Now let's talk about emotions…
Recently on Facebook, I wrote this comment:
"Nobody is responsible for your own sadness except for you. Nobody is responsible for your fear except you. You are the only person responsible for any and all of your emotions… positive, negative, and everything in between."
To which James inquisitively replied:
"Would you have said this to the holocaust victims being pushed into the ovens?"
In my experience, a deep need for understanding the Truth sometimes compels me to look at the extreme situations and see if a "truth" or "teaching" can be applied. In that way, this question really lands well with me at a heartful level.
After all, if a teaching can't hold up under intense scrutiny, how can we trust the teaching or expect it to be applied in our own lives?
My Present thoughts on this are:
Those people, in those situations (no matter how extreme) *are* ultimately responsible for their own emotions. We only need study the works of Viktor Frankl, Wild Bill Cody, or Anne Frank to see evidence of people who knew that their circumstances could direct their attention and emotions, yet they themselves were ultimately responsible for their emotions.
That said, we do have very clear biological / instinctual energies that can show up as emotions in our bodies (and thus hijack our brain functioning). For example, the threats of fear to our physical safety. This is a biological response which lasts, at a minimum, 6 seconds — unless we take responsibility for that experience and choose to take conscious control of it (such as through breathing).
If we step into conscious awareness, we can end those hormone cycles more quickly. If we allow the cycle to go unconscious, our body will continue to flood with stress hormones about every 6 seconds. When we're stressed out, the most important thing we can do is take a deep breath and do something, anything, to gain distance from the difficult emotion.
I also feel that taking any teaching out of context is a disservice to the teaching. What I mean by this is that while I absolutely do believe (and this is having been through my own horrifying Dark Night of the Soul) that we are each responsible for our own emotions, I would *not* speak that to people in extreme situations (such as the Holocaust) -UNLESS- the moment called for it. My words (if any) would likely be oriented more towards direct expressions of compassion.
- It's important to remember that my primary orientation is towards being Present and in the moment. From this place, the Truth will arise.
Therefore, while hypothetical situations can be very helpful to understand teachings – exploring those hypothetical situations cannot *ever* be considered a remotely accurate substitute for personal and direct experience.
This is why I say that in the situation described, I don't fully know how I would respond.
Would I have words?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Would they be a teaching on emotions?
Probably not. But they could be.
After all, what if I were sitting with Anne Frank or Viktor Frankl?
Or somebody similar who was already oriented towards taking responsibility for his/her emotions, but perhaps just wasn't quite in that space or needed a little support to re-orient back towards self awareness?
I can't know these things in advance.
I can only know that when I am totally Present, and oriented towards compassion, the Truth will arise as needed. In this way, what I might say to one person in that situation could be a total 180 from what I'd tell another person in that situation.
I am reminded of a wonderful Zen Buddhist story…
"The Most Important Teaching"
A renowned Zen master said that his greatest teaching was this: Buddha is your own mind.
So impressed by how profound this idea was, one monk decided to leave the monastery and retreat to the wilderness to meditate on this insight. There he spent 20 years as a hermit probing the great teaching.
One day he met another monk who was traveling through the forest. Quickly the hermit monk learned that the traveler also had studied under the *same* Zen master:
"Please, tell me what you know of the master's greatest teaching."
The traveler's eyes lit up:
"Ah, the master has been very clear about this. He says that his greatest teaching is this: Buddha is NOT your own mind."