At the retreat I was leading yesterday, someone asked about dealing with “emotional obstacles”, in particular how does mindfulness practice help. The main thing we need to remember is that obstacles only occur when there is attachment. If we become fascinated with some feeling state, memory or detail of emotional experience, there can be a contraction or compression of attention. This compacting produces the apparent shape and form of the obstacle, it appears to us as something real and permanent. That leads to struggle and more emotional experience as we become frustrated, upset or whatever reactions we get. That then repeats the activity and it becomes the next obstacle.
We can keep in mind the Zen expression, mizuno no kokoro or “heart like water”. Water does not recognize obstacles, its behaviour is that of flow and circumvention. It does not become attached to objects, it penetrates or goes around them. When we experience some apparently unresolvable emotional experience, one which arises as if it were an obstacle, our practice is best when it opens around that experience, like water around a large boulder or island. It is best when it saturates and dissolves the experience, that is, when we come to recognize the transience of that experience.
Yours in the Dharma,
om namo amida butsu
Read this week’s Ask the Religion Experts column here