I had an interesting emotional breakthrough with the help of the teachings of Tara Brach recently. It happened when I was about to visit someone. They were a good friend that I missed dearly, but over the recent months our friendship had been changing. We had many great memories, yet somehow when I thought of them I felt all at once nostalgic but also a bit melancholy and irked. Have you ever felt that with a longtime friend?
Before going to visit them I recognized that it was very important for me to address what I was feeling it in my own heart before I was with them. I had been reading Tara Brach’s book Radical Acceptance and I decided to invoke one of her exercises for dealing with annoyance and irritation:
When we first find ourselves in our irritated state, Tara says, we need to stop and be aware of our bodies (always #1 in an emotionally aroused state). Next, once we understand where our emotion is in our bodies and what exactly it feels like, we need to pinpoint exactly what it is that we are upset about with this person. With that in mind, she suggests we ask ourselves a simple question about the aggravating person or situation. Ask yourself: what is it that this person is doing that I don’t have permission to do myself?
My understanding is that this can refer to what you have been conditioned out of doing, you have been discouraged from doing, something you are afraid of doing, or something you have never even considered. Are you denied this permission by others or by yourself? Does a tiny part of you wish that you could allow yourself to be at least a little more like this person, in just this sense?
With these teachings in mind I sat down and I asked myself for more honesty. I asked why I had such a tight feeling in my chest. I felt the heat behind my ears and I found the hot pangs that streaked down across my diaphragm. I asked what am I upset about.
In doing so I sat with some very difficult emotions. Ones I wouldn’t want to admit I actually felt. But by allowing myself to really express the exact irritation and precise reason for it, I felt a great shift in my relationship to it and to the person. As much as I didn’t like it, I had to accept that those feelings were there. Once they were accepted, I could see the real reason they were there at all.
I realized that I am upset not because she did anything wrong, but because she does exactly that which I do not give myself permission to do in some areas of life that are very meaningful to me. I see her blossoming naturally and organically in ways that I hold myself back from. I saw that the person deserved absolutely none of the irritation I was harbouring, and the electric pangs of irritation changed to a dull, heavy feeling in my body.
As humans we are uncomfortable when we see successes of others that appear to be denied to us. With this discomfort we can go in one of two directions- one is to be angry and feel resentful, and the other is to learn why this is the case and first accept the feelings and make changes.
I was very grateful for having gone through this exercise as I felt I could now rejoice in this person’s good fortune without it meaning anything about me. There is work for me to do yet, but it doesn’t have to concern my relationship with them, and it certainly didn’t have to encroach on my visit. The next day I arrived and we greeted each other with no shadow of the irritation I felt the months before. Tara Brach’s exercise was illuminating and freeing. Her book is an incantation of the loving work she does and I am thankful for it in my life.
Tara Brach is a psychologist and founder of the Insight Meditation community in Washington, DC. She is widely influential in the buddhist Vipassana community and is the author of several well-known books. To read more about her and her teachings, visit http://www.Tarabrach.com
Lachlan is a student of natural medicine at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and a prospective student of contemplative psychotherapy at the Institute for Traditional Medicine in Toronto. She combines her learning from both alternative medicine and buddhist-influenced psychotherapy to develop a new way to address mental health concerns in a truly holistic way- with mind, body and spirit. Her professional interest blossomed out of her own struggles with depression and anxiety, helped greatly by her practices in meditation and ecstatic dance. Lachlan is a spirit, a writer and a traveler who loves the smell of Nag Champa.
For more info on Naturopathic Medicine and Contemplative Psychotherapy, see
Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine http://www.ccnm.edu/
Institute for Traditional Medicine http://itmworld.org/?page_id=275