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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Letting Go of Repression

Why it is so difficult to let go of anger and pride? And why is it important and necessary that we do so? Both of these feelings are by products of the ego. Someone harms us, taunts us, speaks ill of us and we automatically feel hurt. Our ego, the image that we carry of ourselves is wounded and we feel offended. Similarly pride is also an effect, a by product of the ego. Our achievements, our relationships, the feeling that we are someone special— all this is important to the ego and leads to pride. The ego is that which gives us our separate identity in the world.

This sense of separation is— according to all of the Buddhist teachings— an illusion. This is what causes suffering, pain and fear that we are all subject to. And what is the method to be free? It is awareness. Simply watch your state of mind when you are angry or full of pride. This is not expression of anger, nor it is repression. It transcends both. Simply be aware and you will not even need to consciously let go of these feelings— they will drop away of their own accord. Expression of anger may get us into trouble with the outside world and in our relationships. But repression— not allowing yourself or condemning yourself for feeling angry— is much worse. The poison is not released— it is stored in your body and mind. And sooner or later the volcano of your feelings will erupt— leading to much more harmful expression of your anger than letting it out in small, regular doses.

Being aware means welcoming, accepting and acknowledging the anger. But we do not necessarily express it unless we consciously choose to do so. Even when we express the anger we exercise our choice, we do not feel compelled to do so. We are not overcome by our passions. The behavioral scientist— B. F. Skinner— studied rats in order to understand men and women.

It may seem very demeaning to us that the study of rats should lead to and understanding of human nature. Yet that is a fair comment about the majority of the human race. They do not meditate, they have no self-awareness. They have as little freedom to choose their actions as do rats. Rats react to external stimuli. They are compelled to react in mechanical ways. They do not have a choice and sadly that is true of most of us as well. This however is not true of a Buddha. It is not true of anyone who is self aware, who has a meditative state of mind. To exercise a choice in choosing our mental states and our actions we need a certain amount of detachment. We need some distance between ourselves and the feelings of anger and pride. We need to be able to witness these feeling without reacting, without identifying ourselves with them.

And this choice is available through meditation practice. Just as anger and pride are caused by the ego, so also the ego is caused by unawareness. We will not make progress by dealing with the symptoms— we have to tackle the root cause. And the root cause of the ego, of anger and pride and all our sufferings is a lack of awareness.

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