Welcoming emotions, or, Pray for…them?, Part 2

After writing and publishing Monday’s post, I attended a meditation group where we began by listening to a brief teaching on meditation and suppressed emotions. Meditation, the teaching said, can be helpful in the process of becoming aware of suppressed emotions as well as identifying their root causes.

This reminded me of my semester at the Oregon Extension, and the work we did with contemplative practices and Schwartz’s Internal Family Systems model (which you don’t really need to know about to understand this post). One of the most important things I took away from all that was an openness to accepting the negative emotions and reactions I experience as well as the positive ones, to welcome all these things as part of me, rather than trying to jettison the parts I don’t like.

My first reaction to the symposium, the how-dare-you, I-will-shake-some-sense-into-you anger, is not the most appealing emotion (and how much less so the petty anger of personality clashes or small offenses?). I’d much rather be filled with all manner of goodness and patience, the sort of girl who might live in a Thomas Kinkade painting. Pretty. Neat. But that would be an incomplete story. I need to acknowledge those feelings, too.

Instead of trying to cut off (or submerge) “negative” emotions, in Oregon I learned to acknowledge them, to receive them without judgment and hold them with compassion. I was beginning to learn how to be gentle with myself.

During “contemplative week” in Oregon, we worked even more intensely with contemplative practices. This did not come easily to me (I sometimes describe myself as a mystic without the mysticism), but it planted seeds. When I began thinking about praying for my enemies, I remembered one of the practices we explored, titled “Praying the Enemy.”

The follow-along paper slip, pasted into my journal, incorporates so much of the language and feeling of that semester. It provides another way to think about praying for my enemies, and again marks a path that aims to leave me, rather than my perceived enemies, changed and shaped. I’ve included the prayer/practice below, copied from Doug Frank’s handout at OE contemplative week. Perhaps you, too, need a way to “pray the enemy.”

“Praying the Enemy”
(Oregon Extension, Nov. 2008)

1. Relax, breathe and center.

2. Scan recent memory for an experience that triggered strong aversive emotions—hostility or enmity. Notice these experiences and feelings. Receive them without judgment. Gently welcome each.

3. Allow one to take the foreground. Re-imagine the experience. Notice your feelings and welcome them in trust, until it seems you have some footing and they aren’t sweeping you away.

If you cannot get solid footing, and the feelings are sweeping you away, try centering, breathing, body relaxation, and then return to your noticing.

Once you feel a hint of compassion for your feelings in this incident, you may want to take another step…

4. Ask the feeling that you welcomed and spent time with to give you an image expressing the root experience or wound from which it comes: a memory, a personification of some part of you, a word. Once an image ‘clicks,’ ask it to tell you its longing. What does it need that it’s not getting? Hold that longing gently, compassionately.

5. Take this image to a sacred place. Allow the sacred to hold it in whatever way seems best.

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