Body/Mind - How we use our resources · Cutting to the Chase - Getting to the bottom of things · Emotional Reactions · Focusing · How to Practice · Journey to WHoleness · Self Inquiry · Serious Questions · Towards A Correct view of the Self

The Exit Door from Suffering – Emotional Reactions

” How many of our self-defeating and escapist practices are due to our inability to live life without “getting caught in a spiders web” of emotional reactions? “

“It is our emotional REACTION to situations which makes us suffer. We CAN find a way out… a way to let go of that reaction, and when we do, that suffering will cease. “

How much of the emotional stress we experience, is due to what is going on in our lives? We blame our relationships, our finances, our social environment, our health. But in reality, how much of our emotional stress is due to our REACTIONS? ……. to the way we are seeing these things in our lives?

If we begin to see that by our emotional reactions we are “creating the world we live in”, it can start to clarify that it is our attitude which creates our environment, and not our environment creating our attitudes and resulting stress.

It is very difficult to hold onto a “hero” attitude; moving freely through situations, regardless of their level of difficulty, dealing with them calmly… one at a time….. without getting emotionally caught up in them……. and losing it….. 🙂

But in reality, we know that not getting caught up in emotional reactions to things, is the best “way of living”.

Perhaps it is because we don’t know HOW to move freely through a day, without getting “stuck” in the circumstances, and reacting to them. So, instead, we come to the end of the day, emotionally exhausted, and full of pent up feelings which we then unload on family and perhaps the family pets….. (the pets part is meant jokingly, and i know its not funny!!)

Can we stop reacting emotionally to those things? Can we break the cycle of getting “stuck” in situations due to our emotional reactions? Do we need to develop a “Mr. Spock” attitude of stoicism…. not giving into emotions? Do we need to build walls against the things which try to entangle us? Won’t all these methods just build pressure inside that will blow when it gets too high?

If we are bumping into uncomfortable situations, and then adding emotional reactions into the mix, it IS going to add stress to our lives. And it just builds and builds until it bursts.

By the time we are adults, we have already necessarily formed habits which help us to deal with the world we live in…. coping mechanisms…. and many of these habits have become almost unconscious reactions……. It has taken us years of “learning how to cope”. Some of them work…. and some of them are simply our attempts to insulate ourselves against things which we need to deal with……

As my father would say to me “That scratch in the LP record makes the needle skip again and again back to the the beginning of the scratch, and repeat it again.”

It takes time and effort to break that habitual way of doing things. When we find a habitual method of dealing with things which does not work…… and most of our emotional reactions fall in this category….. it takes time to rectify those automatic responses….. but the effort is well worth it….. and the resulting freedom of being released from these harmful reactions, is simply amazing.


So the first ingredient is attention. As the Zen Master said “attention attention attention!” If we are to change habitual ways of doing things, we must pay attention to them.

Most of us are used to suppressing these problems when they rear their ugly heads, or we ignore them. But we must learn a new method……. that is, to pay “accepting” attention to it. When we bump into something which wants to entangle us, we must be accepting of the situation and of our reaction…… no matter how negative it is. Be Kind……

The method i have found and developed is stopping, feeling, inquiring, clarifying, and letting go. At first, this method is a bit bulky and needs to be gone thru in a very regimented manner, but if we put effort into it, the process begins to be a “good habit”.

Below is a summarized version of this process……….


The beginning step in the process of untangling ourselves from these habitual emotional reactions, is to stop and spend time with it. This may be the most difficult part of the process….. finding the time.. when we need to…. to stop and focus on our feelings. But without stopping and focusing, there can be no change.

A very close relative of mine once said “Why would you want to spend time thinking about these uncomfortable things …. it will only make it worse!”….. but in fact, it is our NOT stopping and spending time to unravel it properly which is allowing these things to roam freely, and create havoc in our lives.

So, we must stop and focus on the “issue”.

And no, it is not simply “navel gazing”….. this is about clearing up the very roots of the emotional disturbances which make our everyday life uncomfortable! What more fulfilling project could we begin to practice?

What if we were to be able to wake up each day with a sense of anticipation, instead of a sense of dread?

In fact……. How many of our self-defeating and escapist practices are due to our inability to live life without “getting caught in a spiders web” of emotional reactions?


When we hit on something which is calling for an emotional reaction, often it is revealing itself in a knot or tight spot somewhere in our body.

Locate that spot, and try to put a name on it, which you sense is the best definition….. names like anger, bitterness, frustration, anxiety……


In your mind, put your arm around this feeling’s shoulder, like it is a child that needs some attention.

Ask this “child” what the problem is, and let it tell you the whole story. Be patient with yourself to find out the whole story.


When the story is done, ask if the story is true, or if it is false, or if the storyline has been “spun” to make it bigger than it is.

Always be accepting of the answers, and the “child” giving the answers.


Use your body sense….. the feeling in your body….. to feel how you feel when this situation is occurring, and then compare back and forth to how your body feels in and out of this situation.


After being clear that this whole situation and story is “out”, ask if you can drop your emotional reaction to it.


This is pretty self explanatory. Let the feeling you are having, drop away…. along with the bodily tension associated with it.
If you truly drop it, the physical part of the reaction will drop off. If you do not experience the sense that the tension has dropped off….. keep asking what is still holding on to the emotional reaction.

The upshoot of this process will reveal, that it is our emotional REACTION to situations which makes us suffer, and that if we can find a way to let go of that reaction, the suffering can cease.

In a way, the suffering is like a ghost, in that it cannot be fought against…… when we struggle against it, it only seems to get bigger and more urgent…… but ignoring it will not resolve the problem either….. it is truly a Catch 22!

But when we find that it is “ME” which is causing and holding onto the suffering, and that in fact the temporary situation will soon pass…… this “ghost” of a situation loses its power….. and if the process is done “well”, that ghost simply vaporizes and ceases to exist!

Some notes:

  • It is important to go thru this inquiry process IN THE MIDST OF an emotional reaction or crisis. This is because, only while the bodily feeling associated with the emotional reaction (the emotional tug of war) is happening, can a person really have a clear sense of the struggle….. of hanging on to something vs. letting it go.
  • Now that i am older, it is easier to get alone time. But when i was younger, i had trouble finding a place to get “alone time”. My father was very aware of the need to spend time alone, and he made suggestions on how to do this in the midst of a day…. or at work….. in the end, i found that any place…. even a toilet stall, could provide a solitary place to stop, breath, and go thru this self-inquiry process. (Yes, it IS that important)
  • Trust your “inner guide”. We have an immune system in our body, which helps to keep us healthy…. in fact, we tend to take for granted that we have this system. Our “awareness” also has a system which helps us to be emotionally healthy, and i sense that this is what we see as the “inner guide” or “spiritual guide”. This inner therapist is only tuned to our own life… and we don’t need to spend money, or wait for an appointment. This practice is totally under your control, and totally available 24/7.


i wish to give credit where credit is due.

Zen Meditation
Practicing a method of meditation, which is able to quiet the mind is essential to looking inward. For myself, this way has been zazen, the meditation practiced by Zen Buddhists, and a particular type of zazen, Shikantaza, which is taught by my teacher Jundo Cohen Roshi of Treeleaf Zendo in Japan.

Learning about this process of self-inquiry began with meeting Gary Weber. His instruction on how to “zap the goldfish in the aquarium” formed the basis of the method i now practice.

The practice of “felt sense” which can bring this whole process to the cessation of emotional suffering, is the method taught by Eugene Gendlin of the “Focusing” movement.

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