I had a conversation with someone very dear to me this week that got me thinking about what it is that really motivates our behavior. I have been at this for so long now that I often forget what it was like when I first started this journey. So our conversation reminded me of where I started and just how difficult it was back then to grasp what my my real motivations are.
Often when we act (react) without thought, we are actually acting from some place that is much deeper and is usually hidden from even ourselves. For instance anger is almost always a mask for pain or fear. We react with anger, but the real issue is our pain or our fear. Anxiety can be a mask for fear – fear of the unknown. Embarrassment can be a mask for lack of self esteem. You get the idea. Your combination may be different, but rest assured that there is always something deeper.
Our emotions are layers that build on top of each other to create the landscape that we live with everyday. When we embark on the journey of self discovery we are archeologist whose job it is to unearth the layers and interpret the meanings and causes. As usual this is not for the faint of heart, this is very difficult work. And even when you think the work is done and you have finally unearthed the last layer, at some point you will find out that there is more to discover. And life itself will continue to add layers so that we must continually clear away debris to unearth the Truth. This means that this work, this self discovery is never ending.
Meditation gives us the tools we need to facilitate this difficult work. When we learn to be aware of when our thoughts start to drift away we are also learning to be aware of when we are acting (reacting) to some deep emotion. With practice, we can identify when an emotion is surfacing and take a pause to recognize that it may have a deeper cause. This pause gives us the space to ask ourselves what the real issue is and the power to choose how we want to act (react) to situations.
I have said it many times, and I will continue to say it over and over. We do not sit on our cushions for those minutes alone, we sit for the difficult minutes in our lives that are yet to come. We sit because it prepares us, it builds our self knowledge, it enables us to take back control.
So start to take that breath when you feel difficult emotions and in the pause ask yourself “what is this really about?”. In time, and with practice, you will find yourself automatically going through this process and you will also find yourself using it in interactions with others. It can be a profound experience to recognize fear in someone who is angry with you. It will change the way you respond and can dramatically change the outcome.
So keep up the good work. It is hard, but I promise you – it is worth it.