Awakin.org

Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Emotions for Liberation

--by Sally Kempton (Jul 29, 2013)


Many years ago, I walked into the kitchen of my guru’s ashram, and found him shouting at the cooks. Force- waves of anger were bouncing around the room, almost visible to the naked eye. Then, in mid sentence, he turned, saw us standing there, and smiled. The energy in his eyes went soft. ‘How did you like the show?” he asked. Then, chuckling, he slapped the head cook playfully on the back, and walked away. The cooks giggled, and went back to work, galvanized by the energy he had injected into the afternoon.
That moment changed my understanding about emotions. The clarity and fluidity with which he had shifted from intense anger to good humor was only part of it. More interesting, I felt, was the fact that he had been using anger as a teaching tool. Was he really angry? I don’t know. All I know is that he seemed able to ride the wave of his anger with perfect easiness, and let it pass without a trace.

One of the ideals of yogic freedom is detachment from emotions. It’s a basic axiom, in fact, that an advanced practitioner has perfected the ability to control, transcend, or at least be a disengaged witness of his emotions. Yet because we have so few models of what genuine detachment looks like, we tend to confuse yogic detachment with being buttoned up, or unemotional, or indifferent.

My teacher was modeling something quite different. As I saw it at the time, he was demonstrating a kind of freedom in emotions. This allowed him to work with emotional expression as an artist or an actor might work with a palette of feelings in order to inspire others, or induce a shift in the situation around him. The secret was that he was able to be conscious within the emotion.

Most people assume that a good spiritual practitioner never gets carried away by emotion -- at least not by negative emotion. 

Yet the deeper truth is that spiritual practice will not eliminate negative emotions. Emotions are part of the palette of life, part of the way consciousness moves. Not only can’t you get rid of them, but you’d feel empty and impoverished if you did. Practice can change your relationship to emotions, so that instead of being swamped by certain feeling states, you can hold them, contain them, see into their essence, and ultimately, use emotions in the service of your liberation.

--Sally Kempton, in Using Emotions for Liberation


Add Your Reflection:

Send me an email when another comment is posted on this passage.
Name: Email:

26 Previous Reflections:

 
On Aug 1, 2013 Thierry wrote:

I agree with both John and jon that there is no other  exit to such dramatic crises  than getting over those feelings of hatred and revenge which might seem at first sight justified. And that, in such a situation, one is ultimately responsible for one's action. A very difficult thing to keep in mind in the midst of such a powerful mimetic process as unchained collective violence. Nevertheless, as John says, some people are wise enough not not give in to such a frantic and absurd emotional climate.  



On Jul 31, 2013 Jon Madian wrote:

 yes, beautifully put, the question is 'how we get there' (to an attitude that can support reconciliation).
The other point is accepting the other emotions we must deal with on our path to getting there, or accepting where we may fall short.... 



On Jul 31, 2013 jon madian wrote:

The ideas that our suffering is always our own fault seems like a half-truth, like all truths. Many innocent people are caught up in genocide, friendly fire, and a million other circumstances outside of their making or control. What could be sadder than a starving mother who cannot feed her crying, dying child! Actually many things are just as sad and happening every moment of every day. We need to avoid overly simplistic, transcendent ideas that often don't apply. Yes, a great deal of our suffering is self-inflicted and a great deal of it is not.



On Jul 31, 2013 Kathi wrote:

In my teens I had an intoxicating romantic interlude on a mountain top visible on my ride to school every day. The relationship failed to flower as I wished and every time i glimpsed the spot it triggered a deep melancholy, an ache for the kind of love/connection that seemed beyond my reach. After months of self-pity, I realized I was sick and tired of the emotion and that I was in fact inflicting it upon myself by replaying the scenario of desire and disappointment. With that epiphany I consciously chose to break the habit of lifting my eyes longingly to the spot when I passed it and soon was free of the daily downer.



On Jul 31, 2013 Rajnikant wrote:

 Rightly said that we need to avoid getting stuck in our feelings or blaming others for causing our feeling. Holistic Scientist has said that "Suffer is at fault". Recognize without any doubts that the nature is very balanced and just in its dealings with all, in every aspect of life. So, you will not be punished if it is not your fault. Conversely, if you are suffering, then it must be your fault despite the circumstantial evidences that suggest otherwise. Accept your own fault, ask for forgiveness and do not crane revenge. With this realization one will be able to reconcile an interaction and not get emotional.



1 reply: Bharat | Post Your Reply
On Jul 30, 2013 John wrote:

 I don't consider feelings to be positive or negative, good or bad. We may find some unpleasant and some pleasant, but all of our feelings are of value. They tell us how we are doing in this moment. Through deep understanding of our feelings we can gain claity about how to best respond in order to maintain or create harmony, balance and a sense of well-being for ourselves and for others. We need to avoid getting stuck in our feelings or blaming others for causing our feelings. Our feelings belong to us and we need to take responsibility for them. Honest, authentic expression of our feelings is best paired with respect for the other person and trheir needs and the avoidance of the use of guilt, shame and other manipulative behaviors in an attempt to control others. Even in major conflicts when we create a respectful connection with others miracles can happen. 



On Jul 30, 2013 Rajnikant wrote:

 I totally agree with CheriD. A Guru is one who can only give you what he has. A Guru will not let anyone his limitations where as the true Guru will tell you what he has accomplished in spirituality and what still needs to be done. If  there is business in religion then what is the disciples going to get out of it?  It is said by a true Gyani Purush that there should be no commerce in religion where as there should be religion in commerce. Commerce here means any dealing one does throughout the day.



On Jul 30, 2013 CheriD wrote:


One never knows for sure what emotional response our emotions will provoke in others despite our good intentions. That is why we temper our emotions with thoughtful action. It seems to me from the reading of this story that the "guru" left more possibility of leaving debris (in the form of negative reactions from the kitchen staff and other witnesses) from his emotional rant than allowing a teachable moment. 



On Jul 30, 2013 T wrote:

I think the problem of gurus , and this word, 'guru', I think,  should be used very carefully, is also that they have to deal with the image the followers tend to build  around their personality.  This image distorts their relationship with the student  and gets in the way of actual understanding. More often than not one has to understand in spite of the guru's personality.



On Jul 30, 2013 Rajnikant wrote:

 Understanding of emotions is very important. Once the root cause of emotions are understood, then emotions will subside and then the tone will make a great impact on the other person. It is very important that emotions do not hurt the ego of other person. That can only happen if you deal with the other person without your ego on the high string. A person who knows 'who am I ' can detach away from emotion since he can see who the doer is. Good spiritual practice is to discover the world within. 



On Jul 30, 2013 Erin wrote:

 I had a teacher tell me that I didn't need to speak, my emotion was written all over my face.  That was a long time ago, but I don't think I've come very far in being conscious in the "emotion". That part of the story  is the perfect lesson for me, right now. 



On Jul 30, 2013 Lesly wrote:

"How did you like the show?"
Great show!  Great show!  Pat him on the back  - and walk away......

It reminds me of my school days.  The most sadistic teacher in the school was the French teacher -followed on by the Scripture teacher.  Lord help us kids on the days when they needed to vent their accumulated venom  - somewhere.        Where?  Us kids!

We left school hating Miss Prosser and nursing the emotional wounds inflicted on us - and of course we hated French. 

"Great show.!  Great show!.........



On Jul 30, 2013 Edit Lak wrote:

You know this really resonated with me. I completely see in the ‘shouting’ and expressing some form of anger, or fear, releasing expression, or whatever, but either way a strong emotion, I don not condone for one second and say it is correct or proper behaviour, but I do see, completely see the action. You see I came from a distanced family, not connected or plugged into the love, or the showing of love, pride, cuddles or achievements – cold fish I think you would call it, but hey – they were mine. So my spiritual learning’s came from an early age from my own learning’s of different things and that continued on and off throughout my life. BUT, what I have noticed with me and some others is that when you get a bliss moment, and when one is seriously in harmony, so when one has to think outside of Eden or deal with people situations, bills, groups, or anything that breaks the happy bubble then some little devil pops out to of nowhere to show its ugly  See full.

You know this really resonated with me. I completely see in the ‘shouting’ and expressing some form of anger, or fear, releasing expression, or whatever, but either way a strong emotion, I don not condone for one second and say it is correct or proper behaviour, but I do see, completely see the action. You see I came from a distanced family, not connected or plugged into the love, or the showing of love, pride, cuddles or achievements – cold fish I think you would call it, but hey – they were mine. So my spiritual learning’s came from an early age from my own learning’s of different things and that continued on and off throughout my life. BUT, what I have noticed with me and some others is that when you get a bliss moment, and when one is seriously in harmony, so when one has to think outside of Eden or deal with people situations, bills, groups, or anything that breaks the happy bubble then some little devil pops out to of nowhere to show its ugly head, or the opposite side of what is being lived, the light and dark live together and that dark is the opposite of self bliss, but I think that is where the balance is. There is no such thing as super Guru or super-human everyone trips through reality and consciousness, or through the preserved ideas of ‘one awakening’, no-one is without fault or emotions. We are what we are, the most perfect species in the world with a tone of emotional baggage that we carry from day to day.. Normal, it is all normal, freedom of emotion to express is normal, that liberation to express is the normality, we need it to balance self and life, to suppress that or any emotion is an illness, to allow that moment to pass is a greatness, but greatness is only as great as is the moment!!! .. Now if you pull in front of me on the freeway with out your blinkers on and be discourteous, you will see and feel my othersider of dark emotion blurting and hissing out the window, yes that crazy woman is me, then after as a I calm myself with an Aum - hmm ;-)  ..  Some may say expression is wrong, but is it ??? Thanks for making me see ‘emotion is liberation’ and liberation is through emotions  - It is   xoxox 

Hide full comment.

On Jul 30, 2013 hend amer wrote:

 yes, absolutely the  master chef of ours is ours, so the first enemy to ours also is ours,and if we  asked our  selves what  is the  only way to expresses all this?? the answer will be (EMOTIONS),although your example is   very simple, and  we  do not care about this situations which may be happen thousands time per day in our Arab nation  ,but it is a real complete reading our emotions  and I add that is the  instinctive emotions we have from our GOD,so we  have to use it as should   to be thankful to our  ALLAH cause these good optimistic emotions can change our life  and   make it  better , i  hope so:) :) 



On Jul 29, 2013 Jihan wrote:

 i very much appreciate this story. i feel it is easy to categorize things as good or bad (eg: laughter is good, yelling is bad) without giving full equity to all emotions. we are often encouraged to express only "positive" emotions while the living reality is that is we do not give expression to "bad" ones we are doing little more than repressing them. they must be fully processed to be of service, and to be fully processed they must be expressed. i do not think the guru was being manipulative, or using it as so obvious a teaching moment. the lesson is that if you live your emotion fully, fully embodying what is true for you in the moment, you can also fully move past that moment without any lingering energy from it, the purpose of each moment is to actualize your own unique reality having actualized your unique reality. the guru's doing so meant they were then able to fully embody the next moment and feel their full reaction to having been witnessed in anger, which for this uni  See full.

 i very much appreciate this story. i feel it is easy to categorize things as good or bad (eg: laughter is good, yelling is bad) without giving full equity to all emotions. we are often encouraged to express only "positive" emotions while the living reality is that is we do not give expression to "bad" ones we are doing little more than repressing them. they must be fully processed to be of service, and to be fully processed they must be expressed. i do not think the guru was being manipulative, or using it as so obvious a teaching moment. the lesson is that if you live your emotion fully, fully embodying what is true for you in the moment, you can also fully move past that moment without any lingering energy from it, the purpose of each moment is to actualize your own unique reality having actualized your unique reality. the guru's doing so meant they were then able to fully embody the next moment and feel their full reaction to having been witnessed in anger, which for this unique individual was amusement at witnessing the shattering of the student's preconceived notions of what it means to be a guru. i love it

Hide full comment.

On Jul 29, 2013 Rekha wrote:

The point of any spiritual practice is to not to teach you to suppress your emotions. That kind of practice would be tedious and temporary. A true practice is one which teaches you the true reality of this material world and which thus helps you let go of attachments. At that point, you are able to express any emotion outwardly but don't get attached to them, so you can move away from them easily. It gives you a capability to witness your emotions objectively and not get carried away by them. This kind of discernment in turn will help your practice get stronger.



On Jul 29, 2013 Sharad Gaidhane wrote:

 One can find freedom in emotions when one minimizes or able to get rid of the bondage from desires and ambitions.That means when your mind becomes PURE.



On Jul 29, 2013 Ganoba wrote:

 First let us not put emotions, thoughts and behaviour in separate compartments. They are closely related to each other.
Second control means steering our life towards its assigned goal. For example if a person has chosen to be a teacher he/she would have to use all known methods to achieve the goal of teaching. Role play is part of the basket of teaching tools.
I have used role play often to get an idea to sink in or a new perspective to dawn. In this role play all participants are invited to participate. I alone don't do the role play. This ensures that all of us learn to get in and out of roles with ease. This needs considerable practice. The danger is that we tend to get stuck to a few roles that we like; noble or villainous.



On Jul 28, 2013 david doane wrote:

I very much believe that our emotions can be used for our liberation.  I've also found that using my emotions in the service of my liberation is tricky.  The impression I got from the author's story is that the guru was manufacturing feelings and performing, using his feelings manipulatively to try to teach a lesson, and I have a resistance to all that.  I think using emotions in the service of my liberation begins with acknowledging my emotions, having them without being had by them, listening to and consulting them, and using them without being used by them.  It does involve a detachment from my emotions.  Someone said thinking makes a valuable servant and a terrible master.  I think the same is true of emotions -- that my emotions are a valuable part of me and make a valuable servant if I'm not consumed, captured, mastered by them.  As the author says, it's important to hold and contain our feelings, see into their essence, and not be contained or  See full.

I very much believe that our emotions can be used for our liberation.  I've also found that using my emotions in the service of my liberation is tricky.  The impression I got from the author's story is that the guru was manufacturing feelings and performing, using his feelings manipulatively to try to teach a lesson, and I have a resistance to all that.  I think using emotions in the service of my liberation begins with acknowledging my emotions, having them without being had by them, listening to and consulting them, and using them without being used by them.  It does involve a detachment from my emotions.  Someone said thinking makes a valuable servant and a terrible master.  I think the same is true of emotions -- that my emotions are a valuable part of me and make a valuable servant if I'm not consumed, captured, mastered by them.  As the author says, it's important to hold and contain our feelings, see into their essence, and not be contained or swamped by them.  Another important step in using my feelings in the service of my liberation is to state them honestly because they are there, with me in control of them, not them in control of me, and not use them in any manipulative way.  A personal example is times that I can acknowledge a feeling of anger, state it without acting it out, and thus use it in expressing myself rather than being consumed by it.  I'm not very good at that, and have a lot to learn in that area. 

Hide full comment.

On Jul 26, 2013 Conrad P Pritscher wrote:

 Excellent. At a Z2 day Zen retreat in Ann Arbor, I heard the Zen master yelling at one of his students  who was studying to be a Zen teacher. I was shocked at first. Shortly after I thought  the Zen master,Samu Sunim, was acting and the  appearance of strong emotion was to test the trainee to see if the trainee could maintain his,emotion with the blast of emotion his teacher was giving him.  I'm guessing that is true also in the above situation.  When I am mindful I clearly control my emotion. When I'm driving in heavy traffic, or often even light traffic, I find I am very impatient – – I am quite emotional – – with drivers who don't seem to be driving as I wish them to drive.  If a Zen teacher were with me at the time, I would surely flunk the test. Even though I have been meditating for over 20 years, I would probably still will flunk the test since I am still quite impatient, but not quite as impatient as I was 20 some yea  See full.

 Excellent. At a Z2 day Zen retreat in Ann Arbor, I heard the Zen master yelling at one of his students  who was studying to be a Zen teacher. I was shocked at first. Shortly after I thought  the Zen master,Samu Sunim, was acting and the  appearance of strong emotion was to test the trainee to see if the trainee could maintain his,emotion with the blast of emotion his teacher was giving him.  I'm guessing that is true also in the above situation.  When I am mindful I clearly control my emotion. When I'm driving in heavy traffic, or often even light traffic, I find I am very impatient – – I am quite emotional – – with drivers who don't seem to be driving as I wish them to drive.  If a Zen teacher were with me at the time, I would surely flunk the test. Even though I have been meditating for over 20 years, I would probably still will flunk the test since I am still quite impatient, but not quite as impatient as I was 20 some years ago. I noticed my impatience faster now than I did then.  Thank you for the opportunity to respond. May all beings be at ease. Warm and kind regards.

Hide full comment.

On Jul 25, 2013 Jon Madian wrote:

I wonder how else the guru might have chosen to communicate? While the ability to easily express all emotions, including anger, is a positive, isn't the ability to chose what a person wants to express and to model  just as important. Will the cook go home and feel righteous in expressing his anger at his wife or child? Yes, to the freedom to feel and express emotions, but ? ? ?