How can we feel our emotions and disidentify with them at the same time? Sometimes, it is worded: how can I respond not react? In Tara Brach’s wording, “How can I feel my negative emotions without adding on ‘there is something wrong with me’ or with this situation.”
Part of practice is learning to have an open, spacious awareness at the same time as being very intimate with the sensations that are happening right now.
Open awareness and direct contact.
We learn to hold the intimacy of feeling the bodily sensations of our emotions in an open spacious field of awareness. Can we practice feeling our emotions in the body, and then, letting them flow by us without attaching to them or pushing them away?
Relax-open, receive, let go
Ken Mcloed writes in his book “Wake up to your life”: “Disidentification is the process through which a pattern becomes an object of attention.” We practice bringing a compassionate attention, a compassionate presence or a surrendering presence to what is happening in this exact moment. This is quite a different way of being than allowing the emotion to produce a big story that we feel compelled to react to. In the development of the commentary, often a critical commentary, we bring more energy to the idea that “there is something wrong with me” or “this should not be happening.” Devoid of radical acceptance, we can’t see things just as they are.
Another way of looking at disidentification is through the teachings of Vasubandhu’s Thirty verses on the Eight Consciousness. Thich Nhat Hanh has a commentary on this called “Transformation at the base”. I am working with these teaching very practically in relationship to disidentification. We must recognize that the seeds for all the emotions are impersonal and stored in the collective storehouse (alaya-vijnana) They arise when the conditions are ripe in all people at certain times according to the arising of these special conditions. They are not solely produced by “me” and cannot be judged “bad” or “good”. They are actually the fodder for our practice. Our afflictive emotions are the exact place of our practice.
Thich Nhat Hanh writes “Each of our afflictions, our unwholesome mental formations, contains Buddha nature and liberation. When we are able to touch our habit energies and transform their roots, we turn them into liberation.”
What this means is that our afflictive emotions are “workable” not “bad”. Indeed, they are the actual place transformation occurs. Our feelings are a necessary part of human life. We can teach ourselves to observe them, accept them, find tenderness right in the middle of the experience of them, and therefore, unbind them into simply this moment’s energy or truth. With this softening and tenderness, it appears possible to respond not react.
This is our invitation to release, to surrender, to allow and to establish a non-reactive awareness. We can cultivate our ability to relax our resistance to unpleasant sensations and meet them as they are. There can be a turning around or reversal of our usual responses to emotions. We can learn that everything we encounter can be opened into the truth of the moment and in some respects, be non-personal. Releasing our resistance over and over, this radical acceptance can open into transformation and allow for a wise response.