We are told throughout our lives to believe that our emotions have power over us. We learn that if we are, for instance, sad or depressed or grief-stricken, then this emotion is solid and real and it has the capacity to rule us for as long as we are wrapped in it. We are also led to believe that two opposing emotions cannot coexist at the same time. So, say for instance, one could not possibly feel great sadness and great happiness at the same time, as those two solid and substantial states would necessarily crowd one another out.
I now know from my own direct experience that all of this is completely untrue.
Recently I was waiting to go up to speak to about seventy lovely friends, and five minutes before that talk was to begin, I was given the unexpected news that a dear friend, a lovely young person full of kindness and compassion, had died suddenly. For a moment I simply stood there in shock with my hands clasped over my face. The grief came pouring in and I was totally absorbed by it. I felt all the deepest feelings welling up, and I was about to break into tears. But I also recognized that I would need to be at rest with this flood of emotion, because I would be momentarily addressing people who had not yet heard the news and that this was not the proper time to inform them.
I recollected myself, stood quietly for a minute and let everything be as it is. I then went up front to the stage, trembling with emotion as I sat down in the chair in front of a sea of wondering faces. When it was my turn to speak, I had no idea what I would say. However, all of a sudden a vivid image came into my head: the lovely lupine flowers that we have beside the roadside in summer. I spoke of how when the lupines are picked and placed in a vase, they still have the life and intelligence to move towards to sun, separating themselves from one another to give each stem enough space to grow. I described how these flowers, like all the seasonal flowers, had a time of life and then they died. The metaphorical relationship between the flowers and what had happened with our young friend was very present for me, and I was engulfed by intense grief.
But then, as I just sat there and let the emotions wash over me, I could see that grief was not the only thing present, even if it was overwhelmingly present. Simultaneous to the grief and equally at hand was an awe-inspiring joy and gratitude. I could not say that the joy and gratitude was for anything in particular, but there it was in equal measure to the crushing grief.
How could this be? I was not in a position just then to figure it out, and thank goodness for that. Instead, I was in a very auspicious instant of total clarity, watching something quite extraordinary happen: two tremendous feelings that I had never experienced at one time together were totally and completed wedded to one another in that precious moment.
We completed the talk, and I think that it is fair to say that I came off that stage a different person from the one who went up to it. I had seen, in my own direct experience, that the names for emotions don’t matter. Whatever description we give to things, it is all one incredibly beneficial energy flowing in a marvelous and miraculous way. Once this is seen, then it is also seen that there is nothing to be avoided and nothing to be afraid of. Life in all its glory is ever-present in the here and now, and it is only our descriptions that distract us from that gift.
I am reminded of an ancient teaching which I will paraphrase here: Wisdom is not difficult for those who have no preferences. When love and hate are both absent, everything becomes clear and undisguised. Make the smallest distinction, however, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart. If we wish to see the truth, then hold no opinions for or against anything. To set up what you like against what you dislike is merely the play of the mind. When the deep meaning of things is not understood, the mind’s essential peace is disturbed to no avail. Be serene in the oneness of things, and such erroneous views will disappear by themselves. With a single stroke we are freed from bondage.