Month: July 2016

23 – The Illusion of Free Will


We want to win and we don’t want to lose. The problem is that there is no winning without losing. There is no good without bad, no right without wrong. This is the basic understanding of non-duality. We are free to be what we are free to be but that also means we are not free to be what we are not free to be. In this episode, I will discuss the illusion of free will and how the greatest sense of freedom you will ever discover is the freedom to become what you already are. You!

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Transcript of the podcast episode:

Hello. You are listening to the Secular Buddhism Podcast and this is episode number 23. I am your host Noah Rasheta and today I’m talking about non-duality and the illusion of freewill. Welcome back to the Secular Buddhism Podcast. A weekly podcast that focuses on Buddhist concepts, topics and teachings presented for secular-minded people.

The Dalai Lama has said, “Do not try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. Use it to be a better whatever you already are.” Please keep that in mind as you listen to this episode. If you enjoy the podcast, please share it with others. Write a review or give it a rating in iTunes. If you’re in a position to be able to help or contribute, I would encourage you to make a one time or a monthly donation to the podcast by visiting secularbuddhism.com.

Now, let’s jump into this week’s topic. This week, I wanted to talk a little bit about the topic of non-duality. I’ve addressed this in the past, but I wanted to get a little bit more clear about some of the implications of the understanding of non-duality when applied to normal day-to-day living.

We live in a society and in a time in which we have been so conditioned to see the world in the lens of duality. Duality is this versus that, right versus wrong, winning versus losing, good versus bad. These are all examples of of dualistic understanding. Our society is very dualistic in its way of looking at and interpreting the world. This is very evident even now.

In an election year, you can look at the way that the supporter of one candidate looks at the supporters of the other candidate and you’ll see dualistic thinking is very much us versus them. If I support so-and-so, I hate the opposition. Whoever is the opposite choice. Then maybe you hate both, but I want to talk about non-duality.

The understanding of non-duality is that rather than seeing the world through this lens of this and that, right and wrong, black and white, good or bad, we start to see that all of this is blended. There are shades, but there’s no inherent source of good or bad, or right or wrong, or even the concept of evil in the sense that there is an inherent source of it. It’s always based on perspective and based on space and time.

We say in terms of space, all things are interdependent in terms of time. All things are impermanent, so this understanding of interdependence and impermanence has a profound impact on how we understand the world as not being dual. It’s non-dualistic. That’s what I want to address.

One of the typical questions I get about this understanding of non-duality is what do you mean that all things are one, because the opposite of non-duality is oneness. This understanding of oneness. Buddhism I think does a really good job of promoting the understanding or the concept of oneness applied to day-to-day living.

Let’s look at a couple of things just to get an idea of this. We’ve been conditioned to think, for example, we chase after the idea of winning. Winning is something we want and losing is something we don’t want. We avoid losing and we want to be winning.

This can apply to games or to really anything. We have this conceptual understanding of what it means to be winning in life and it’s completely illusory. It’s just a conceptual understanding of life that somebody created and then we get trapped in it.

The problem isn’t necessarily that we want to win. The problem is that we want to win and never lose. We create the dichotomy between good and bad. Winning is good, losing is bad so we want more of one and less of the other and yet there cannot be winning without losing. By its very nature, winning has the opposition of winning is losing and you can’t have one without the other.

Because you can’t have one without the other, you can never just win and guarantee that you’ll never lose. If you’re going to play the game of wanting to win, you have to also play the game of understanding that at some point you’re going to lose, because, by the very nature of winning, there is losing. If you get rid of losing, then there’s no longer winning. That’s the dualistic understanding there. Where that gets problematic is wanting one and not wanting the other.

I think one of the most relevant examples of this dualistic way of living is found in the idea of wanting to live and not wanting to die. You can’t live without dying. Death and life are one and the same. They’re part of the same. Very much like winning and losing are part of the same. The dualistic tendency of how we view life is that we want life and we don’t want death.

As long as I don’t want death and I only want life, I can never actually have life because there cannot be life without death. That’s the nature of the cycle of life is the cycle of life and death. In Buddhism, it’s commonly referred to as birth and rebirth. I’m not talking about reincarnation. I’m not talking about the idea that you’re this and then you die and now you’re that. I’m talking about the idea that the nature of reality is that there is life and death and you don’t have one without the other.

If you understand the nature of change, you understand that the nature of destruction and creation is that they are one and the same. There cannot be creation of something new without the destruction of what once was. On a big scale, we see this. We see this with political entities, political kingdoms, countries. Things that exist and then they collapse and then new things form of them.

What we’re seeing is the nature of constant change or continual change. This is why you can take a look at history and what you’ll find is that there’s never ever been one single thing that becomes permanent and never changes. It’s just a matter of time whether that be the Roman Empire collapsing or the British Empire. Britain is still around but the British Empire as it was no longer is. That’s the very nature of change.

We can assume that the way things are now with time will change because that’s the only constant is that all things are continually changing. We become attached to the way things are and then that’s where problems arise. We don’t want things to ever change and yet the only thing that we can ever depend on is that things will change. The nature of change is the nature of reality.

I’ve talked about this previously with podcasts on the topic of impermanence. The nature of impermanence is that all things are changing. Because all things are changing, nothing is constant and that is the very underlying understanding of non-duality is that I can’t have this or that because the moment I have this, it’s become that. Things are continually changing. There is no permanent fixed thing.

Let’s look at this just applied to the concept of time. We say in terms of time that all things are impermanent and what that means is that things are constantly changing, so we only exist in the present moment. This is really powerful to think about because it will only ever be now. It will never be anything other than now, because the moment that we’re waiting for then to arrive, then arrives but it’s now. It becomes now. It’s always now.

We have the tendency to want to arrive at a future moment but the future moment never arrives. It will always just be the present moment. It’s in this present moment that we have anxiety of what’s to come or hope for what’s to come. Yet, once it arrives, it’s just manifested in the present moment. It’s only ever now.

If you think about the past, we have regrets about the past or we can have fond memories of the past or memories that we don’t like about the past, but we tend to be in the present thinking about the part or thinking about the future and it becomes very difficult to simply be with the present moment. To be aware of the present moment and yet the present moment is all we ever have.

The present moment consists of everything that has ever taken place in the past. Every thought, every word, every action that has ever taken place in the past has resulted in the present moment being exactly what it is. In this sense, the present is linked to the past and they are one and the same way that I am one with my parents for example. I exist in the present moment because of actions that were taken in the past by my parents. That’s what brings me into existence. Their actions created me.

here I am and I exist suddenly and I’m one with them in the sense that I do not exist if it were not for them. What’s interesting here is it doesn’t matter if you like your parents, if you don’t like your parents. None of that matters, but you do not exist without your parents. This is the understanding of interdependence. I simply do not exist without the causes and conditions that allow me to exist. That applies to me, but it also applies to the present moment.

The present moment can only be what it is in the present moment because of everything that has taken place in the past. It culminates into this singular moment that is called the present. It’s constantly changing. The moment I say this is the present moment and now I say this is the present moment, well, this one is different from that one because that was five seconds ago. It’s just constantly changing.

The moment you think you grasp it, it’s gone because it’s gone. Now it’s a new present moment. It’s this continual process of becoming. Therefore, it’s always now. That’s in terms of space or in terms of time. It’s always now. In terms of space, we say it’s always here. It’s always here. It’s always here and it’s always now because I can look at something there and say, “I want to go stand there.” The moment I stand there, there is no longer there. There is here. Wherever I am it’s always here and whenever I am it’s always now.

There’s this non-duality in the understanding of it’s always here and it’s always now. They can never be then and it can never be there because the moment I’m there, there is here. The moment it’s then, then is now. This is non-duality. At this point maybe you’re thinking, “Okay, this is getting a little crazy.” What does all this mean? What are the implications of this understanding of non-duality?

I think the main one is the understanding that free will, the way we think of free will I think is illusory. I want to elaborate on that a bit, because you’re probably thinking, “Well, of course I’m free. I have free will or free agency. I’m free to do whatever I want.” That may be true, but it’s not entirely true. I think it’s more appropriate to say you’re free to do anything that you’re free to do.

On the flip side of that, you’re not free to do anything that you’re not free to do. You might be thinking, “Well, what does that mean?” Think of it this way. All of the instances of the past, the causes and conditions that allowed the present moment to be what it is, what I’m ultimately free to be is to be in this present moment just the way that I am.

However, I’m not free to be anything that is not what it currently is. For example, I’m free to be me because my parents created me but I’m not free to be you, because my parents created me and I’m not you. There’s this sense of freedom to be what I am but I can’t just decide. I’m not free to be a bird. I’m not free to be anything other than what I am.

There’s a saying I really like that says, “The only limitation of the rose is that the rose is not a daisy, but the rose doesn’t care so it’s not a problem.” IF you think about what this simple phrase is actually teaching is that the Rose is completely free to be itself. It’s not free to be anything other than what it is. The rose can’t just decide I’m a daisy, but like I said, the rose doesn’t care so it’s not a problem.

For us, it’s the same. I am completely free to be what I am, to be who I am when I am and where I am, but I’m not free to be anything outside of that, because I can only be who I am. Where this I think gets really powerful is in the world of non-duality, we’re caught up in this thinking of, “Here’s who I am. Here’s who I should be or here’s how I ought to be.”

That’s dualistic thinking because who I am and who I think I should be are two different things. I’m completely free to be who I am and the only time that becomes a problem is if I think that there’s a way that I should be and now I’m living in the world of duality because there’s who I am and there’s who I think I should be. All of my problems reside because of this limited perspective I have that I cannot see who I am because I can only see who I think I should be, but I’m not that. I’m only who I am.

You may be thinking, “Well, wait a second. If I’m only free to be the things that I’m free to be and I’m not free to be the things that I’m not free to be, it doesn’t sound like I’m very free.” Yet it’s beautiful because you’re free to be the very thing that you are. You’re free to be you and what more could you be? What more would you want to be than what you are?

In this concept that’s talked about in Buddhism is becoming who you are. This process of discovery and discovering who you are. The big breakthrough in this discovery is that you discover you that are who you are and you couldn’t possibly be anything other than who you are. That’s the most beautiful thing. Very much like the rose discovering that the rose is free to be the rose because the rose is what it is. It doesn’t have to worry about trying to be the daisy. It doesn’t have to worry about trying to be any other flower. It’s the rose.

For us, it’s the same. We become free to be who we are. You have all the freedom in the world to be you because you is who you are and it’s always here and it’s always now and you’re always you. What more could we possibly want? I think it’s so empowering to make this discovery and to realize that you’re free to be you.

If you think about this, you are the most unique thing that there’s ever been. There’s never been another you and there will never be another you experiencing the present moment the way you’re experiencing it now, because you are the only you that’s here and now. You are the only you that can be you and you exist in the here that can only be here and in the now that can only be now and that makes you absolutely incredibly unique.

This reminds me of Alan Watts when he says, “When a man no longer confuses himself with the definition of himself that others have given him, he is at once universal and unique.” When you make this discovery that you can only be the you that you are and you are not bound by the definition of you that others have given you, you are at once universal and unique.

I don’t know if any of you have experienced this, but when you’re growing up … Let’s say it’s common for kids as they start interacting with other children and start getting the feel for who they are and how they are. Let’s say you’re out playing with your friend and you come home and you say something to your mom an expression that you picked up from your friend and your mom says, “Oh, that’s not you. That’s how so-and-so speaks, but that’s not how you speak.”

We create this idea of who you are by telling you, “Well, that’s not who you are.” At a very young age I think we get tricked into this thinking that, “Wait a second, if that’s not who I am, then who am I? Well, I am who everyone says that I am and what says that I am the way that I am?” Our families and our society and our religious backgrounds, all these things dictate this image in our head of who we think we are and how we think we should be.

Most often, that’s not who we are. We are who we are and then we’re caught up trying to be who we think we should be. That’s really the danger of dualistic thinking or existing in a dualistic world. WE experience a lot of suffering when we aren’t allowing ourselves to be who we are.

For most of us, the problem here is that we don’t even know who we are. We don’t even know what we are because we’ve only been conditioned to be how everyone else thinks that we should be whether that be society or your religion or your family. It doesn’t matter, but you’ve been conditioned to think that there’s a way that you’re supposed to be and that’s what you model your whole life aspiring to be what you think you should be. In the meantime, you’re blinded to who you actually are.

A lot of the Eastern traditions like Buddhism and like Hinduism, what they’re trying to do is get you to realize who you actually are. They do that by mostly getting you to understand that you are not who you think that you should be. They don’t tell you who you are because that’s what the world has been doing all along telling you, “This is who you are. This is what you should do. This is what you should think. This is what you should say. This is what you should not say.” On and on. In the middle of all that, we lose the essence of who we really are.

In these Eastern traditions like Buddhism, the answer to who we are is a non-dualistic approach to life is that you are who you are and there’s a sense of oneness with discovering that I just am what I am. I am who I am and that I exist. It’s always here and it’s always now and you’re it. All that you are is what you are.

There’s an expression. I’ve shared this before that I am the sum total of all the things that make me me. That’s who I am and I cannot be anything other than that. The sum total of all the things that make me me are many things. The thinking of my society, the thinking of the time in which we live, my family. From DNA to ideologies to you name, I’m all of the things that make me me and yet I’m none of those things alone. I can’t be any of those things alone. I’m the sum total of all of the things that make me me.

This is where the understanding of free will I think gets a little bit twisted. Again, like I mentioned before, I’m free to be everything that I’m free to be and I’m not free to be any other things that I’m not free to be. A really good example of this is just in the fact of how we communicate.

We learn to communicate at a very young age and we acquire language and words and then certain combinations of words give across certain things. If I’m thirsty I can tell you that I’m thirsty but I can’t say pizza, doll, mountain, tree and expected that you’re going to give me a glass of water. I’m not free to just express whatever I want. I’m free to operate within the realm of the unspoken rules that society has placed on me.

At least in terms of language, I’m free to communicate according to the rules that I cannot break. You’d think if you’re free to do or say anything at any time, I think that’s slightly an illusion, because I’m free to say whatever I want to say, but if I want you to understand what I’m saying, I’m not free to say it however I want to say it. It has to fall within the realm of the rules that are generally understood by all of us who communicate in the same way.

For any English speaker, I’m bound to those rules. It doesn’t matter what language it is. It can be a different language. It can even be cross languages from one language to another or sign language or doing gestures. We can communicate using signs and gestures to each other and yet those also fall under the same rules. If I want you to go grab that for me, I can point at it. I’m free to point at it to have you get me, but I’m not free to point at the sky and expect that you’ll understand that means go get that cup of water.

I hope that that makes sense because this can be a little crazy when you really start thinking about it, but that’s the sense of freedom that I’m talking about. I’m free to be everything that I’m free to be and that does imply that there are things I’m not free to be.

I think communication is a really good example of that and so as thought. I can think the way that I think because I’ve been taught how to think the way that I think, but I can’t just think in a way that I haven’t been taught to think because I don’t know how to think that way. I’m not even programmed. Thinking about programming, it’s like taking a computer and programming it to be a PC. It’s not free to just act as a Mac because it’s not programmed to be a Mac.

A Mac is free to be a Mac and a PC is free to be a PC and I know that you can run one software on the other. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the programming that goes into software whether it’s an operating system or even just software. Photoshop is completely free to be Photoshop and it’s free to operate all of the features and functions that Photoshop is capable of doing. The sense of free will for Photoshop is that Photoshop is free to edit an image. It’s free to erase the background or add a background. It’s free to do all those things.

What it’s not free to do is to be QuickBooks. Photoshop is not QuickBooks, so it’s not free to be QuickBooks and we’re the same way. We are human and we’re free to be everything that we’re free to be but we’re not free to be all of the things that we can’t be because we’re not those things. Does that make sense?

In that same way, I like to internalize that and imagine that I’m free to be everything that I’m free to be in the present moment because it’s always here and because it’s always now. I feel this sense of interdependence with the past like I mentioned before because everything that happened in the past is contained in this present moment. At the same time, it’s in the present moment that every possible scenario or future outcome of what the future will be is found contained right here in the present moment.

The here and now is every infinite combination of what the future will be and all of that is determined by the things that I think and say and do right here right now in the present moment. There’s a sense of power and responsibility with understanding this, but it comes first from accepting that it’s always here and it’s always now. If something is going to change in the future, it’s not going to change in the future, it’s going to change in the present.

It’s the steps and the actions that we take in the present that shape the future so the present and the future are also one. Then in the same way that the past and the present are also one. If the past and the present and the future are all one, what do we end up with? Well, that’s the understanding of non-duality. It’s not that there’s here and there and there’s now and then. All there is is now and all there is is here. It’s always here and it’s always now. This brings an incredible sense of power and responsibility to how I exist in the present moment.

I’ve mentioned this quote before about Pablo Picasso. The way the story goes is that this quote says, “My mother once told me if you decide to be a soldier, you will become a general. If you decide to become a monk, you will become the Pope. I chose to become a painter and I became Picasso.” This is a quote by Pablo Picasso.

What I love about this quote if you look deeply into the significance or the meaning of what he’s saying is that of all the things he could be, he chose to be him. He discovered who he was. He did what he felt was his choice to be was to be a painter and in that process became who he was, Picasso. Of course he was Picasso. How could he be anything other than Picasso? Picasso is who he was.

That understanding applied to us is that in our journey, in our search, in our attempts to get there which we’ll never get there because it’s always here or in our attempts to reach then, whatever future moment then is, we’ll never get there because it’s always now. There’s a process of discovery that takes place in which we realize that we discover ourselves.

We discover that we are, I am who I am. The same way that Picasso became Picasso, I can become Noah because that’s who I am. That’s the only person I can be and I have a huge sense of freedom in what that means because I can be so many different things, but they only happen here and they only happen now.

I like to think of actors when I think of this. You see, what’s cool with an actor is a really good actor takes on a role and they’re so convincing in portraying that role that we believe that that’s what they are or who they are. It’s not that they’re tricking us, it’s that they literally become that. That is who they are.

If it’s in a movie when you’re watching it for however long they’re playing that role, they’re not pretending to be that, they are that. They are the role that they take on. Then when a new role comes along, they take that role on. They’re really good at taking on different roles.

The only difference between actors and the rest of us is that the rest of us don’t realize that we’re also actors. We actually believe that what we are is fixed and permanent. They’re a step ahead of us because they figured out there is no permanent them. They can be the them who they are when they’re under this role and then they become the person that they are whether under this role, because they’re all just roles. There is no permanent version of you.

For us, the mistake we make is we go through life thinking that we’re this fixed permanent version of ourselves that can’t change. Yet, nothing can be further from the truth because the only thing we can rely on is that there is change. If you look at your own life and compare who you are now to who you were five years ago versus who you were 10 years ago versus who you were 20 years ago and on, on and on, what you’ll find is that you’re not the same you that you were when you were young. The toddler version of you is not the same you that is the adult version of you because you change. That’s the nature of change.

Yet, we have this tendency to look back at the old version of me and to be angry at something that I did in the past and yet that’s not me. That was the old me that did that. I think back to certain things I did in high school for example and things that maybe now I would definitely never do. Cheating on a test, for example, was something I had no problem doing in high school and I can’t look back at that and think, “I can’t believe I did that,” because I’m projecting that from the perspective of who I am now.

That would be accurate to say who I am now would never do that back then because I view the world differently, but that’s different than to be angry at myself for what I did in the past, because that’s not me. I should be mad at an entirely different person, because I was an entirely different person back then.

In the world of duality, we forget that. In the world of duality, there’s a way that things are and there’s a way that things were and there’s a way that things will be and these are all separate things. Then there’s who I am now and who I was then and we keep …

The misunderstanding with all of this is that we view this in the sense of permanence. There’s who I am and that never changes and then I apply this to all these scenarios that do change and now I’m living in a dualistic world where there’s me as I am now doing what me back then did. It’s just not the same. If you understand the nature of impermanence and interdependence, what you understand is this constant process of becoming. There’s this fluid movement of change and evolution.

The evolving nature of life is that it’s always here and it’s always now. If I understand, I can detach … I don’t have a strong sense of attachment to the past or to the future or clinging. I guess clinging is a better word there thinking this is the outcome I have to arrive at and if I don’t, I failed. We do this all the time. We’re always chasing after whatever it is. Whether it be money or fame or power or just this is the future that I want.

Then I’m trapped by that mental image, that mental construct of how I think it should be in the future. If I don’t get it, if that never arrives, I think I failed. If it has arrived, I don’t even realize it because the nature of change is that I’ve already got a new future that I’m going after. You never actually get there.

The dualistic thinking has you trapped. The moment you can let go of that dualistic thinking, you can feel a sense of letting go. There’s a sense of becoming much more soft with the way we view ourselves in the present, in relationship to the past and in relationship to the future because we understand it’s a fluid thing. It’s not just this linear thing that has milestones. If I get this, good. If I don’t get that, bad. Good, bad, right, wrong, that’s all dualistic thinking.

How do we apply this just our day-to-day living? Because that’s something I want to start addressing in these podcasts is we can get into these concepts and they might make sense, they might not make sense but still what does that mean for day-to-day living?

Non-dualistic thinking, what that really means is that in the present moment, I’m always free to be here and now. I’m free to exist in the present moment with whatever set of circumstances that I have. It’s like playing a game of cards. When you’re playing a game of cards in terms of free will, you’re free to play whatever hand you’ve got, but you’re not free to play the hand that you don’t have.

In that present moment, I’m free to be exactly where I am doing anything that I can within the limitations of what I have in the present moment. As I do that, it’s shaping what the future will look like. This isn’t so that I can manipulate the future in the sense that here’s how the future should be, so I’m going to get to that, but I try to work the very best that I can with the cards that I have.

In making this in a way that is more applicable to day-to-day living is there can be a little bit of letting go or a sense of detachment from the outcomes that we expect. What that means is I can be okay with how life is because I understand that how life is is different than how I think life should be. That’s dualistic. There’s how life is and there’s how I think life should be.

I don’t want to get caught in the scenario of how I think it should be because they can only ever be what it is because it’s always here and because it’s always now. Then we work with the present moment in the best way that we can enjoying at the best way that we can because we cannot have anything other than here and now.

Dualistic thinking would be … We’ve all pictured this. The idea of a donkey that has a stick tied to its neck with a carrot dangling at the end. There goes the donkey chasing the carrot and it goes on and on and on and we know that it can never catch the carrot. It can’t. It’s impossible. It can chase it all it wants but it will never actually catch the carrot.

Yet, that’s exactly how we go through life constantly chasing after something. Sure, go ahead, you can chase after whatever you want and chase and chase and chase as long as you recognize you’re never going to get it, then you’re going to experience a lot of suffering because you’re chasing something that cannot be caught and you’re thinking, “Why am I not catching it? What must be wrong with me?”

When you understand that there is nothing to catch, you can stop chasing and then you can just enjoy what is. Maybe you stop chasing the carrot and look down and realize you’ve been running in a field of grass. “Well, I’ll eat some of this grass.” That’s the sense of detachment and this comes from the understanding of non-duality.

What I would invite you to do this week is to try to look at what carrots do I have dangling in front of me that I’m always chasing. What is the carrot that I spend time chasing. For some, this is, I’ve mentioned, it could be happiness. It could be the chasing after fame or money or power. Those, I think, most of us recognize, “Oh, I shouldn’t chase after.” Even though we probably all tend to chase after those to some degree or another.

Happiness is a big one. I mentioned this in a previous podcast that the trap of happiness is that we chase after it as if it’s this thing that you can catch. Once you have it, you think, “Good, I got it,” and It will never go away. The reality is that you can’t catch it. It’s just there and then it’s not there in the same way that hunger is there and then hunger is not there.

When the causes and conditions are right to be hungry, you’ll be hungry. When those causes and conditions are satisfied, hunger is gone and then it comes back and it’s the cycle. It goes on and on and on. Happiness is the same way. You don’t catch it and then never let go because you think you’ve got it and then it’s gone and then it’s there again and then it’s gone again.

Same with all of the emotions. Happiness, sadness, anger, all of these emotions, they arise, they linger and then they go away because they’re impermanent. Look at your own life and think what are the carrots that are dangling there that I’m chasing after and what would life look like if I stop chasing after the carrot.

I’m not saying, “Okay, never have goals anymore. Don’t aspire to anything.” That’s not what I’m saying. I think it’s healthy to have goals and to have hopes and dreams and aspirations. As an entrepreneur, that’s a vital part of how I function and perpetuate the growth of my business. We have to have goals but the difference is I don’t rely on any of these things thinking once I get them, that’s it. I finally did it. I’ve achieved the goal because there is no goal. It’s constantly changing. The moment I reach one milestone, I just recognize, “Okay that means now I’ve got another one.” That process goes on and on.

It’s different to chase the carrot thinking you’re going to actually catch it versus recognizing, “Oh, I can follow the carrot as long as I know I’ll never actually get it,” because there’s always another carrot. Think about that in your day-to-day living this week. That’s the challenge that I’m going to give you. I’m doing this myself is what carrots am I chasing after. What carrots are you chasing after in a dualistic way.

If I view the world from this understanding of non-duality that it’s always here and it’s always now, what could I see now that I couldn’t see before because I was busy looking off at the carrot instead of looking down and realizing it’s here and it’s now, this is it. This is all it will ever be is here and now. What will that do to my day-to-day living and to the experience I have with how I interact with life the way it’s unfolding right here and right now?

That’s my invitation to you. If you guys have any questions or want further clarification on the concept of non-duality or this understanding of free will, please reach out to me. I try to respond to all emails. We have a Facebook discussion group. If you search for Secular Buddhism, you’ll find there’s a Facebook group called Secular Buddhism.

There’s also the Facebook page called Secular Buddhism and that’s just a general page where I post stuff, but the group is meant to be more interactive, so find that and joint that if that’s something that you’re interested in. Then of course by way of news or announcements, remember next year in January, I am hosting a mindfulness humanitarian retreat to Uganda. This is something I’m doing with a separate group but I’ve been invited to go and teach a mindfulness component to this trip. That’s going to be January 26 through February 4th. If you’ve ever been interested in going to Africa to do humanitarian work, I highly suggest you check this out. It’s going to be a cool trip. Go to mindfulhumanitarian.org.

Then if you’re interested in doing any mindfulness retreats, I’m doing some mindfulness workshops. An upcoming one is Salt Lake City on August 20th. September 3rd, we’ll be doing one in the Seattle area. September 18th is a Sunday. There will be a workshop in London and the UK. If any of those are close to you, feel free to visit secularbuddhism.com and then you can look under workshops and see the event pages for these and sign up to join us.

As always, thank you very much for listening. I truly believe that if we want to contribute to making the world or society a better place, it starts by making ourselves better people. That’s honestly why I do this podcast. I don’t feel that there’s something that needs to be taught that I am a teacher or a guru who is trying to impose wisdom on you as the listener. I really don’t feel that.

I feel like the topics that I discuss are things that I enjoy from my own studying of Buddhism. I like to present them in the same way that a bird would just start to sing because it’s what a bird does. A bird doesn’t sing with the goal of getting you to listen to it. It just sings because that’s what it enjoys doing. I like sharing what I’m sharing on the topic of mindfulness and Buddhism because it’s what I enjoy.

I hope that it’s something that if you enjoy listening to that it’s beneficial to you, but it’s not shared with the goal of getting you to convert to something or to convert away from something. If anything, it’s just with the goal of maybe the topics or the things that are shared here could help you have a more peaceful life like it’s done for me. That’s really the only goal. I feel like more mindful individuals will make more mindful families and more mindful society, so that’s really my only goal with this. I have no ulterior motive with what I’m doing with sharing this information in this podcast.

I mentioned before if you’re in a position to be able to donate to the podcast, your generous donations are going to allow me to continue producing weekly content for this podcast as well as the content I’m trying to produce for workshops, retreats, and seminars. Along with eventually an online program that will teach mindfulness for anyone interested.

If you’re in a position to be able to help, please visit secularbuddhism.com and consider making a one-time donation or sign up as a monthly supporter of the podcast. Thanks again for all of your continued support and for taking the time to listen to this. I really enjoyed doing this podcasts and I hope you enjoy the content that I’m sharing and listening to this. Thanks again and until next time.

22 – Dealing with Difficult Emotions

In life, difficulties arise. This is a universal aspect of the human experience. Knowing this, how do we deal with difficult emotions? We don’t like feeling angry, sad, or afraid, but these are normal and natural emotions just like happiness or joy. Emotions, like everything else, are impermanent and interdependent. In this episode, I will discuss the topic of dealing with difficult emotions.

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Transcript of the podcast episode:

Hello. You are listening to the Secular Buddhism podcast. And this is episode number 22. I am your host, Noah Rasheta. And today I’m talking about understanding difficult emotions.

Welcome back to the Secular Buddhism podcast. A weekly podcast that focuses on Buddhist concepts, topics and teachings. Presented for a secular minded audience. The Dalai Lama has said, “Do not try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. Use it to be a better whatever you already are.” Please keep that in mind as you listen to this episode.

If you enjoy this podcast, please share it with others, write a review, or give it a rating in iTunes. And if you’re in a position to be able to help. I would encourage you to make a one time donation or become a monthly contributor to the podcast, by visiting SecularBuddhism.com.

Now let’s jump into this week’s topic. A few weeks ago, I was attending a workshop in Phoenix, Arizona. And I was one of the presenters. And we were discussing several different topics. Including the topic of going through transitions or changes in life. And one of the individuals, a gentleman who was there in the audience, throughout the presentation, was visibly aggravated. Or angry by the circumstances he was going through in his life. And he was attending this workshop looking for some solace. Or some peace with reconciling with the changes and the transition he was going through in his life.

But what I found interesting, is that at one point in the conversation, towards the end, he brought up the idea that he was angry. And he said something to the effect of, “Look, I know that the point is that I need to get over being angry. And that I need to be more mindful and have more peace in my life.” That’s kind of what secular Buddhism promotes. Is this idea of living a more peaceful or compassionate life. And he said, “But I’m just angry. And I’m upset. And I want to be angry. And I don’t want to not be angry right now.”

And I thought it was an interesting segway in the discussion. Because one of the things that I had been talking about in my presentation was the nature of learning to accept things. And I felt like he was misunderstanding the whole premise of what Buddhism teaches. Which isn’t that you need to be peaceful and avoid being angry. It’s that you need to be with what is. And it was a neat opportunity to kind of pause. And say, “Well wait a second. We’re not talking about getting rid of your anger.” I said, “The problem isn’t that you’re angry. The problem is that you think you’re not supposed to be angry. So you’re angry about being angry.”

And it was interesting to see, just giving the freedom to allow this person to be exactly as he was. If you’re experiencing anger, just experience anger. Be with the anger. We’re not trying to eliminate it. We’re trying to be with it. And after explaining this concept, I noticed in him, almost instant reduction in the anger. Just because now, he was free to be angry. That alone was enough to start to minimize the anger he was experiencing. And this is kind of what I wanted to talk about in this podcast episode.

Is how do we deal with difficult emotions? ‘Cause we all go through difficult emotions. And we add to the complexity of the emotion when we try to get rid of the emotion. And this is applicable with any emotion. The standard emotions we go through are emotions like: anger, disgust, happiness, sadness. These are all emotions. And there’s a wonderful film that came out last year called, ‘Inside Out’. It’s an animated cartoon. But it does a wonderful job of presenting how emotions are working in the mind.

And the emotions that we go through are all natural. Happiness is a natural emotion when the causes and conditions are right, happiness is there. Happiness or joy, it’s there. And when the conditions are right for anger to appear, anger is there. They’re just natural emotions. And one of the mistakes that we make, I think, is that we have the tendency to think there are certain emotions we need to avoid or eliminate. And there are certain emotions that are more enjoyable, like happiness or joy. That we want to experience more of, so we become trapped.

This is called, “the happiness trap”. And we become trapped by the idea that there are certain things that we can do that will guarantee that we’re always happy. And there are certain things that we can avoid. That will guarantee we’ll never have to experience anger or sadness. And it’s just not true. The reality is, these are emotions that we experience. They’re completely natural. And they appear and then they disappear like all impermanent things. It’s a natural state of being. And when the causes and conditions are right, they appear. And when the causes and conditions are not right, they are not there.

And we’re always experiencing one or another of these emotions or multiples of these emotions. So think about times that you have experienced happiness. If you were able to pause, you would be able to look at what are the causes or conditions that are allowing this happiness to exist. And it can be several factors. These are really complex emotions. It’s hard to just pin it on one thing. Although we can make the mistake of pinning it on one thing, thinking, “That is the reason I’m happy.”

And you’ll notice this just in the overall happiness trap. We’re always chasing after things like: money or power or fame. Things that we think are the source of happiness. When in reality, they’re not. But it’s the same with difficult emotions, like anger. Think about the last time that you were angry. Were you able to pause and really pinpoint exactly what it was that was causing your anger? Because I think we make the mistake of, usually, pinning it on one thing.

You know, Viktor Frankl talks about stimulus and reaction. And when there’s the stimulus, that leads to the reaction. Well, when we think about it this way, I think we make the mistake of thinking … Stimulus, for example, somebody cuts me off on the road. Reaction, now I’m angry. And it seems that simple. Somebody cut me off and now I’m angry. But the reality is, it’s never that simple. If you could pause in that very moment of being cut off, and really look at it. What is it that you’re really mad at?

And if you were to dig deep there, you’ll find, for most of us, it gets really complex, really quick. And it has to do with, “Ultimately I’m mad ’cause I feel like someone’s taking advantage of me.” Or somebody is overstepping their bounds and imposing what they want on everyone else. Or it could be that you just think this person is a jerk. And jerks shouldn’t be able to get away with doing stuff. You know, it becomes, the anger is attached to something, generally, one step removed from whatever the actual action was.

The action was just that you got cut off. And because there’s a story attached to it, then the emotion can arise. And there can be anger. You know, it would be funny if you’re cut off by a person in a car. That causes you to experience something very different than if a tree were to fall in the road. And you had to swerve to not hit it. It could be the exact same time delay. Or the exact amount of swerving on both of those instances.

And yet one of them, doesn’t leave you angry. And the other scenario does. Because there’s so much more attached to the scenario of the person driving. Than there is just the tree falling. But if you think about just the reality of what happened. The reality is really no different. And I think that’s kind of interesting. Just to be able to observe that. And to notice that.

So where I’m trying to go with this topic, in dealing with difficult emotions, this is a topic that I was interested in this week. Because I’m experiencing and going through my own difficult emotions this week. On Thursday of this week, I went camping with my family. And where we live, if you just go up into the mountains, about thirty minutes, you’re quite removed from civilization. And there’s no cell phone service or signal. And it becomes very remote very quickly up there.

So we were up there on Thursday. We decided to drive up and go camping. We packed all the things up into my truck. And loaded the three kids and my wife and I. And we headed up the mountain. And we found a nice little camping spot, that was next to the river. And I really enjoy the sound of the river. I’ve always, since I started studying Buddhism, I’ve really come to appreciate rivers. And the sound of the river. And how the river is symbolic to life. It’s just constantly flowing.

And so I’m sitting at the river. And just starting to contemplate the sound of the river. And thinking, “Is there a river? There is no river. There’s just the continual flowing of water.” And I’m starting to think really deep and just enjoying the moment. And meanwhile, my kids are running around and playing and laughing. And just enjoying the whole moment up there.

And I thought, “How interesting to be up here, completely disconnected from my normal world. My hyper-connected world, to the internet and Facebook and so many things. And I thought, “It’s interesting that whatever is happening in the world, I’m completely oblivious to it. I’m only here, enjoying this specific moment. Enjoying the sound of the river. Enjoying the sound of my kids laughing and playing.”

And I held that thought in my mind, that whatever is happening out there, I just don’t know. And it’s not that I don’t care. I just don’t know. I have no way of knowing. And that was Thursday night. So Friday morning I wake up. And I had to go down and pick up my camera. ‘Cause I was filming a project up in the mountains. That’s why we went camping in the first place. And I went down to get my camera. And as soon as I was back down in the valley, and I had cellphone service, my phone was able to connect. And all of the sudden I get the news flash of what had happened Thursday night. With the police shootings in Dallas.

And it was incredible to come back from a disconnected world. The very next morning, into a world where suddenly I was flooded with emotion again. And dealing with difficult emotions. Because I was upset. I’m from Dallas. I have a twin brother who’s a police officer. And it hits close to home when you hear a story like that. So I was sad, mostly. Thinking, “That’s so unfortunate, the things that are happening in the world.” And how only if a matter of hours prior to all this, I was completely oblivious. I had no idea what was going on.

And then I started to think, “What about all the things that I’m still oblivious too?” There may have been other instances similar to this. Where there were injustices or murders or any form of injustice taking place in the world. And I’m oblivious to them. You know, whatever’s happening in a certain town in India. Or what happened on the road in this town in China. And whatever it is that happened there, I’m oblivious to it. And I have no idea what’s happening. So I don’t feel any difficult emotions around it. Yet the things that I am aware of, I feel emotions.

And to add to the complexity in my story, I had checked my email Friday morning. And I had a pretty large and significant business deal in the works, to sell off my company. And I had the email that the whole deal has just collapsed and fallen through. And after months and months of negotiations, my partners, who were going to buy my part of the company, have backed out of the whole deal.

And beyond that, their not interested in continuing with the original financing agreement for the structure of the company. And it’s just, one email, within moments, puts me in a very critical financial position with the survival of my own company. And it was very stressful to suddenly be experiencing the difficult emotions of wondering whether or not my company is going to survive.

And in the middle of all this, I had picked up the camera. And back up at the campsite. And as soon as I got out of my truck, and I have all these thoughts about all the things that I had just found out that morning. And then there’s the sound of the river. And it’s just there flowing. And once again, I’m disconnected from everything. But this time I know what’s happened. And I’m dealing with the difficult emotions.

And from my studies and my understanding of the nature of how emotions are impermanent, it was fascinating to up there. And to think, I’m observing myself going through the emotion of feeling stressed. Or feeling anxiety. Now, suddenly I’m thinking, “I don’t know if my company is going to survive. I don’t know if I’m going to have a job in the next few weeks. I don’t know …” All these unknowns. And all this uncertainty coupled with this horrible news of the tragedy, that was already building on the back of the news of the prior tragedies the week before.

And suddenly you’re just immersed in emotion. And I was thinking, “What is the training of how we deal with difficult emotions?” Well the first, is understanding that ‘I am not my emotions’. And this is the concept that I like to describe as ‘the thinking mind versus the observing mind’. Because it’s one thing to think, “I am angry.” And another thing to observe, “I am experiencing anger.” And in the acceptance and commitment therapy this concept is called diffusion.

So the idea is this. And I’ve told this story before. But there’s this story of a man who’s standing in a field. And he sees another man on a horse, galloping at full speed toward him. And as he gets closer, he yells out. And says, “Hey, where are you going?” And the guy on the horse just says, “I don’t know. Ask the horse,” as the horse sprints by and keeps on going. And I love this visual. Because I can imagine what that would be like. To be on the horse and have no control of what the horse is doing. You’re just, it’s running and you’re on it. And you don’t know where it’s going.

And yet, this is exactly how many of us spend significant portions of our life, on the emotional horse. The horse of emotions, that just takes us. And no matter how analytical or capable we think we are. When we’re on that horse. And that horse is galloping. There’s not much we can do. And that’s the difference of being.

The thinking mind is one with the horse and it’s just going. And then the observing mind can recognize, “Oh, I’m separate from this horse. This horse, I mean, I’m on the horse. So I can’t separate from it. But we’re not the same thing. The emotions or the horse, is not the same thing as me, the rider.”And you create this gap. So ‘the thinking mind versus the observing mind’.

My twin bother, who I was talking about earlier, one day mentioned, we had been talking about this idea. And he mentioned how he was in traffic and somebody cut him off. And he noticed he was experiencing anger. And for that moment, he paused and he said, “When I was able to think about the observing part of me, observing the fact that I’m angry. I had to ask, is the part of me that can observe that I’m angry, is that part of me also angry?” And he said, “It wasn’t. Because that part of me is neutral.” That’s like the rider on the horse looking at the horse saying, “Wow, this horse is going crazy.” And then suddenly realizing, “Oh, and I’m not the horse. That’s the horse that’s angry.”

That’s the difference between the thinking mind and the observing mind. And the problem with emotions like anger isn’t the emotion. It’s never the emotion. Because, like I’ve mentioned before, the emotion is completely natural. So being angry isn’t the problem. I like a quote from Captain Jack Sparrow. He says, “The problem isn’t the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem.” And this is exactly what I’m referring to, in how we deal with our difficult emotions.

The problem isn’t the emotion. The problem is how we deal with the emotion. So imagine this concept of diffusion from acceptance and commitment therapy. Is really what we call non-attachment in Buddhism. And the idea is this. When you take two things and fuse them together. Imagine something that’s been fused together. Usually through a tremendous amount of heat or something can take two objects and fuse it. And once those objects are fused, they seem like they’re one. And that’s what happens with ourselves. The sense of self that I have in relation to the things that make me who I am, including my emotions. I fuse with my emotions and then I think I am my emotion.

And what’s interesting with this, in English, for example, we say, “I am angry.” And that’s no different than saying, “I am Noah.” You know, my name. Or, “I am …” whatever I am. In the language itself, it’s already fused. In other languages, like Spanish, you can’t say, “I am angry.” Because that wouldn’t make sense. You know, we have, in Spanish, we have two verbs. The verb ‘to be’ and the verb that is ‘how I am’. So ‘ser’ and ‘estar’ are two different verbs. And when you’re talking about something like your emotions, you use the verb that describes the state in which you are. Not who you are or what you are.

So in English, it doesn’t make sense. Because we only have one way to say that. And that’s, “I am angry.” But if you were speaking in Spanish, and I don’t know if this is applicable in other languages. But in at least Spanish and perhaps the other romantic languages, you would have to say, I guess the close translation would be something like, “Anger is how I am.” Or “Anger is what I’m experiencing.”

And that’s the idea of diffusion. It’s understanding, “There’s anger. And that’s what I’m experiencing. But it’s not me. I’m not angry. Because it’s not something I can be. But it is something I can experience.” And just understanding that difference in the language, may be enough. So that when I’m experiencing the emotion, I can pause. And understand, I am experiencing an emotion. Instead of getting fused with the emotion and saying, “I am this emotion.” You know, happiness is what I am. Rather than it is what I am experiencing.

Because understanding that it’s not what you are, is non-attachment. You’re not attaching to the emotion you’re experiencing. You’re understanding that it’s just a separate thing. And furthermore, if you understand interdependence, then you really understand, “I’m experiencing this. And there are reasons why. There are causes and conditions. And as long as those causes and conditions remain, I will experience this emotion. But the moment those causes and conditions change, then I no longer experience that emotion.”

And that allows you to diffuse from the emotion. Because now you’re not so attached to it. Because you understand that the emotion is not you. You never were the emotion. The emotion was never you. It’s something that you experience. Very much in the same way as saying, “I’m hungry.” You know, you experience hunger ’cause the causes and conditions arise that allow you to experience hunger. And as soon as you satisfy the causes and conditions change, you’re no longer experiencing hunger.

And emotions are no different. They’re impermanent. And they’re interdependent. They’re interdependent with the causes and conditions that allow those emotions to exist. So when we’re dealing with difficult emotions, it’s important to understand, anger for example. You’re not trying to get rid of anger. We can’t get rid of anger. And that’s okay. In fact, I think it’s really powerful to understand, you can’t get rid of your emotions. Your emotions are impermanent.

And the point isn’t to get rid of them. It’s to observe them. And maybe pause and say, “Hm, why am I experiencing this emotion?” Because if you can pinpoint the causes and conditions of the emotion, then you can work around solving the causes and conditions. Or changing them so that you no longer experience it.

But I think our tendency is to get stuck on that first level. Where there’s the whatever happens. And there’s the emotion that corresponds to it. And I get stuck at that level. And now I’m just angry. And then I’m angry ’cause I don’t want to be angry. So I’m angry that I’m angry. And it becomes this vicious cycle. And we become fused with the emotion. We become one with the emotion.

And this idea of non-attachment, is that we’re not attaching ourselves to our emotions. We’re understanding that this is, we’re observing the emotion and thinking, “Huh, okay, I’m experiencing anger. Why am I experiencing anger?” And then you can just be with it. Think about that for a minute.

And just ask yourself, “What would it be like, if I could just be with my emotions? And when I am experiencing an emotion, especially a difficult emotion, what if I could just accept it and be with it? And say okay, I’m experiencing anger or I’m experiencing sadness.” And then be with it.

Instead of thinking, “Uh oh, I’m experiencing sadness. I need to get rid of this. I need to be happy again.” That’s not the point. Because that’s a way of fusing with it. Thinking that there’s how you are and then there’s how you’re supposed to be. That’s dualistic thinking. Because there is no, how you’re supposed to be. There’s just how you are. So when you experience how you are, during a difficult emotion, you can just be with it. And say, “This is what I’m experiencing right now.” And be with it.

And what’s really crazy, is you can have compassion for the emotions that you’re experiencing, as you’re experiencing them. When I was at the campsite and I was starting to feel anxious. I was starting to get caught up in the difficult emotion of anger and sadness. At what I was perceiving as the impending doom of my company. And I was able to pause and suddenly there was room for compassion in that experience. Thinking, “Wow, I’m observing that I’m starting to get really stressed. And I have compassion for the emotion that I’m feeling. I have compassion that I’m feeling so stressed and anxious now.”

And because I allowed there to be room there, I was able to diffuse quickly from the emotion. Never with the intent of, “I don’t want to feel this. I need to get rid of it.” That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is, I allowed it to be what it was. And in that space of mindfulness, it took me back to a memory of my own parents.

And when we moved to Mexico, when I was a teenager, my dad was going through a very difficult financial crisis with his company. And that’s part of the reason why we ended up moving out of the country. And suddenly I was able to relate to what he must have been experiencing during those stressful periods of his life. That up until this moment, quite honestly, I’d never thought about.

I never thought about, “What kind of stress was dad going through when we moved? Why did we move?” And suddenly I was able to think for a minute, “I’m feeling, and to some degree what my dad was probably feeling during a stressful period of his life.” And it made me feel more closely bonded to him. Just through a moment of mindfulness.

And I felt just gratitude and appreciation for growing up and never knowing really, exactly what he was going through. Because it wasn’t communicated to me. That stress wasn’t necessarily carried on to us. And it did manifest in certain things at times. That looking back I can say, “Oh, okay, no wonder he lost his temper that day when this or that happened.” I can look back and see all that now. But I was oblivious to it at the time.

But this moment of mindfulness up at the campsite with dealing with my own difficult emotions and stress, was a very powerful experience. There’s a form of meditation that you can do in dealing with difficult emotions. And I want to talk about that a little bit.

So the meditation practice is a way to have a little bit of insight into your emotion and to your difficult emotion. Whether it be anger or sadness or any difficult emotion you’re experiencing. The first thing you can do is, try to bring your mind to understanding the specific event as it’s unfolding. So look at what it is that you find that’s irritating you. Or what is it that’s unpleasant about the experience that you’re having.

In my case, I was thinking about the email I got. And how it was making me feel now, to understand that there was a very real possibility that my company might not survive this. And as you think about it, just think about how you feel about the emotion that you’re experiencing. Typically this would be things like: this isn’t fair, why am I experiencing this? Or something along those lines. And then be with it.

And instead of getting caught up in the story that we create in our minds, about what’s going to happen now. Just hold the image in your mind that conveys the nature of what you’re experiencing. So if it’s anger, just picture anger. Picture an angry troll or something that you would say this is the picture of anger. Try to picture that in your mind. Or of sadness. And just hold it there for a moment in your mind.

And try to notice how you’re feeling while you’re thinking about that emotion. So notice, are your arms tense? Are your legs tense? My jaw usually gets tensed up and my cheeks start to hurt. Pay attention to your various muscles. And try to stay completely relaxed while you think about the difficult emotion. And once you become aware of how you’re feeling, physically, while you’re being with this. Then try to feel what’s going on in your mind, in terms of the thoughts that are coming and entering your mind.

And as thoughts enter your mind, create space for them. Don’t try to resist anything. Don’t try to fight anything. Allow whatever you’re experiencing or feeling to just be there. To be what it is. Remember, resisting only aggravates the problem. Because if I’m angry and I don’t want to be angry, now I’ve added to the complexity of anger. Because now I’m angry about being angry. So if you’re angry, just be angry. If you’re sad, just be sad. Just be with it. And allow any thoughts associated to that, to just linger in your mind. Without trying to resist them.

Just try to switch from the thinking mind to the observing mind. So imagine, you’re the horse on the, you’re the rider on the horse that’s running at a full gallop. Because you’re experiencing the emotion. And now take a minute and try to switch. To where you’re not the horse, you’re the rider. You’re just the rider, observing that you’re on the horse. That’s kind of the mental exercise you’re going to do. As you just sit there with the difficult emotions that you’re experiencing.

And then anytime your mind starts to jump into the story behind the emotion. You know, “This happened because so and so is a whatever.” As soon as you start going there, with whatever the story is, pause for a minute. And just think back to “How am I feeling in my body at this very moment?”

And try to re-scan and analyze how from top to bottom or bottom to top. How are your legs? Are they relaxed? How are my arms? Am I feeling tension in my chest? Does it seem like my heartbeat is elevated? Pay attention to the sensations that you’re experiencing, physically. While you’re allowing the thoughts to just race. Because thoughts come and go. They’re not there, then they’re there. They linger and then they’re gone. They’re completely impermanent. Very much like the clouds in the sky.

So allow the thoughts to just come and go. Don’t resist them. And pay close attention to how you’re feeling in your body. And you can talk to yourself in this process. And say, “Okay, it’s okay to experience what I am experiencing. It’s okay to feel what I’m feeling.” You can think, “Well I’m really angry. And this is stupid that I’m even doing this meditation thing.” And it’s okay.

It’s okay to think, “This is dumb. And I should be doing something else.” Just be with it. Just be with it and experience. Let it be what it is. Connect with your anger the way you would talk to a little kid whose angry. And just say, “Be with your anger. Allow it to be what it is.” And that calming awareness of how you’re feeling will allow the emotion to start to dissipate.

Because emotions, as I’ve mentioned before, are impermanent. They don’t last forever. The only way they’ll last forever is if you let them linger and you try to get rid of them. Then you can hang on to them for quite a bit longer. But allow it to be what it is. Just observe it. And try, really try to get into that observing state of mind. Where you can just see it for what it is. And allow it to be what it is.

And remember that ultimately there is no goal with this meditation. The meditation technique isn’t, “Okay, I’m going to do that meditation technique so I can quit being angry.” No, that’s not going to work. In fact, that’s going to make it worse. So start it with saying, “I’m going to just be with my emotion. There’s no goal here. I’m not trying to get rid of it. I’m not trying to tame it.” You’re not trying anything. “I’m just trying to observe my emotions.”

So do that in your meditation. Just be with your difficult emotions and see what happens if you’re just with them. And you’re not trying to do anything. So that’s a good meditation technique that you can try.

Something else I like to think about as a form of meditation, when I’m experiencing difficult emotions, is the first noble truth. The understanding that in life, there is suffering. The universality of suffering is very powerful. Not because I can compare my suffering to someone else’s and say, “Oh, well you’re way worse than me.” It’s not that.

It’s being able to understand that I’m not alone in my suffering. Others are experiencing suffering or have experienced or will experience suffering. And just knowing that it’s universal. Can do a lot for how attached I feel to my own difficult emotions when they arise.

For example, this week when I was experiencing my difficult emotions. And trying to decide what to do. It was helpful to pause and say, “Okay, this is universal. Everyone has experienced something difficult. What are some other difficulties that others experience?” And while I was sitting there thinking, I was thinking about a close friend of mine who lost her husband to cancer. And another friend of mine who lost his wife to cancer. And I was thinking about my business partner who recently lost his son in an automobile accident.

And as I started to think about the other difficulties that other people encounter. What I found in my own difficulty, it doesn’t minimize it. Because like I said, the point isn’t to compare. And then say, “Well I shouldn’t feel sorry for myself.” That can happen, but that’s not the point. The point is, there’s a moment of mindful compassion. As I was able to remind myself, “How I’m feeling now, others are feeling that somewhere in the world now. Some more than me. Some less than me.”

And it’s not a competition, so it’s not about the comparison. It’s just about understanding the universality of suffering. And that allows there to be a lot of space for compassion. Because I was able to quickly realize, “Wow, it’s not fun to feel difficult emotions. And when others are feeling these emotions I would want to be a supportive and compassionate ear that can listen and just be with them.” Not to fix it.

You know, when I approach someone who’s experiencing something difficult, the point isn’t to say, “Well here’s what you need to do. Let me fix this for you.” It’s just to say, “I’m here with you. I’m not here for you. Because that implies that I can take this away from you. And we can’t we all experience our difficulties. But I can be here with you. Experiencing, while you’re going through this, I am with you. I’m here with you.”

And we can do that with ourselves. And understand what the observing mind can say, “Okay, I see what’s going on here. I see what I’m experiencing. And hey, I’m here with you. I’m here ’til however long this emotion lasts. And then it will go away.” So in dealing with difficult emotions, remember the object isn’t to change our emotions. It’s much more powerful to just be with our emotions. To allow them to be what they are.

And naturally, they’ll go away. When causes and conditions are right, emotions are there. And when they’re not, they’re not. And because all things are impermanent, things are continually changing, nothing is going to last forever. So you can be with something. And then allow it to pass. And the quickest way to allow it to pass, is to be with it.

So I hope that topic makes sense. Again, I share that mostly because it’s what I’m going through this week. And it was very interesting to observe my own difficult emotions. And to put into practice the observation of just being with the emotions. And allowing them to be. And by not resisting them or thinking that it’s wrong to feel the stress or the anxiety that I’m feeling in my own circumstances, was enough to alleviate the power of the emotion I was experiencing.

Very much like my friend, that I was telling you about at the beginning of the podcast. When he realized, “Hey the point isn’t that you’re not supposed to be angry.” We just don’t want you to be angry about being angry. It’s okay to be angry. Just be angry. That’s just how you are. That’s what you’re experiencing right now. Thinking that you have to get rid of it, is only going to make it worse.

That simple understanding, ironically or paradoxically, was the catalyst to start letting go of the anger. Because now there’s a diffusion. There’s non-attachment to it, “I’m not attached to the idea that I shouldn’t be angry. I’m just allowing anger to be the emotion that is with me.” And this is what I saw in this person, was already a significant amount of letting go of the anger. Because now it was okay to be angry. And just being okay with being angry was enough to start to minimize that.

So that’s all I have for the topic this week. Again, just reminder of some news items. We still have some open spots if you’re interested in joining my friend Suzy and I, on a humanitarian expedition. We’re going to Uganda in January of next year. And we’re going to be doing mindfulness retreat plus humanitarian work. So you’ll be able to change your life, while changing the lives of others. You can visit MindfulHumanitarian.org for more information on that.

And workshops. I’m doing a workshop in Salt Lake City on August 20th. And a weekend workshop in Seattle, Washington, on September 3rd. And another Sunday workshop, an all day workshop, in London, in the UK, on September 18th. And all of these workshops are going to be listed on the SecularBuddhism.com website. For now, you can go to SecularBuddhism.com/events if you want to fill out your email with a notification for which city you’re interested in. Then I could send you the actual link to the registration, to attend the workshop.

The workshops are really cool. And the topic of the workshop is developing mindfulness. So in the workshop, we take one whole day to explore the concept of how to develop mindfulness as a day to day practice.

So thank you for listening. I’ve mentioned this before. But I truly believe that if we want to contribute to making society or the world, a more peaceful place. We must start by making our own lives more peaceful. And we do that through developing mindfulness. And this is why I do this podcast. I’m determined to produce content and tools that will help us to be more mindful. And mindful individuals are the key to creating mindful families and mindful societies. And my work with the Foundation for Mindful Living, is what allows me to produce the weekly content for the Secular Buddhism podcast. The content for the workshops and retreats and seminars.

So if you’re interested and you’re in a position to be able to help. Please visit SecularBuddhism.com to make a one time donation or to sign up as a monthly supporter. I have six monthly supporters at this point, episode 22. And that makes a difference. Right now that’s just barely enough to cover the cost of hosting for the website.

But with more monthly contributors, I’ll be able to put an entire program online that’s going to be the developing mindfulness workshop that I’m doing. I want to turn that into an online course that will be available. And then of course, continuing with the weekly podcast episodes. Discussing different topics based around Secular Buddhism and mindfulness. So I hope this podcast episode was worthwhile to listen to, how to deal with difficult emotions.

Remember the big takeaway with this is that in dealing with our difficult emotions we don’t want to get rid of them. You can’t get rid of anger. That’s okay. You can’t get rid of sadness. You can’t get rid of the difficult emotions you experience in life. They’re just a part of how we experience life. So when we’re experiencing these difficult emotions, like I am this week, just be with them. Allow the difficult emotion to be what it is. And have room to be mindful and have compassion in the midst of dealing with difficult emotions. And that’s all I have this week. So thank you for listening. Thank you for your continued support. And until next time.