-hearted awareness. Being overly mental is one way: trying to avoid feelings by being “rational”, “objective”, and focused on worldly achievements. The suffering here arises from detachment, dissociation, and living trapped in our heads. Being overly emotional is the second way we suffer: by taking everything “personally” and by feeling overwhelmed, anxious, fearful, and/or depressed. This happens when we’re sensitive and vulnerable but lacking the support of awake awareness, as our ego-identified system is too small to handle full emotional life. (From p.192 in the book Shift Into Freedom by Loch Kelly)

Some of us tend towards the overly mental, with the mistaken notion that it can protect us from getting hurt, or simply because we don’t trust emotion, including our own. People who are overly emotional seem to get more than the usual amount of suffering. It might be useful to think of ourselves and the people we know and consider whether we/they lean heavily in one of these directions or the other. Remember we are all both rational and emotional, and here we’re talking about being overly mental or overly emotional as causes of suffering.

We find our way out of suffering by identifying the sources of our discomfort. This is not a theoretical exercise, but a way of looking into our direct experience, seeking to understand. Once we start to see what is causing us pain, then what? What do we do next? As with many mindfulness exercises, we keep looking! We study in detail where it hurts and what sequence of events seems to be propelling the pain, now, and now, and now. We investigate until the connection between cause and effect becomes so clear to us that we can no longer sustain the clinging (to whatever it is) that is causing the pain. This may take a lot of patience, but the reward is there for the persistent investigator.

When we look for the balance Loch Kelly is talking about, we have to look both within ourselves and at our circumstances. In our experience, the two are not separate. Situations call forth responses, and our responses affect our situation. Both can be modified, and altering one alters the other. This is how progress is made.

If you are interested in finding out more about awake awareness and open-hearted awareness, I recommend Loch Kelly’s book, Shift Into Freedom. The language is sometimes different from a traditional Theravadan approach, but there is nothing in Kelly’s integrated, accessible teaching that contradicts the Buddha’s teaching or my own experience.

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Filed under Causes and results, Mindfulness, Relationships, Sublime states

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