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Transforming Afflicted Emotions: 2. Aversion
Listen to this talk:
Christina Clark - Transforming Afflicted Emotions: 2. Aversion (28 min.)
Transcript of a talk delivered by Christina Clark
October 9, 2016 - Dallas, Texas

So what we're going to be talking about tonight is one of what the Buddha describes as one of the "three poisons." And I know that Bobbie gave an introduction on this last week, and so today what we're going to talk about is… You know, usually it's the second in line, but it's the poison that can be translated as anger or aversion. And I know that these are two things that we've definitely worked with throughout our lives, if not this week or even today. And so hopefully we can have a really great discussion about this as we look at it in its context of something that can really poison us but something that can also be transformed.

What's so nice about these three teachings is that they each have a really beautiful antidote. So the antidote to anger or aversion is loving-kindness, or compassion. And of course with this poison as well as all three poisons, practicing with it as we sit in mindfulness is a really great way to observe it as a whole within ourselves, and, as we practice with it, with each other; with our families; with our communities; but also, ultimately, within ourselves. Once we begin to transform this poison and the other two that we'll look at as a group, ultimately we can work to transform the world and hopefully seek enlightenment together as all beings. So I'll give a brief intro, and then, the way I wanted to kind of look at this is looking at anger or hatred as we deal with others, and then ultimately as we can look at it within ourselves. And the same with aversion: we'll look at it as we deal with others in external circumstances and as we can also deal with it within ourselves, with some of our own emotions or afflicted feelings. And then of course we'll close looking at the antidote, which is going to be loving-kindness and compassion.

And so, for the three poisons… You know, it's one of those teachings of the Buddha that at first can appear to be negative and unpleasant, kind of, you know, not a real fun, light teaching that we get to work with, you know. But as we really come to a deeper and wiser understanding of these three poisons, they can ultimately be really positive and really empowering as we move forward in our practice and in our lives. And what the Buddha teaches by using these as a warning is that when these afflictive thoughts and emotions are not understood and transformed, they can really ultimately lead to a deeper level of suffering, which is what, of course, we are working to break free of together as a group.

So when we talk about hatred, that's going to refer to our anger, aversion, and repulsion towards people that are unpleasant; circumstances that we're not comfortable in; and even towards our own uncomfortable thoughts and feelings within ourselves. So as we begin to look at and understand this teaching together, we can really clearly see and feel what those factors are that are really causing these in our lives. And for each of us it'll be different. Maybe for one of us it's a person in our life that makes us really angry; for someone else it could be a situation that we've been putting off or avoiding for a while. So perhaps after, you know, my little talk is finished, we can have a great discussion about where these different factors are coming up in our lives. When we begin to receive that clarity as we look at these things deeper, we can eliminate the things that are causing us suffering, and we can keep living a clearer and more enlightened life.

And so when we look at the Four Noble Truths, which are the Buddha's teachings of the nature of suffering and the fact that suffering is everywhere and that it can be transformed, one of the things that it explains is that when we embrace and understand what the causes of our suffering and dissatisfaction are, we can then take the necessary steps to extinguish those things from our lives. What does that cause? That causes liberation, and that causes a deeper clarity within ourselves as well, which is a practice that can certainly be positive and empowering.

So what I also want to look at together is to see how this poison in general and, as we look at the other two poisons over the next few weeks, how many are going to be creeping into our lives and practice, whether it's something we recognize or something we might not. What the Buddha teaches is that, really, for the most part, these can just be a by-product of ignorance. You know, when we're kind of going about our day, not looking out for any of these poisons and kind of just going along on autopilot, you know, we can become ignorant of our true nature, and to the awakened heart of wisdom and compassion that ultimately dwells within us. And, you know, when we're not looking deeply into the Buddha's teachings, when we're not practicing together, we might be practicing thoughts and speech and action that is ultimately causing suffering and unhappiness for ourselves and for others.

And so, first let's look at one translation, which is anger, or hatred. We all get mad, and we have all at times let the rage just flow through us, whether it was just for a minute or for a long period of time. And so on the surface, anger and hatred is something that we all know about. If those in this group have children, it must have been something that we've talked to our children about or learned about in school. But let's look at it just briefly from a Buddhist perspective. When we're working with this and we're seeing this anger and hatred come up, it can show itself in a couple of different ways. These symptoms can be hostility, rage, dislike, avoidance, wishing ill will or harm upon someone, or wishing for someone else to suffer, whether that's because we're suffering inside or because something has happened that has made us so upset that really all we can think about is that we want someone else to be hurting—again, whether it's because we're hurting or because of something that they did. But when we dwell in this hatred and this anger, it can really thrust us into a vicious cycle of always finding conflict and enemies. If one person upsets you, well, it's probably a good possibility that someone else can do something that's equally or more upsetting. And so then you're mad at a couple of different people. And then, if you haven't taken a moment to check in and to step back, you could find that perhaps that can multiply to entire groups of people, or entire companies, or entire nations. And we don't want our anger and our hatred to get out of control. When there is this constant conflict, and, really, perceived enemies around us, our mind can't be calm. And our mind might start to get a little neurotic and a little self-defensive. And we might find that we're then occupied with strategies of self-protection ("I need to protect myself from all these people I don't like") or revenge ("I need to, you know, really get out there and prove my point in an unhealthy and vengeful way").

And so when you find yourself getting worked up in anger, I would just encourage everyone to step back and look at that with mindfulness. When we practice with mindfulness, we know that as emotions arise, no matter how strong, how pleasant, or how unpleasant, they will also ultimately pass. This also goes along with the practice of non-attachment as well. With mindfulness, we can step back and be the observer of our thoughts, our emotions, our actions, and our feelings. And so, when you don't know where to start when you're dealing with a difficult time, I would suggest always starting, of course, with mindfulness and just becoming the observer for just a few minutes.

And so when we work with this in real life, of course we can find this comes up in many different ways. I just put a couple down here: maybe we're in a really tough workplace; maybe we just have trouble getting along with our co-workers; maybe we're not working in a place where we know we're ultimately thriving; maybe we work in a place where there's always conflict—maybe it's a sales thing, or a client issue, or things like that. Conflict is going to come up between friends, and families, and I'm sure that's something that we've all worked through together before. Our ego can come up, and that can cause us to be angry and closed off. It's sometimes really easy to get worked up and angry and practicing hatred when you are looking deeply into politics or watching a lot of the news. But ultimately, I think one of the easiest ways to find yourself wrapped up in anger and in hatred is when you see people or groups of people as "other." And then you see that there's a separation that's coming up between myself and someone that is "other," instead of dwelling in the true nature of interbeing, and practicing that love, compassion, and loving-kindness.

And one example that I looked at that I'll dive into a little bit more (and of course we can discuss all these examples) is the example of war. Our nation and many nations all around the world have been in various international conflicts that are either quite short or very, very, very long in terms of, just, time, and time frame. We live, here in America, in a very militarized society, in a society that has spent billions or even trillions of dollars on this word, "war." And we have to justify all this spending, when you look at the pie chart and it's like, "Military" is, what, sixty percent, and then food stamps, like one percent. We need to justify that by having an enemy, by having an "other," or else what are we doing? And it doesn't have to be just a person or a group of people. For the last decade or so, we've been working on a "war on terror," which is just abstract enough that we can kind of perpetuate it and keep shifting what that definition means and maybe whom that's directed toward. And an argument against an idea or something just vague enough, as "the war on terror" is, it's going to guarantee that we always have a dependable supply of people that hate us. So if someone's hating us, it's easy to say, "Well, we're being attacked by you, you hate us, therefore we hate you, and we're going to show you by fighting you and by sending people overseas, by harming your civilians and your military, because you are an 'other.' We have labeled you as dangerous, whether it is because we have been physically attacked, we are in fear of being attacked, or we are just in fear of a nation that lives and practices differently from us." So we have then found an "other." And that "other" can shift and it can move and it can turn as we continue to figure out what "the war on terror" really means.

And then, I heard a quote that I put in here: "If terrorism is the war of the poor and disempowered, war is the terrorism of the rich." With our war, with a country as really blessed and lucky as us to have such a large amount of money and budgeting, we can afford to just keep going, and keep going, and keep going. And that's not right, and that's not healthy, and that's not something that we want the next generation to come up in. And I thought that that was really a nicely extreme example of hatred and of anger that can just self-perpetuate. And I don't think it will really find an end anytime soon unless it's something that we all work together to really help solve.

And then when we look at this translation as aversion, which is going to be less active, as, not really going out and hurting someone. As we look at aversion, it's going to be more of an avoidance of things that are unpleasant, that we just do not want to deal with right now. And so if we find ourselves falling into aversion, we're going to be habitually resisting and denying and avoiding unpleasant circumstances: people that might bother us or whom we do not want to get to know any better, or even unpleasant feelings that are going to arise within ourselves, whether that's grief that we just do not want to sit down and process, whether it's anxiety that we're really having trouble channeling, whether it's depression that we really don't want to sit down and see if it's stemming from a certain root, or from a certain event earlier in our lives. Because we want to be happy, and we want our circumstances to be pleasant, and we want all of our friends and family to get along, and we want to, I guess, live with flowers and rainbows and sunny days every day. But we also know that ultimately that's not how things actually are. Because it can really be hard to sit down and say, "I'm going to do the work, I'm going to reach out to (perhaps) my co-workers whom I don't get along with for the sake of working better together. I'm going to reach out to a family member that I might have had conflict with in the past. I'm going to reach out and I'm going to put myself in a new situation, that might be uncomfortable, that I might not have really wanted to go to before because there's always something easier to do." Like Cornell said, there's always Netflix; there's always, "It's too far," or "It's too hard," or "I'm tired." But we just... We want to push through those boundaries because when we do stay with what is comfortable and what is easy, all that's going to do is reinforce that perception of duality, of separation, when we don't get outside of our comfort zone. Because it can be scary, but when we don't go up to someone we don't know and try to strike up a conversation because they might have come from a different culture, or they might be dressed differently, or they might work in a different part of the office, then we never will cross that boundary if we don't take the first step to overcome these afflicted emotions that will come up as aversion.

So, real-life examples of this that we can talk about: avoiding conflict with friends and family. One of my best friends for, like, eight or nine years now, we've never had a huge fight—which I love, but that seems kind of weird. Are we really connecting on that deeper level, are we really coming up and talking about our disagreements and the differences in our lifestyles and how we think about things? Or are we just, you know, doing things that we like, and hanging out, and having fun? We have a lot of mutual friends, we went through school together... Am I avoiding conflict? Am I avoiding telling her things about myself that she might disagree with? That also goes with my family. I come from a family that does not talk about things, at all. Like, it's weird, it's uncomfortable, and even thinking about sitting down with my mom or my grandma and having a really deep conversation, like... to me, makes me so nervous. You know, I'm jealous of mothers and daughters who talk about everything, families who are super close and drink together and talk about going to parties and doing funny things, and... My little sister-in-law is still in college, and she'll be just talking to her mom about all these parties she went to, and I was like… I did not talk about that kind of thing with my mom when I was in college. But this is something that I need to work on in my practice, especially as my grandparents are getting older, and they won't be here much longer. And I want to talk to them about issues within my family, and also learn more about my history through these conversations. So I know that this is something I need to work on.

Then, when I was first looking at this practice of aversion, I thought, "Of course! Procrastination!" We've all done it, even if we're not going to admit it. And usually when we are procrastinating, it's with things that are good for us, like when I find myself looking at a screen instead of going to bed early, or not doing e-mails I need to do, until it gets too late. You know, we're putting it off because we can always find something better to do. But when we're procrastinating and there's something you need to do, some sort of an assignment or something, or something that will serve us better, such as cleaning, or taking that time to meal plan, get good healthy food, prep, so that we can eat well throughout the week.

And then finally, as we look at this poison within ourselves (and I've kind of touched on this throughout), but we can really create conflict within ourselves when we have an aversion to our own uncomfortable feelings, and when we have trouble sitting and working through what some people call "shadows," "doing shadow work," working through past trauma, healing from grief or anger that's led from past trauma, and really all those other uncomfortable feelings that arise, just as we move throughout life. And so when we practice in hatred and aversion, especially if we're with them both, in, like, a dynamic duo, we are pushing away the feelings we don't want to work with and then hating ourselves for not doing that, for not going through the work and for not letting ourselves be uncomfortable every once in a while. That kind of conditions us to think that those feelings are an enemy within ourselves. And so, in the same way, we can have an enemy and an "other" externally, we don't want to be divided internally, labeling feelings good or bad, and really hanging out with the good and not wanting to work with the bad. Then we've created separation within ourselves and within our hearts and within our minds. So I would just encourage anyone who's sitting with that to hold that space for yourself and look inside with mindfulness.

Something that I had an aversion to for a long long time throughout this year was with my sweet little kitty. He got really sick, he got cancer, and I knew that he had this condition. He also had a condition called pancreatitis, where he couldn't digest food, and in cats, pancreatitis only occurs in one to two percent of cats, and there's also no cure. So I knew this was only going one way. But what a hard decision to make, to have to put your beloved pet down, or to sleep, or to transition. So that was something that I finally had the opportunity to do yesterday. And I'm proud of myself for overcoming the aversion and doing what is ultimately the right thing, but it certainly is a hard choice, and so I've had the opportunity to grieve mindfully, and to just allow myself that space to be sad and to process the loss of a sweet pet that I had for six years.

It's certainly something that I want us all to be able to practice together, because we don't want to be battling the "others" externally and also battling within ourselves internally. But the great part is, there really is a wonderful antidote to this poison, which is the practice of loving-kindness and compassion. And if you've come to the Sunday group or other groups at the Dallas Meditation Center before, you've probably done a loving-kindness meditation, also called a metta meditation. And when you practice with this meditation, a facilitator guides you through the opportunity to give yourself love, warm feelings, well wishes, and then will direct you to give those warm feelings to those you love, to those you don't really know, to those that are harder to love, and ultimately to the whole world. And it's really a beautiful practice.

So when we sit in loving-kindness and compassion, we know that we can overcome hatred by practicing forgiveness, patience, love, and understanding with those that have hurt us or that we simply just might perceive as "other." When we react to the unpleasant feelings within ourselves with love, compassion, and understanding; when we let ourselves be uncomfortable in a new situation that we might have aversion to with love, compassion, and understanding; and when we interact with other people and directly practice through our hearts love, compassion, and understanding, we have overcome (or at least are working to overcome) hatred and aversion towards others. As we practice loving-kindness and compassion with mindfulness, we learn to openly embrace the entire spectrum of our experiences without hatred or aversion. And basically what that means is, when we remove the judgment from our thoughts and from our experiences, we have then allowed ourselves so much more space to come in with these really positive antidotes to judgment, to hatred, and to the duality that we might have set up between ourselves and between each other. When we go out and we work on talking to new people, volunteering, telling our family and friends that we love them, I want to make sure that we're doing that same work within ourselves. Because it's just as important, if not more than, to make sure that you're watering your own flowers as you're going out there, fired up like, "I am ready to transform my afflicted emotions with everyone, I'm ready to make up with everyone," but also make sure that you're taking that time within yourself. "Am I loving myself? Am I forgiving myself? Am I processing without judgment? And am I sitting in mindfulness as I work through these, together or within myself?"

Our feelings of loneliness, hurt, doubt, fear, insecurity, inadequacy, depression, and so forth all require our own openness and loving-kindness within ourselves. And then I'll just close with something I read when I was looking at this. "Our challenge in our spiritual practice is to soften our habitual defenses, open our hearts, and let go of hatred, aversion, and denial. In this way, we can meet and embrace ourselves, others, and all inner and outer experiences with great compassion and with great wisdom." So I know that that's what I am working on, and I hope it's something that we can work on together, and I hope that in the last half hour of our time together, that can be something that we can talk about. What comes up in our daily lives that we might have been reminded of as we go through this together tonight? And how can we work to ultimately come together to dwell in universal loving-kindness and practice compassion, not only within ourselves but with everyone that we meet and that we'll come across in our day-to-day lives?

Thanks for listening.

Transcribed by Meghan Horton

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