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Buddhadharma : Summer 2008
51 summEr 2 00 8 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly When you experience the emotion without skillful means or wisdom, the emotion can be destructive. In response, the Buddhist teachings present three basic ways of working with emotions. The first approach is mindfulness, which can prevent the destructiveness of the emotions and make them beneficial and useful. The second approach is to bring the emotions to the path of wisdom, by transforming them into something that helps bring benefit to ourselves and others. The third approach, the Vajrayana approach, is to look straight into the essence of the experi- ence of emotion, where we will find tremendous energy and the power of awakening wisdom. JuDiTh SimmeR-bRown: One of the things I’ve found most valuable about Buddhist practice and teaching has been discovering that we don’t really feel our emotions all that often. When there’s an emotional impulse that arises—and I’m talking particularly about the painful ones, the kle- shas—we tend to either indulge in it, acting out some kind of catharsis or building an intense storyline around it, or we suppress and bury the emotion. We’re afraid of it. One of the tremendous benefits of Buddhist meditation for me has been to be able to sit with an emotion, to experience it, rather than to feel I have to do something with it immedi- ately or get rid of it. One of the great contributions of meditation practice to Western society has been to point out the difference between a managerial approach and an experiential approach. It has brought so much more attention and richness to the descrip- tion of what emotional life actually is. buDDhaDhaRma: Many people feel that inspiration and art- istry come out of the richness of emotion. How does medita- tion practice affect the creative aspect of the emotions? John TaRRanT: Spiritual practice is either plumbing, in which case you’ve got a fixed goal and you’re tinkering with the pipes. Or it’s an art, in which case your goal is not prede- termined, because you’re in a discovery process. All arts are like that. But while you’re on the journey, you don’t need to be messed up. I don’t think our wisdom tradition neces- sarily holds to the nineteenth-century idea of the messed-up genius. Although if you’re a messed-up genius, that’s fine too. It’s not wise to go around rejecting the material that life has given you, including the experiences that people think you shouldn’t have. On the surface, you might sometimes disturb others, but ultimately, if you are not disturbing to yourself, that will mean other people aren’t disturbing to you either. There will be much greater compassion, in fact I would say much greater empathy, because there’s not even the level of distance implied by the term compassion. You really are the other in some sense, and that’s the source of your creative imagination. PonloP RinPoche: Emotions have very powerful creative energy. Many visual artists and poets are inspired by emo- tions. We create beautiful products from some of our emo- tions. So it’s good to see and appreciate the beauty of such emotions, even when they’re seemingly destructive, like strong passion or aggression. When you transform that into a piece of art, it becomes so beautiful. You not only find peace and creativity through such expression, but many other people also find peace and enjoyment through look- ing at your creation. Within the world of creativity, there’s a strong element of releasing your emotion or finding the wisdom of emotion, and we can find peace or relief through the artful expression of emotions. buDDhaDhaRma: What’s the difference between the feeling of relief from releasing one’s emotion creatively and finding relief by getting something off your chest? PonloP RinPoche: The act of just releasing and expressing is very temporary. It gives brief relief and a sense of freedom, There’s an enormous science in Buddhism devoted to recognizing the experience of emotion. This is quite different from Western psychology, which has tended to be heavily interpersonal and management-oriented. —Judith Simmer-Brown