Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Getting out of Emotional Quicksand

Today I had the opportunity to participate in an intimate audience session with a Grand Master of Zen Buddhism. My question was, "As a Westerner, I have a wide range of emotions, many of which cause me suffering. What can I do to manage this better?" The Master said, in essence, "We all feel joy and sorrow sometimes, but in Buddhism we don't dwell on the suffering. Instead, we note that all things (joy and pain) are temporary and we channel our concern toward helpful action, if that's what's called for."

Being the Master of compassion that she is, I think she could tell I was having "empath trouble," that is, getting sucked into my own and other people's whirlpool of human suffering. In her own calm and peaceful way, she seemed to understand this deeply.

I liked her response. I was glad she hadn't advised me to meditate more, or to disengage from the world's hardships, or simply notice my own reactions and move on. I was glad that she didn't remind me that suffering is often the result of karmic debts, or that everyone is responsible for themselves. That's all true, of course, and I know it intellectually, but it wasn't what I needed to hear in that moment.

What I needed was an alternative to taking on all that energy, and she reminded me that I could be more helpful by channeling my care through service. (Sometimes we empaths overfeel and underdo).

So when I got home and read a scary progress report on a friend's hospitalized child, I consciously directed my concern toward doing what I could do to help. Not only did I not sink into worry and fear, but I actually served the boy and his family.

Have you ever had this experience? You're down in the dumps or feeling stuck, and you do something productive or helpful, and the next thing you know, you're back on track? For empaths and other overfeelers, this can work like a charm.

One last note about quicksand of all kinds:  the more you struggle, the faster you sink. So when you're in it, it's always a good idea to calm down and assess your options.