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Transforming Emotional Confusion into Wisdom
With Loving Kindness and the Five Wisdom Energies

Have you ever been aware of the powerful intuitive wisdom embedded in your emotions? Perhaps you have had glimpses of clear seeing, inherent worthiness, spontaneous compassion, skillful action and the deep presence of peaceful abiding. Or perhaps you may, more often experience your emotions as painful and confusing. This can be especially the case when emotions like anger, doubt, neediness, fear and bewilderment are strong. Strong emotions will often seem to overwhelm our better judgment and cause us to behave in ways that can be harmful to others and ourselves creating dramas in our lives that tend to recycle like a bad nightmare. Recent research in neuro-science has confirmed what wisdom cultures have proclaimed for thousands of years-that regular practice of mindfulness/awareness meditation actually changes your brain in a way that helps you to observe and feel emotions as they occur while also sidestepping the tendency to act them out through intense habit patterns of thought, speech or behaviour. Then you can be aware of your emotions with out having to either act them out or suppress them.

The inner yoga teachings or what we might call emotional yoga teachings of Tibetan Buddhism are a rich resource of detailed instructions and enlightening practices that can guide one on a very practical journey to transform emotional confusion into intuitive wisdom. This approach is based on the empirical evidence discovered by thousands of wise meditation masters over almost three millennia. What they have discovered through their own personal practice is that the energy of emotions itself is neither good nor bad, it is simply a powerful energy. Confusion and suffering arise when we channel this energy with our distorted thoughts while fixated on a rigid concept of ourselves as the main reference point, while missing the greater context of the truly living and dynamic flow of energy in a situation. In other words we distort the energy of emotions with our small-minded egos. When we practice letting go of a self centered approach we can open to a greater wisdom flowing through us, energy that is already inherent in the situation.

Imagine what it is like going through a painful divorce or a breakup you might think this shouldn’t have happened to me. Anger builds up as you contemplate how the other has abandoned, betrayed or hurt “me”. Feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness build as you think I might never have another long-term relationship or that I am damaged goods and fundamentally un-loveable. Fear of being alone for the rest of your life is stoked by projecting this current loss into an imagined endless and miserable future. An almost murderous rage can arise when thoughts of your partner enjoying someone else’s loving company spark intense jealousy. Depression ensues as you lose heart give up on yourself and withdraw from the world convincing yourself that life is not worth living any more.

Cognitive Therapy focuses on how the thoughts one thinks actually frame your view of reality and then your reactive emotional body (connected to the more primitive structures of the brain and to the endocrine system) simply believes this story and produces all of the hormones and chemicals associated with these painful and destructive emotions.

Mindfulness practice and meditation gradually train the insightful and higher capacities of your human brain not to believe such distorted thoughts but to see them as exaggerated and irrational while also giving you the capacity to quietly endure the loss and the grief with out feeling sorry for yourself. In this way loss, which is a natural part of human life, becomes an experience that gradually deepens natural wisdom about this universal experience in life, as well as giving birth to compassion for all the others who experience the same.

Seeing with the practice of mindfulness and awareness how distorted and self obsessed thoughts cause painful and destructive emotions you can gradually free yourself from these emotional patterns. In the Tibetan inner emotional yoga however there is a further step when direct mindfulness of the raw quality of the emotional energy itself allows for an awareness of how this energy is itself a deep form of intuitive wisdom bringing you in direct contact with your world.

In the Tibetan system as in many of the sacred and ancient cosmologies, the subtle energy elements of earth, water, fire, air and space are understood as an underlying subtle energy matrix that makes up all levels of our experience whether it is spiritual, mental, emotional or physical. Our emotional life is probably the best place to begin an exploration of these subtle elements in our experience.

From this perspective when we are angry we can begin to tune into how that energy hones our mind into an intelligent sharpness of clear seeing and if we don’t distort this thinking by fixating on own personal story line it can produce remarkable insights beneficial to oneself and others. This is associated with the purity and clarity of water.

The subtle energy of earth is associated with a sense of inherent worthiness, resourcefulness, generosity and nurturing just as when we might sense the profound security of earth beneath our feet and the richness of earth’s fertile bounty. However when distorted by the narrow view of ego’s perspective this energy can manifest either as insecurity, poverty, hunger and greed or as a false puffed up pride and arrogance that is only a thinly veiled attempt to compensate for insecurity.

Fire is associated with the wisdom of compassion and artfulness or what is known as discriminating awareness wisdom. This is a warm and loving energy that connects and draws people to each other through skillful communication and healthy relationships. However when distorted by a self centered perspective it degenerates into a kind of base sexual passion that uses others for ones own pleasure or a neediness for others to confirm oneself as loveable.

The subtle energy of air is associated with action, accomplishment, skillful activity and spontaneous intelligence free of self-reference. When distorted by a smaller mindset fixated on oneself-only, it arises as jealousy, envy, ruthless competitiveness and even degenerates into the extremes of paranoia and violence.

Lastly the subtle energy of space is associated with spiritual awareness and what is called the wisdom of all potentiality. The metaphor of vast space or open sky is often used in Tibetan Buddhist teachings to convey the vast potential of mind when it is free of ego clinging and awake to its inherent potential. Boundless imagination and a naturally occurring omniscience are just some of the qualities associated with this Awakened Buddha mind. This same energy of space however when distorted by ego clinging manifests as an opaque ignorance, dullness and confusion as when we unconsciously sabotage ourselves over and over, then wonder why things go so terribly wrong while never looking back at the patterns in our own mind as the root cause.

This system of understanding the wisdom potential inherent in our emotional energy is sometimes referred to as the Mandala of the Five Buddha Families or the Five wisdom energies and can be directly experienced in a retreat known as a Maitri space awareness retreat. Maitri is a Sanskrit word referring to the energy of loving kindness or Metta as it is known in the Pali Buddhist teachings. Chogyam Trungpa, a famous lama and early pioneer teaching Tibetan Buddhism in North America developed a method for isolating each of these five wisdom energies by taking a particular posture in a uniquely designed and brightly colored room. Through this inner yoga practice one can come face to face with ones own unique ways of distorting the natural wisdom energies and in so doing, begin to make friends with oneself. When we befriend someone else we ideally accept him or her as they are and get to know their unique and quirky qualities. Beginning with acceptance and deepening it with the power of loving kindness towards ourselves our own patterns of confusion are slowly revealed. We learn all of our own tricks and see how our personality gets in the way time after time distorting our true wisdom nature. With this friendship toward ourselves and with the insight meditation brings an inner transformation naturally begins to dawn and the wisdom light begins to shine through.