Through mindfulness, our hearts become spacious enough to hold the painful emotions, to feel the suffering of them, and to let them go. But it takes practice—and perhaps several different practices—to open to the difficult emotions that we’re aware of and to illuminate those that are hidden.
There are some particular difficulties and challenges in being with difficult emotions. We often live in denial. It’s not always easy to open to our shadow side. And even when we are aware, we can get caught in justifying these feelings to ourselves: “I should hate these people—look at what they did.” From justifying these feelings of hatred and enmity (which is quite different than being mindful of them), there can come a strong feeling of self-righteousness. We forget that the feelings and emotions we have are all conditioned responses, arising out of the particular conditions of our lives. Other people in the same situation might feel very different things. Although at times it may be hard to believe, our feelings are not necessarily the reflection of some ultimate truth. As Bankei, the great 17th-century Zen master reminded us: “Don’t side with yourself.”
Self-righteousness about our feelings and view is the shadow side of commitment. We sometimes confuse this self-justification with the feeling of passionate dedication. But great exemplars of compassion and social justice illuminate the difference.
It is not a question of whether unwholesome mind states will arise in us—or in the world around us. Feelings of hatred, enmity, fear, self-righteousness, greed, envy, and jealousy all do arise at different times. Our challenge is to see them all with mindfulness, understanding that these states themselves are the cause of suffering and that no action we take based on them will lead to our desired result—peace in ourselves and peace in the world.
The method is mindfulness, the expression is compassion and the essence is wisdom. Wisdom sees the impermanent, ephemeral nature of experience and the basic unreliability of these changing phenomena. Wisdom opens our minds to the experience of selflessness, the great liberating jewel of the Buddha’s enlightenment. This understanding, in turn, engenders a compassionate engagement with the world. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, a great Tibetan master, taught: “When you recognize the empty nature, the energy to bring about the good of others dawns uncontrived and effortless.” And wisdom reveals that non-clinging is the essential unifying experience of freedom. We see that non-clinging is both a practice to cultivate and the nature of the awakened mind itself.
T.S. Eliot expressed this well in a few lines from “The Four Quartets.”
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well.
Joseph Goldstein, excerpted from Three Means to Peace.
SEED QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: How do you relate to the Zen exhortation of not siding with yourself? Can you share a personal experience of a time you were able to see through your own conditioning and transcend your feelings of self-righteousness? What helps you see all your feelings with mindfulness?
This resonates with me so deeply as I continue my personal journey out of anxiety and low self-esteem. Even these labels, as I write them, I realise could be reassessed in the context of this concept of detachment and lifely flow. I believe this way of thinking, relating ot experience and emotions is a very valuable personal resource towards compassion and true freedom and a peaceful existence.
One of the biggest hurdles for me is 'not siding with yourself' on justifying negative self talk and internal narrative under the guise of 'self improvement' and 'learning from mistakes' and I find myself in a constant battle to allow myself to balance critique with positive compassion, gratitude and slef love. I would be very interested in anyone else's thoughts on these patterns. <3
This is so apt for me at this time. As time is passing by It is becoming more and more clear to me how I feel unsafe and scared from within. And that is the very reason why I would want to side with myself even when at times, something which I did was "wrong" or "not done".... (and I am aware somewhere deep inside) I realize there is a story in my mind and it (that story in my head) kind of scares me, gives me a doubt whether Am I really loved? Am I worthy? etc.
Once I opened the wounds and started applying medicine and as it healed, I found myself able to put the issue at the center. The importance of looking at, looking into it- in a neutral way is realized. Then the need to 'side with self' became less and a balanced view emerged where the issue is important not me or he or she....
Grateful for this beautiful passage
This article opened another area of my self-centeredness: my constant comparison of myself to others. To my advantage, of course. It reminded me of a friend who related to me that a woman who I had considered a pest had contributed a simple act of kindess to our community of senior residents. She had routinely taken frayed table napkins home and rehemmed them making our dinner tables more inviting. I had never gotten to know this woman because of my judgmentalism.
I think 'don't side with yourself' means to not cling to a judgment, and instead stay open to what is and side with truth. As the Buddhists say, "Always have the beginner's mind." The author says wisdom opens us to the experience of selflessness. I put the emphasis the other way around, ie, selflessness opens us to wisdom. An example of my seeing through my own conditioning is when I saw through my conditioned anger and realized that anger is not a necessary emotion. I can disagree, object, assert, refuse without becoming angry. My feelings of self-rightousness sneak up on me, and transcending such feelings is more difficult. What helps me see my feelings with mindfulness is learning to be mindful, that is, learning to pay attention, be aware, be present, be open, not attach to any one feeling, and stay away from trying to control outcome.
As I am reading this article I feel at home. It's like being in the loving company of a friend, a brother, a sister or a teacher. Mindfulness meditation and living mindfully have been a life-long journey for me. In my journey I have lived unmindfully, siding with me, being self-righteous and finding fault with the other side. I distinctly remember how I was judgmental and critical of my colleague when I was teaching in a university. He was very critical of me for teaching Meditation in my psych classes. Practicing meditation helped me understand his position as a Catholic Professor. I let siding with me go and criticizing his side. It helped me to be grounded, at ease with me and with what I was teaching . Seeing the other side with an open mind and open heart liberated me from my bondage of self-righteousness.
Mindfulness has opened my inner door to look within and see my shadow- my justifications for reacting judgmentally and unkindly to others and finding fault with others in my life, for throwing an arrow at others. Gratefully I have been awakening from my sleep and I am able to see the light. Yes. It did not happen overnight. I have been practicing mindfulness for a long time. I have learned how to be grounded, calm, clear, contented and compassionate to me and to others in my life. Everyday is a learning day. It's a joyous and fulfilling journey.
May i and my brothers and sisters learn how to live mindfully for peace, joy, and harmony!
Jagdish P Dave
I have discovered many unkind and even cruel thoughts arising in me in relation to a person in my life who actively seeks to provoke me many times a week. When I step out of the self-righteousness behind these unkind thoughts, I find myself having some sympathy for the worst people out there (think dictators & tyrants), who take things a step further and act upon their negative emotions. Moreover, I notice how much of these unwholesome thoughts are followed by a depletion of my energy and a derailing of my focus-- both of which beome the primary motivation to not indulge in these sorts of negative states. As much as we seek to punish those whom we perceive are doing wrong and misbehaving, a close examination of ourselves reveals that what is true for us must be doubly true for them: the negative state they are in is both its own punishment and the seed of future suffering for themselves and others. The greatest gift we can give is to cultivate the inner capacity to not be a conduit for spewing negative emotions.[Hide Full Comment]