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Dealing with Emotions

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In the course of one day, we experience so many emotions. Some, such as genuine love and compassion, are valuable. Others, such as attachment, anger, closed-mindedness, pride and jealously, disturb our mental peace and lead us to act in ways that hurt ourselves and others. These pieces help us to examine our disturbing attitudes and negative emotions and to explore some antidotes to pacify and transform them.


Articles on Dealing with Emotions

Q&A: Working with Anger
Dealing with Anxiety
Q&A: Dealing with Anxiety
Working with Emotions
Transforming Problems


Teachings on Audio

Dealing with Depression
Overcoming Anger & Frustration
Understanding the Mind



Q&A: Dealing with Anxiety
by Venerable Thubten Chodron©

How can we handle the anxiety that arises from making decisions?

Anxiety when making decisions often comes because we look at the situation from the viewpoint, "How can I get the most possible pleasure? Which of these 15 choices will give me the most pleasure and release me from the most pain?" That makes us very uptight because we do not know the future. "Maybe this will make me happy, maybe that will make me happy. I don't know which one will make me the happiest, so I am confused and unhappy now trying to decide."

Sometimes the anxiety arises because we think there must be one right decision and we don't know which one it is. This is a very limiting view because, the unfolding of karma is very complex, and the future is unknown because it hasn't happened yet. It's better to let go of the idea of one right choice and instead to be mindful and kind in whatever situation we find ourselves.

When faced with a decision, I try to use ethics as a criteria. I explore, "Could any of these choices cause me to get involved in unethical behavior, bring out my negative qualities, or make me create negative karma? Are there some options that would propel me to act constructively or to generate positive attitudes?" In other words, I use ethical conduct as criteria for making a decision.

Another criterion is the benefit the various options would have for others. "In the long-term, what will be the most beneficial for others?" This viewpoint makes the mind more relaxed and is a lot more expansive than thinking, "What will bring me the most pleasure now?"

How do we deal with the anxiety that comes from uncertainty about the future?

Almost everyone can relate to this concern because nothing is certain in our life. Things are not fixed, permanent, and predictable. This is the nature of samsara, cyclic existence. One of the disadvantages of cyclic existence that the Buddha described is uncertainty, insecurity. Because our minds are under the influence of ignorance, anger, and attachment, we suffer from not being able to control what happens to us. We can influence the world around us, but we can not control it. We can not make the external environment be what we want it to be.

The first step is to recognize that uncertainty is the nature of things. None of us ordinary beings know the future. Understanding this has two effects: first, it leads us to a greater determination to free ourselves from cyclic existence and thus to seek the wisdom that realizes reality in order to eliminate the ignorance, anger, and attachment that keep us bound in cyclic existence. Second, it helps us accept that change is part of life. When things are uncertain, I say to myself, "Yes, this is exactly what the Buddha taught. Things are impermanent. This is the nature of life. If I accept this, I will be less anxious than if I constantly fight it, wanting to control everything and make it predictable. I have to relax into the fact that we are not in control and that everyone is in this predicament. This is not just my problem; everybody has this problem." Remembering that dealing with uncertainty is a universal problem takes the stress out of thinking that it is just my dilemma.

In addition, we can take refuge in the Buddhas, Dharma, and Sangha when we are anxious about the future. Turning our hearts towards the spiritual guidance that the Three Jewels provide relieves us of anxiety as well.

Extracted from "The Path To Happiness" by Ven. Chodron

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