Five years ago, I published chapter 7 of this profound and magnificent book; a chapter entitled Working with the Mind. Given the amount of Emotional Reactivity present in the world today, I thought it would be an opportune time to offer the next chapter, From Emotional Reactivity to Enlightenment.
What I did not realize until a few days ago, when I searched my blog, is that I already “worked with” this chapter over the course of a business trip to North Carolina. That was seven years ago; the experience was powerful and guess what, it went into oblivion! You can read about my Double Encounter with the Bhagavad-Gita.
Enjoy this life-deepening piece of work!
The Matter of Mind
An Explorer’s Guide to the Labyrinth of the Mind
Master Djwhal Kuhl through Kathlyn Kingdon
Chapter 8: From Emotional Reactivity to Enlightenment
At this point in time—which is only a few years into the twenty-first century—taking stock of the conventional reality confronts one with displays of chaos, confusion, greed, hatred, anger and attempts by one group or another to dominate some other group. One does not have to be particularly wise to see that the emotional body of Earth is being stretched unmercifully as the planet’s populace works out its collective karma. Because each single individual is a microscopic representation of the planetary process then, as Earth’s emotional body is stressed, so too are the emotional bodies of each person experiencing on Earth.
Although the emotional struggles of a given time seem unique unto the time, human nature remains much as it has always been. While the toys and fashions differ from age to age, the human psyche suffers in much the same way it always has and the matter of spiritual liberation remains the ageless order of the day. The ancient King Solomon was said to have remarked that, in searching the world over, he found “nothing new under the sun.” His point was that the issues that cause human suffering are basically all the same, age to age, region to region.
Arjuna and Gandhi and the Call to Duty
The story of Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita is literally the story of every person who struggles with emotional balance. He lives in a time of chaos and war. And, worst of all, Arjuna, who hates war, is asked by his spiritual teacher, Krishna, to go to war. Arjuna’s family had been the rightful holders of the throne but Arjuna’s father (the king) had been tricked by his own less-than-honorable brothers to wager the throne in a gambling exercise. Losing the kingdom to the relatives, the king and queen were killed and the children of the royal marriage were cast into the forest to fend for themselves. To everyone’s amazement, Arjuna and his brothers were not killed by wild animals but lived innocently and peaceably among them.
When the boys are grown, Lord Krishna appears to Arjuna, telling him that since he has come of age, he and his brothers must fight the uncles and cousins to reclaim the throne as the rightful family. Lord Krishna reminds Arjuna that he has the responsibility, not only to his forebears, but to those who come after him as well. Arjuna tries to convince Lord Krishna to get someone else for the job, confessing that he knows nothing about fighting, nor does he have any desire to learn! To Arjuna’s protestations, Lord Krishna’s famous words ring out, “Get up and do your duty!” In fact, the story of the Bhagavad-Gita is the story of the spiritual awakening of Arjuna through his learning to do his duty.
As the first chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita closes, Arjuna has seen the mighty armies of his uncles and cousins, the Pandhavas, and is realizing the magnitude of the situation. He feels trapped. He does not want to engage in warfare and can hardly bear the fact that he is being asked to kill his own relatives, no matter what their behavior to his own family has been. On the other hand, when Lord Krishna personally calls to lay out the plan of his destiny, Arjuna cannot exactly refuse him either. He does however offer significant protestations to Lord Krishna about his lack of skill, knowledge and desire to fight. Lord Krishna had offered to both Arjuna and the Pandhavas (Arjuna’s enemy relatives) the same option: they could choose to have his armies or they could have his counsel. The Pandhavas, of course, immediately took the offer of Krishna’s armies. Arjuna, because of his absolute lack of experience, decided he would not know how to use Krishna’s armies if they were under his control, so he chose to have Krishna as his adviser and charioteer.
Thus, Lord Krishna shows Arjuna the entire regalia of the great armies he must fight with his brothers. Taking it all in, Arjuna thinks this is the most helpless situation imaginable and he becomes overwhelmed and despondent. He confides in Krishna that he thinks the better option is for him to go out on the battlefield unarmed and simply allow the Pandhavas to kill him. Arjuna is so upset that he throws down his bow and arrows, sits down on the chariot and, putting his head in his hands, gives in to his grief.
Lord Krishna turns to Arjuna, seeing his emotional state, and chastises him for his “impurities,” by which he means Arjuna’s emotional reactions. In truth, Arjuna is pouting, crying and stomping around, and Krishna informs him that such a reaction is not befitting a man “who knows the value of life.” He explains that the emotions would not elevate Arjuna to a higher plane but are quite degrading of his true self (2.2). He begs Arjuna not to give in to the emotional turmoil, calling it such a “degrading impotence.” Rather, Krishna urges him to arise and become his true self (2.3).
Clearly, Arjuna does not want to face either his destiny or his duty. More protestations follow as Arjuna lectures Krishna, reminding him that one goes to the hell realms for killing. Of course, Arjuna is terrified and, as many do in the face of fear, he diverts his focus from fear to blame—accusing his teacher of manipulation, blaming him for the suffering Arjuna experiences. Krishna again asks Arjuna to arise in his true nature rather than as this emotional mess.
The story of Arjuna often falls upon dull ears for many spiritual aspirants for they see themselves as having evolved spiritually to the point where the mere consideration of war is abhorrent. Thus, great aversion might arise in the mind, resulting from some application of comparing mind. One might ask, “How could a spiritual teacher of Lord Krishna’s level demand that his student or disciple actually engage in killing as spiritual duty? There is nothing about killing that fits into the paradigm of spirituality!”
This same inquiring seeker might point to the example of a holy man such as Gandhi, citing the relative merits of the pacifist’s mindset to the world at large over those of the activist warrior. Of course, in acknowledging the power of Gandhi’s presence in the world, we must also recall that Gandhi always carried with him the Bhagavad-Gita, reading from it continually, particularly when he felt his own emotional nature pulling him to retire his mission. Gandhi saw himself as a modern-day Arjuna, often referring to both himself and Arjuna as “reluctant warriors.”
At first glance, the duty required of Arjuna may appear quite different from that of Gandhi. However, upon closer investigation, one can also see how they are the same. It can be a mistake to conclude that what might be required of one in service to one’s spiritual duty would necessarily appear only grand and noble. Indeed, Gandhi did not feel that way about his plight when he quite literally felt the presence of Lord Krishna speaking to him and, as in Arjuna’s case, demanding that he get up and do his duty.
From the position of hindsight, it may readily appear that Gandhi’s resistance movement turned out as a mission of peace. However, Gandhi certainly had no way of ascertaining such would be the case when he received the call, so to speak. He feared he would bear responsibility for the death of many of his countrymen and had no way of seeing that his efforts would bring about any significant change for India. Indeed, he was fairly sure he would be killed and worried about all the others who might be killed. He wrestled ardently with all the internal emotional demons that arose to subvert both his integrity and his mission. Remember, talking on the entire British Empire is tantamount to declaring war on Britain. To Gandhi it certainly felt as if he were being called by Lord Krishna to “gird up his loins” and go to war. Indeed, he felt the presence of “death by the sword” to be his constant companion.
Gandhi, like spiritual aspirants of today, had to face his own aversion to killing and war in order to fulfill his duty. Thus, there is little wonder at the fact that he took strength and inspiration from Arjuna’s story. Indeed, without Arjuna’s example, there is little likelihood that Gandhi could or would have accomplished his mission.
Duty is the Vehicle to Liberation
In many ways, what Arjuna and Gandhi were called to do is not so different from what all spiritual aspirants must do. As one matures, one must put away the emotional levels that could cause one to slip into hatred, greed or despair. Like Arjuna or Gandhi, each must arise and do his or her duty. These two figures, great in different ways and different times, stand as powerful examples for the spiritual aspirant of today and perhaps help modern seekers to determine that, when called to action by the spiritual plane, it is folly to resist or try to foil the plan. Indeed, the battle of life goes on, irrespective of whether or not one wants to engage in it. Likely, both Arjuna and Krishna would find humorous the notions of many present-day aspirants that they somehow know more of what is needed for the process of Earth’s enlightenment than do the great teachers, such as Lord Krishna.
Of course, Arjuna had his moment with Krishna when he threw his big temper tantrum. Following that, his next tactic was to plead with Krishna, claiming himself to be out of sorts, confused about what this notion of “duty” is, as well as how to carry it out. Like students of today, he begs the teacher to make the decision for him—to just tell him what to do.
Lord Krishna, however, is very poised and tells Arjuna that, while his words sound very impressive, he is mourning over something not worthy of his grief. He informs Arjuna that the wise do not lament for either the living or the dead for, “Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be” (2.12). Krishna reminds Arjuna of all the changes that one undergoes in the course of a life. Starting as an infant, one moves through the stages of youth, adulthood, old age and death. But nothing ends with death, for the soul extends its awareness into another incarnation.
He reminds Arjuna not to be overwhelmed by the changes in his own life that he must face for such is life. Indeed, one should cling neither to the happy moments nor to the unhappy moments for, in due course, they, like the seasons, appear and disappear. The mature individual simply learns to tolerate the changes without inner disturbance for only those who can master inner calm in the face of life’s changes are suitable candidates for liberation. Although the body is destructible, Krishna teaches that which dwells in the body is indestructible and he who thinks that the living entity is the slayer, or that the entity is slain, does not understand. One who is in knowledge knows that the self slays not, nor is slain.
While this text may trigger aversion in some, it actually does not encourage killing. The same Vedic tradition that begat the Bhagavad-Gita also clearly instructs against doing violence to any living being. One of the greatest paradoxes to confront any student of the spiritual mysteries arises in the acceptance of the place of violence within a strictly non-violent tradition. Of course, to get lost in the relative rightness or wrongness of the text is to miss the point altogether.
Even though the setting for the text is on the battlefield—where the possibility for death and destruction do loom large—the text itself is not about doing bloody battle. It is rather about facing the fact that one must accept one’s duty, pay the price or ransom, so to speak, for one’s liberation from the prison of suffering.
In that light, the text also addresses emotional obscurations that are likely to arise as each is confronted with his or her spiritual duty. Many spiritual aspirants in the West are offended by the word “duty,” feeling that it somehow negates the notion of free will that so many people hold dear. Gandhi, however, certainly did not feel as if he had free will in the matter of his spiritual mission—nor, for that matter, did he believe he should have had free will. When one becomes mature enough to fully understand the true nature and power of suffering in the lives and creative domains of all beings, one then recognizes that duty is the vehicle of liberation.
Like Arjuna, you took birth to discover liberation. Also, like Arjuna, it is likely that what prevents your attainment of the goal has strong roots planted deeply in the emotional body. Arising emotions can be very compelling and, if allowed to hoard too much internal space or focus, they obscure clear sight of the goal, which is liberation. Krishna notes for Arjuna that his emotions throw him out of balance and urges him to free his focus from them, so that he might once again see the world objectively rather than only subjectively.
Negotiating the Emotional Terrain
Although you might not find yourself facing the imminent catastrophe that Arjuna thought he was facing, the emotional surges that steal your equanimity are no less significant. When powerful emotions arise, the temptation is to get lost in them, believing they are real. To do so, however, robs you of your relationship to emptiness for the force of strong emotions demands your full focus. The pertinent question becomes, “How does one achieve emotional balance when strong emotions arise to dominate the moment?”
In his pain, Arjuna did what many people do today: he dropped his inhibition and allowed his emotional impulses to drive him. While such is a popular strategy with many even today, it cannot ultimately be successful for anyone because it enslaves one to an emotional pendulum, yanking one back and forth with the emotional flow of the moment. Many people think that the only way to express their emotions is to act out or direct their feelings at someone else. In truth, outward expression of one’s feelings should be for the benefit of oneself, not some other individual who might get caught in the wake of an overpowering or volatile emotional release. Generally speaking, it is rare that a blast of emotional energy actually elevates anyone—not the releaser, nor the one who is released upon and certainly not an innocent bystander. In such cases, emotional energy is either splayed off in multiple non-focused directions or inappropriately projected at another person. Either way, the benefit of the arising transformative potential is lost since the person is unable to contain the energy.
Another popular strategy in handling emotions involves suppression. There are moments, of course, where some suppression is actually skillful. Should one become angry with another and the impulse to strike the other arises, suppression is clearly better than actually hitting the other person. However, when suppression becomes the strategy to prevent feelings from arising, it requires a strong act of will applied against the self. Practiced over time, suppression can even be sublimated, producing repression. Neither of these strategies are effective, either psychologically or spiritually, since such severe checking of emotions does not address the issue of why they arose in the first place.
While these two strategies may look wildly different in their application, they hold something important in common. The habituated use of either is nothing but an attempt to manipulate or control the moment, effectively avoiding the direct experience of one’s emotions. This movement “away from” separates one from the spiritual potential that may be present with the wave of emotional energy. Whether acting out or suppressing, both are avoidant strategies that dislodge one from the present moment.
What is needed is a third way to negotiate the emotional terrain—a way that allows one to be fully present for a charged emotional moment but without artificially superimposing upon what is arising either reactivity or suppression. Whether or not you have previously recognized it, it is possible to see every arising emotion as an open field of potentiality, particularly if the emotion can be greeted without the habituated movement of the mind. The emotional arising can become a creative possibility if and when one is able to experience the feeling content as a manifestation of one’s enlightenment potential. Or we could even say that such is a manifestation that expresses some quality of one’s already existing—even if not yet perceived—enlightenment.
The complicating factor in dealing with the emotional body is that often the emotional intensity that arises is accompanied by a dislike for the emotion. Thus, one must not only ascertain what to do with the energy of the particular emotion, he or she must ascertain how to manage the emotional charge he or she carries for the emotion as well. Indeed, this complication can become multilayered very quickly.
Put yourself in Arjuna’s place for a moment. He was angry that he was being asked by Lord Krishna to undertake an activity to which he had a strong aversion. Likely you can recall a time when you experienced anger when being asked to do something you did not want to do. Add to the anger the complication that, in the moment, you did not want to be angry and you found yourself dealing, not only with the anger, but also your own internal reaction (judgment) against being angry. Thus, you must find coping strategies to deal, not only with the original anger, but with your judgment of the anger as well. Perhaps there is the further complication of feeling some shame at being seen as an angry person by another, plus any judgment you might place on experiencing the shame.
With such rapidly compounding internal complications, if you are limited to choosing between reactivity and suppression, the loss of equanimity is understandable, even assured. In either case, you would simply be reacting to your own reactions, the net result of which is that projecting mind would be having a heyday! To complicate matters even further, perhaps you have begun to cut through the illusory veils of reactivity and suppression and you find yourself nurturing dislike for both. Clearly your chances of reclaiming equanimity become more and more remote.
To employ the third way postulated above, you would need to begin seeing the energy of anger—not the reactions of anger nor the reactions to anger—as a reflection of some portion of your enlightenment spectrum. If you can think of your enlightenment in terms of a spectrum of light—as for example, a rainbow—such will work well for our purpose here. The rainbow of enlightenment contains within its wide spectrum a full range of radiant possibilities—from ultra-low frequency to ultra-high frequency. Within that spectrum of enlightenment, you not only find every emotional frequency, you find infinite energetic possibilities for its expression. If you can appreciate the energy of anger as a narrow bandwidth energy arising from the full spectrum, then there also arises a potentially instructive relationship with anger that cannot present itself if you are actively engaged in hating anger.
All emotional energies exist in a miniature spectrum within the great spectrum. For example, take the e-motion (or energy in motion) you know as devotion. Pure devotion is a very spacious energy and it exists at the high frequency end of a natural spectrum. At the low frequency end of the spectrum is the constricted energy of addiction. The nature of what appears at the high end of the frequency range and the low end is radically different. I use this example because the dichotomous ends are fairly easy to comprehend. Whether or not you can see clearly the manifestation of high and low frequencies of all emotions is actually less important than understanding the principle here at work.
Clearly the emotional energy of addiction is not a part of an enlightened person’s frequency band because the enlightened individual identifies with the higher frequencies rather than the lower ones. Although the lower end of emotional frequencies may not be demonstrated in the brilliance of an enlightened person, still the full spectrum of enlightenment contains the lower frequencies as well as the higher frequencies. The lower frequencies exist in alignment with all other possible radiant frequencies and are thus somewhere within the blend rather than singled out and focused for karmic projection.
The expression by which emotional energies are revealed results not from the pure frequency of a specific emotional energy, but in a distortion of that energy. You could say those expressions are distortional reflections of the potential energies of enlightenment. Generally speaking, this distortional quality arises because at some level—personal or social—there is a negative judgment of the emotion. This judgment, layered on the original emotion, comes from the karmic movement of the mind. As a result, one may defend the emotional reaction, deny it or aggrandize it. In all cases, this layered-on energy distorts the original frequency of the pure emotion.
Clearly these emotional complexes can be very complicated. In addition to the emotion itself, one’s judgment of the emotion and one’s reaction to the judgment, one must further negotiate a coping strategy for the judgment of the judgment—i.e., how one judges the defending, denying or aggrandizing tendencies. Although the route is circuitous, one is led right back to the options of reactivity or suppression.
Waking Up to Your Natural State
Is it any wonder that mastering the emotional body is seen as the last frontier from a spiritual perspective? The convolutions of mind are very complicated when it comes to emotions, particularly in societies where both individual egos and the collective ego are very big. Thus, to break free from the convoluted circuitry of ego mind, a different paradigm is imperative. It was, of course, to the old paradigm that the Buddha cried out his famous words, “Wake up!”
Waking up is precisely what is needed in the case of managing emotional intensity. Indeed, it is very much like you need to wake up from a dream to recognize and understand the dream. Perhaps you have a nightmare where some hideous monster is chasing you. Although the dream can be quite compelling, creating all manner of discomforting symptoms, when you awaken you discover that there is no monster. In like manner, those intense, distorted or confused emotions are much like nightmares. When you awaken, you discover that they have no reality of their own.
Every emotion that arises presents some opportunity, even if obscure, to approach enlightenment. The mind’s tendency to classify some emotions as ‘good’ and others as ‘bad’ stems directly from the karmic imprint that manifests in mental projections about the emotion. If one can move out of the ‘small picture’ of judging the emotion and into the ‘big picture’ of the enlightenment spectrum, then one can at least postulate that even the most negative and constricted emotional states have a vibrational relationship to the enlightened state.
Although hard for many to accept, the enlightened state is one’s natural state. It is what exists beneath, before, behind and all around the artificial states of mind one experiences, for it gives rise to them from the infinite spectrum of enlightenment. The emotional states with which one often struggles arise to present an opportunity for seeing the full spectrum. When judgment of an emotion gets caught in the grip of projecting mind, one’s focus is drawn off course. Instead of seeing the full spectrum, one sees only the projections about the emotion.
The Value of Direct Experience
Whether you perceive it or not, you are never separated from your enlightenment. It is without beginning, ever present and completely effulgent. The direct experience of any emotion provides a doorway to seeing the full spectrum of enlightenment. However, therein lies the problem. The very mind that ultimately perceives the full spectrum is the same mind that loses itself in various emotions and prevents you from discovering that full spectrum. In the first place, one must learn to directly experience emotional states without the karmic layering. Because the mind is so busy projecting about the emotional state, direct experience is usually precluded. Yet even if you could hold the projections at bay, another artifact of mind arises.
The moment you begin to probe an emotional experience, you release the experience. You trade having the experience for investigating the experience. The shift of focus causes you to lose the opportunity that was presented with the rise of the emotional state. Hence the potential for a direct experience is lost.
Consider again the anger we treated above. As it arises, you feel its energetic presence in your body mind. The moment you begin investigating the anger, however, something in your inner realm shifts and you lose the experience of anger. In its place, you experience the investigation process which tends to be reflective in nature. What might be felt as the aliveness of the experience is lost since reflecting on the experience is quite different from being in the experience. In the former, perceiver and experience are separate. In the latter, delineation between experience and experiencer cannot be made. To reflect upon an experience, the mind must insert some kind of observational distance between the ‘who’ (the one having the experience) and the ‘what’ (the experience). In the separation, one trades ‘knowing’ (the direct experience) for ‘knowing about.’ While ‘knowing about’ is useful for many functional moments in life, it should never be confused with the direct experience of knowing.
The whole focus of education in the West is steeped in ‘knowing about,’ offering few opportunities for direct experience to students. Although in direct experience the sense of “I” is lost, in the indirect experience the “I” is always watching what it is doing, keeping track of what it is learning. If, for example, one must repeat a certain number of steps in a proscribed manner for a test, the “I” is probably evaluating its work as it learns the steps. In other words, the experiencing of a self is highly engaged. As an added consequence of the learning experience, the self is competitively graded against all the other students. The “I” is so highly engaged that it cannot lose itself in the experience.
Have you ever watched a child of four or five years of age experience snow for the first time? This child will show you a direct experience! She will roll in it, taste it, smell it, throw it in the air, possibly even put bare feet in it. The experience is direct and immediate with no “I” doing, watching or evaluating anything. She will know snow, which is much different than knowing about snow.
In the Gnostic (i.e., knowing) experience, perceiver and perception are merged. Direct experience engages physical, emotional, mental and spiritual bodies—totally. For all its glory, direct experience can be threatening to ego mind which is continually looking for itself in the ‘having’ of the experience. Direct experience lacks the observational distance needed for ego mind to find itself. To fall into a direct experience, the mind must release its hold on conventional reality—so laden with the personal reference points ego mind craves. If you consider the mystics of the great spiritual traditions, they all have the ability to lose themselves in the divine. To do so, of course, requires the dissolution of those personal reference points, for they obscure the very experience the divine one is seeking.
As with the child in the snow, what induces direct experience is full openness in/to the moment and a completely absorbed attention. To allow whatever arises to simply be, without the judgments or other manipulations of ego mind, is to find the vicinity of direct experience. In this open and attentive state, one can allow even emotional pain—grief, fear, hatred, greed, selfishness, envy and so on—to dissolve into the spacious radiance of direct experience. When the mind’s eye is fixed on the full spectrum of enlightenment, it is very difficult to find the small bandwidth of anger. The effulgent glow dissolves the very self that steps into it.
In the Bhagavad-Gita, Arjuna finds himself severely compromised by allowing the controlling nature of his emotions to rule him. While his emotional reaction appears to come from his situation—or his resistance to his situation—the truth is that he is reacting to his mental projections about the situation. He steps out of the field of direct experiencing and into the indirect experience of his own projections. Lord Krishna attempts to bring him nearer to a direct experience by reminding him that, when he fights, he should fight for the sake of fighting; not for victory or enjoyment or even disdain. He admonishes Arjuna to let go of his personal preferences regarding the situation and to simply stay in the experience before him.
Lord Krishna understood the value of direct experience—experience unencumbered with the emotional and mental gyrations that so announce the presence of karma. When one can just experience with the mind empty and open, even a mundane experience can provide access to enlightenment. Lord Krishna’s remarks to Arjuna about delusion are both classic and powerful: “When your intelligence has passed out the dense forest of delusion, you shall become indifferent to all that has been heard and all that is to be heard. When your mind is no longer disturbed by the flowery language of the Vedas, and when it remains fixed in the trance of self-realization, then you will have attained the divine consciousness” (2.52 – 2.53).
Had Arjuna been able to see the energies of his emotional reactivity as holding a vibrational relationship to his self-realization, he could have discovered himself in the direct experience of self-realization. This is true of every arising thought, feeling or action. To be in the experience rather than observing oneself having an experience is the real thing. While judging mind might argue, the energy of an emotion is neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad.’ It just is. In fact, the notion of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are arbitrary reference points for the “I,” having been designated by projecting mind.
Train your mind to be peaceful and spacious in all events. Train your concentration faculty so that you can hold it steady—not giving way to projecting or judging mind. Then you too will be undisturbed by the distracted ego mind and glimpses of your true nature will arise in consciousness. Bringing fully focused attentiveness to emotional energies as you experience them can open you to vast possibilities. Because Arjuna could not see through the antics of his projecting mind, he had to engage in warfare. How differently the story might have turned out, had Arjuna been able to pierce the veil of illusion that hid the truth about his emotions!
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