This morning we all were hit by the terrible news of the Orlando shootings. It can be hard to know how to handle the slew of emotions that arise in response to such a tragedy. It’s normal to feel angry and sad when we see such a high level of hate in our world. In addition, with a crime such as this, we can feel a multitude of feelings including a sense of overwhelm, confusion, shock, and rage.
During my walk this morning, I noticed I had a strong urge to distract myself from the grief that I felt from the news of the shooting. One example is that I found myself making a plan to watch one of my favorite comedies on Netflix when I got home from my walk. My rational mind jumped in and corrected that plan because I knew I had work to do. But a few minutes later, my mind was busy hatching a new distraction plan. I was half way through my walk, so I sat in the shade and did some breathing. Right away, I noticed how scattered my mind was, as if it was in panic mode. I brought my attention to my heart and felt an immense ache. My mind jumped right in and pulled me back to its chaotic rumblings.
In Buddhism, ordinary human consciousness is sometimes referred to as the monkey mind or kapicitta. This is because our mind is often agitated, easily distracted, and incessantly moving. This morning, I felt I not only had the monkey mind, but I had a whole troop of monkeys in my mind. I found myself getting frustrated because I couldn’t focus on my breathing, but then remembered another thing I’ve learned from Buddhism. It is human nature to turn away from discomfort, but if we can train ourselves to face our emotions, they will lift from us much faster. The idea is to touch what comes up (sit with it, acknowledging it’s existence), and then let it go. Letting go is one of the hardest things for humans to do, but if you practice with visualization, it can be much easier. For example, this morning on the rocks I sat with my grief. I allowed it to spread through my body and express itself however it needed. I breathed as I felt my heart ache for the victims and their families. A few minutes later, I put that grief in a balloon and let those balloons go. In my mind, I watched those balloons disappear into the sky. Although I know I’ll have more grief to process, I felt lighter, my mind contained less monkeys and I felt more at peace.
We can apply this practice to any difficulties that we are dealing with in our lives. I know from experience that ignoring our emotions doesn’t make them go away. At first they seem to disappear, but then they come back as a headache, digestion issues, anxiety, or some other physical stress response. We need to allow ourselves to feel our emotions, especially the painful ones. It not only makes the processing of our emotions go smoother, but it allows us to live our lives more engaged and more at peace for years to come.