Tuesday, 29 June 2010

The Path to Emotional Intelligence

"In the last decade or so, science has discovered a tremendous amount about the role emotions play in our lives. Researchers have found that even more than IQ, your emotional awareness (EQ) and abilities to handle feelings will determine your success and happiness in all walks of life, including family relationships." --John Gottman, Ph.D.

After some twenty years of doing pastoral counseling, I'm more convinced than ever that the biggest hurdle people face in their lives is "emotional incompetence".  Why the biggest?

Well, unless you know how to relate to and manage the incredibly powerful emotional currents within you, those currents will destroy your relationships, wreck your health and make spiritual life impossible, reducing you to a state of abject misery. 

Bottom line?  To achieve physical, mental and spiritual RESILIENCE, we all need to master our emotional lives. 

Of course, it's easy for "spiritual" people to delude themselves completely here, because when they suffer from their own emotional incompetence, they have a tendency to construe it as some sort of redemptive suffering (which is only true if you're working towards healing) or to see themselves as suffering unjustly at the hands of "evildoers" (the Jihadist response).  Both alternatives just perpetuate their own emotional incompetence. 

Last time, when we talked about a "spiritual path that really works", we mentioned that you have to be willing to make friends with your emotional content.  You stop repressing it and you stop acting it out - which are just two different ways of not dealing with it - and you start to relate to it directly.

This takes a lot of guts, by the way.  It can scare the crap out of you at first.  However, you learn pretty quickly that your powerful and scary emotions aren't nearly so frightening once you invite them in for tea.  They're very often just a cover-up, a fear-based response.  So the real question behind all of your ego-centric neurosis and mine is... "what exactly are we afraid of and why?"

When you get to the bottom of your fear, you realize it's not so scary as you thought, that FDR was right about "the only thing to fear is fear itself". 

Do you have the courage to take all your anger, your attachment and your indifference - those three poisons of the soul - and "make friends" with them?  Are you willing to have a chat with them and see what makes them tick, to uncover your own fears?  One barrier to doing this, by the way, is your social and religious programming telling you certain emotions are "bad" and you "shouldn't" have them.  The more you listen to those voices, the more you repress, until finally the pressure becomes too strong and you act out instead.  And that pretty much describes the useless cycle many people are trapped in.   

However, if you're willing to be present to your emotions, if you're willing to feel the fear and do it anyway, to use the cliche, you'll be well on your way to emotional healing and true resilience.

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

OMG - a Spiritual Practice that Actually Works!

Early this month I spent a week or so in the Toronto area to attend a conference, as well as to see some friends and relatives. 

So it meant train rides, rental cars, hotel room, racing to get to the conference sessions on time, meeting a ton of new people and trying desperately not to be late getting to my friends 'n relations.  Lots of fun, to be sure, but also really hectic and full of unforeseen challenges. 

And when you have that combination of a hectic schedule, constant changes of plan, events you don't control, new people, great people, and difficult people, it can take you on quite an emotional roller coaster ride.  And, indeed, I was aboard that one, and not always to my liking!

At one point I just felt like yelling, "STOP the world and let me off!"

A Common Delusion...

We often think that if this would just stop, if my boss were different, if my spouse weren't so self-absorbed, if this person just liked me, if...if...if... then my life would be peaceful and joyful. 

Fortunately, ancient traditions know better.  In both Tibetan Buddhism and Orthodox Christianity, they tell us that our real problem is never "out there".  Rather, it's our tendency to view reality from the ego's perspective.  And the ego always divides reality into 3 categories - I love it, I hate it, or I just don't care.  These can be thought of as attachment, aversion and indifference. 

Think of anyone you know and your thoughts will tell you immediately which bucket they're in today!

Buddhism refers to these 3 attitudes as "poisons", and it's easy to see why - they cause you constant suffering and keep you chained to your tiny egocentric self.  We instinctively know this and that's why we tend to react to the strong emotions the 3 poisons bring in one of two ways:

- we repress the emotion, or
- we act out the emotion

...and neither works at all.  They just continue our slavery.  The poison just gets worse.  And we think, "if only the poison didn't exist, all would be well."  So we resist, we try to control our world, we repress some thoughts and accept others, all without understanding what's really happening, and so we suffer more.

But what if....  what if there was a way to transform this very poison into healing medicine?

A Spiritual Path that Actually Works!

Once we realize the poisons are within us, we can take ownership and even relax a bit! 

Now, when we feel strong attachment emotions for someone or something we see as desirable or strong aversion emotions, or complete indifference, we can simply say to ourselves, "Oh, here comes that heavy emotional stuff again... ho hum."  We can relax and watch the movie without feeling the need to repress the thoughts and feelings or to let them take over.

Suddenly we feel this huge spaciousness all around us.  Everything's calm, even though the situation hasn't changed.  The boss can still be a jerk and my neighbor can still be drop-dead gorgeous, and the emotional reactions associated with these still come over me, but there's a huge difference.

For the first time, I've truly surrendered.  I'm willing to just be with the emotional energy.  I'm willing to accept what seems unpleasant, as well as what feels pleasant, and watch it all.  So, for the first time in my life, I've gone beyond my old default setting of running toward what I thought was pleasure and running away from what I thought was pain. 

Now, at last, I'm breaking free.  I can simply BE. 

And what used to strike me as uncomfortable, as messy, as pleasant or painful, I now relate to as the richness of life, as the raw material for my emotional growth and spiritual development.  In a metaphorical sense, I've learned you really can transform lead into gold. 

And from now on I know that there's nothing I can't handle, because I no longer need to "handle" or control anything. 

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger :-)

Friday, 18 June 2010

Meditation - It's More Than You Think (Part-2)

So last time we talked about my friend and his search for health through 8 minutes of meditation a day.  You might as well try to dig the Panama canal with a teaspoon! 

A couple of things on that score before we actually get into today’s topic.  If your time is limited, you can still do meditation, but sessions of less than 20 minutes will, in the end, not likely generate the results you want.  Keep in mind that the actual sitting practice is not the be-all and end-all.  In fact, their real purpose is to enable you to transform all of life, every waking moment, into meditation, meaning you learn how to remain in such a state effortlessly, no matter what’s going on around you.

In the words of the great Chinese physician, Sun Simiao (d. 682 AD):

"The mind is totally oriented towards purity and tranquility.  Whether you're involved in affairs or free from them, there is no agitation either way.  With a powerfully focused mind, you put an end to all mental scattering and enter into deep concentration." 

Phase-2: "Downloading" Superior Content for Your Mind

Today we’re actually hear to talk about Phase 2 of the meditative process – where you “download” superior content to your mental continuum in order to replace the old, inaccurate and often neurotic content you’ve been working at “deleting” during Phase 1. 

In Tibetan Buddhism, this phase is called “placement meditation", because you focus on a particular idea, image and action that has the power to transform your life in some way and "place" your mind firmly within that idea / image.  In the Tibetan Lamrim sytems, these “objects” of meditation include cultivating compassion, controlling delusional mental and emotional states and increasing your ability to focus on one thing for long periods of time without distraction. 

Strangely enough, the two phase process of meditation is not entirely linear and sequential.  In other words, you don’t have to be anywhere near perfect at Phase 1 in order to start Phase 2.  In fact, Phase 2 actually helps you complete Phase 1 because “downloading” this new emotional / spiritual content helps you to erase your pre-existing programming. 

The Tibetan Lamrim system includes specific instructions for meditating on the preciousness of your human life, impermanence, developing equanimity, remembering the kindness of others, equalizing self and others, the disadvantages of self-cherishing, the advantages of cherishing others, cultivating compassion, wishing love, tranquil abiding (concentration) and much more.*

For those of you who have a copy of The 5 Pillars of Life, you'll notice that Appendix A is a series of 21 placement meditations! 
Meditation and its close cousin, noetic prayer, have more transformational power than any other spiritual practice.  And it’s not just your “spiritual” aspect they transform – your physical, mental and emotional aspects get a complete makeover in the process too.  Now that's a resilience practice that's hard to refuse!

So next time you think about meditation, remember... it's about more than just your physical health. 
~ Dr. Symeon Rodger

* To learn more about the Lamrim meditations, I highly recommend Lama Kelsang Gyatso's "The Meditation Handbook", by Tharpa Publications in the UK

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Meditation - It's More Than You Think (Part 1)

Recently a friend of mine engaged me in a conversation about meditation.  He’s pretty new to the whole thing and decided he really needed to start meditating to improve his health and, because of that decision, he was going to start meditating for a full 8 minutes a day!


Well, I’ll get back to him in a moment, but for now it just shows you all the misconceptions that are out there!  The fact is, if you’re basic understanding of the meditative process is wrong from the start, these misconceptions will limit your progress accordingly.

Yes, meditation can have profound effects on your physical health, however, that’s not the purpose of meditation.  Beware of mixing up benefits and purpose!

Meditation is really a two phase process.  Phase-1 teaches you how to stabilize your mental continuum and "delete" negative and unhelpful emotional / spiritual content, whereas Phase-2 teaches you how “download” new and superior emotional / spiritual content.

Phase 1: Stabilizing Your Mental Continuum and Deleting Negative Content

This negative content consists of all of your cultural conditioning (which controls and predetermines most of your reactions day to day to everything and everyone you encounter), your personal negative emotional content (from early life traumas and many other factors) and, in general, anything that’s holding you back.

Pursuing this training will eventually return you to the truly natural human state – where your mental continuum is free from extraneous thoughts and emotions.  Basically, you think when you decide to think.  Other than that, you mind remains crystal clear and without thought.  When this condition is stabilized throughout the day, virtually all of your emotional and physical symptoms will disappear.

The most effective way to train this method is something I’ve described in a really basic form in The 5 Pillars of Life book, and in much greater detail – pictures and all – in Rock Solid Tranquility (http://www.harapower.com/ ).  To simplify things, it involves a meditational sitting practice where you use your mental attention to follow your breathing.  Yeah okay, that glosses over some crucial details, but it’s an accurate description nevertheless.

When you start to practice this marvellous procedure, you’ll get lots of other benefits, of course.   Health is certainly one of them, as is a certain level of detoxification.  Others include a direct understanding of “harmony” – of the rhythm of the universe surrounding you.  Then you’ll slowly learn how to surrender, to let go of your own expectations, your hopes, your fears, and dwell trustingly in the moment.  In other words, you develop true faith.  (Please don't tell me how religious or "spiritual" you are unless you actually trust the Absolute Reality to care for you).

You’ll develop intuition – you’ll learn how to listen to your gut, trust you gut, and listen with a much wiser faculty than your ears or your thinking brain.

All these things will come into your reach through the practice of sitting meditation, unless…. you shoot for such hopelessly inadequate practice levels as 8 minutes a day!  Ain’t nothin’ happenin’ there… At the beginning it may well take you twice that long just to calm your mind and eliminate your distractions.  From the beginning of your practice, you should probably aim to sit for 20 minutes at a time.

Next time, I’ll attempt a brief description of Phase 2 of the meditative process, which is even more fascinating.  Just remember that you need to make some serious headway in Phase 1 first!

~ Dr. Symeon Rodger