Thursday, February 16, 2012

Feelings are Fine

Michael Hall PhD

Brooklyn, New York
Sunday February 19, 2012

Binghamton, NY
Sunday March 4, 2012

Feelings are Fine

For those on a serious spiritual path, there is often confusion about the best way to handle the arising of emotional states. Potentially disruptive emotional reactions are common experiences for those who are seriously pursuing a spiritual path. This fact seems reasonable when we remember that the path of awakening involves becoming fully aware of automatic, conditioned reactions. A primary purpose of conditioning is to allow us to be emotionally and physically numb to our self, and thereby more comfortable with inauthentic behaviors in ourselves and others. As our ability to see and know what is real progressively expands, this protective numbing wears away, leaving us less buffered, more open, less defended. The more we are able to recognize and embrace what is real, the more intimate we become with all that is. This increased openness to all experience, which could also be called ‘presence’, is wonderful and is an aspect of what we are seeking.
 However, as conditioned reactions and their attendant numbing diminish, emotional and physical ‘side effects’ may well emerge as an inevitable part of this process. What is the most effective way to ‘manage’ such reactions? Spiritual practices may be helpful in containing such reactions, yet may also become powerful defenses in themselves. At times spiritual practices and even glimpses of awakening may even be used to avoid emotional pain and suffering. “Spiritual bypassing” is a term that has been used to describe “the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs.” (see below for a fuller description).
Anger, resentment, jealousy, contempt, desire, aversion, and so forth are normal aspects of the human experience, yet these and other negative feelings are sometimes hard to reconcile with Buddhist, Christian and Advaita teachings on compassion and forgiveness. We are encouraged to not judge others; yet brief experiences with self observation of ongoing mental content reveal an unending stream of judgments of self and others. In this workshop we will focus on the importance of becoming aware of and radically accepting all of our experience, exactly as it is, without judgment, suppression, denial or avoidance. Negative thoughts and feelings arise spontaneously. These experiences are a normal part of the functioning of the conditioned mind. As such they are not particularly important. We tend to give far too much importance to all of our thoughts, beliefs, and feelings. Learning to observe these inner experiences with tolerance, acceptance, mild curiosity, and lack of judgment is a necessary first step to releasing their grip on us.
Once these experiences are brought into full awareness, much of the energy that fuels them is dissipated naturally, without any extra effort on our part. ‘Seeing things directly, as they are’ is often all that is needed. This practice of recognizing and embracing our experience fully, exactly as it is, will be our primary focus. Often this willingness to see and accept what is real is all that is required to dissipate obstructions. Particularly sticky, deeply ingrained patterns of belief and conditioned reactions may require some kind of more direct and formal intervention. We will also discuss options available to help loosen ingrained blind spots and obstructions.

The following is excerpted from Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality
Disconnects Us from What Really Matters, by Robert Augustus Masters,
available from North Atlantic Books (2010).
Avoidance in Holy Drag: An Introduction to Spiritual Bypassing  
Spiritual bypassing, a term first coined by psychologist John Welwood in
1984, is the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our
painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs. It is much more
common than we might think and, in fact, is so pervasive as to go largely
unnoticed, except in its more obvious extremes.

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