Working with Emotions in Spiritual Practice

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So emotions are pretty complex and endless, but here are four of the big ones that are hard to deal with. Often these will arise in the midst of a meditation or prayer practice and many people of talked with feel that it makes it impossible to continue practicing. My attitude is the opposite. It’s great when this stuff comes up in spiritual practice because then we have a chance to work consciously with it! So here are a few ideas for how to proceed.

Sadness

Strategy: Feeling the pain, allowing tears while anchoring part of awareness in a refuge of peace, love, and joy.

Example Affirmation: I can let myself feel this sadness while still remembering the love and joy that possible in life.

Example Prayer: God, I cry out to you in my pain. My tears are my prayers to you. Please spread Your infinite compassion upon these hurt and tender places. Let me take refuge in your light in the midst of this darkness. Amen.

Anxiety/Panic

Strategy: Recognize the desire for certainty that gives rise to anxiety. Evaluate the likelihood and true badness of the worst case scenario. If the badness is less than death, then affirm one’s ability to cope with the worst case scenario. If the badness is death, affirm one’s acceptance of the small chance of death and willingness to continue even in spite of that possibility.

Example Affirmation: My greatest fears are unlikely to materialize, but I cannot be certain that they will not come to pass. I am comfortable with the unknown. If that which I fear should come to pass, I will handle it. No matter how difficult it might be, I am capable of rising to the challenge.

Example Prayer: God you are my courage. Strengthen my trust in you, and help me to surrender my desire to control that which is beyond controling. Please, Lord, grant me confidence in my ability to thrive and be at home in this human life with all its ups and downs. Help me to always remember that come what may, you are my strength and my guide, and with your help I will overcome all obstacles.

Shame

Strategy: Respectful witnessing with unconditional positive regard

Example Affirmation: I feel this sense of being lesser, this feeling of being put down and stepped on, I see this desire to hide and cover up this part of myself even from my own eyes. I will not let this part of me hide away because it is beautiful and deserves to be known and cherished.

Example Prayer: God, when You knitted me in my mother’s womb, nothing was hidden from you. You saw me then and now as Your perfect creation, made in Your own image. Help me to see myself as you made me, help me to see holiness and honour even within those places that now seem most wretched to me.

Anger

Strategy: Loving containment of destructive aspect, affirmation and expression of assertive aspect

Example Affirmation: I am strong enough to embrace this fury within without harming myself or others. I have a right to stand up for my own needs and desires and I will not let myself be pushed around by anybody.

Example Prayer: God, let my rage burn itself out in the safety of Your strong loving arms. Lend me Your power to nobly protect that which needs to be protected.

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2 responses »

  1. Very nice. I was moved especially by the sadness prayer.
    I found your treatment of death a little brief, however — acceptance of possible small chance of death is one thing, but on the other hand, sometimes there is a large chance of death. This is a big topic, of course, probably beyond the kind of anxiety/panic we’re thinking of here.
    But personally, instead of dismissing death as a tiny possibility, I find a greater sense of peace in trusting God into death and beyond.

    • Thanks Andie,

      You are right that my approach to death was brief because I had in mind situations where there is little risk of actual death. In situations of intense panic/anxiety it can often feel like we are going to die. I went through a long period of having panic attacks on a regular basis often triggered by meditation experiences. What finally got me through was saying to myself, “There is a small chance that I might die here on this meditation cushion, I accept that and I’m going to keep sitting anyway because the greater likelihood is that I’m just experiencing the terror that is a normal part of the awakening process.”

      Of course, if you are meditating and there is an actual clear and present threat to your personal safety. For example, a mountain lion steps out of the forest in front of you. Then you probably want to stop meditating or praying and take whatever physical action is best to keep yourself from becoming lunch.

      On the other hand, there are situations where you might choose to face a high chance of death for the sake of a greater cause. That’s a terribly difficult decision to have to make, but the example of monks practising self-immolation to protest the violence of war serves as one compelling example.

      Avi

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