Working with painful emotions and how our meditation practice can help

July 18, 2022   |   15 Comments

Audio-only version is here.
Meditation practice begins at 10:09.

Dear Open Heart Project,

I hope you are well and finding your way through this time!

Before today’s sit, I wanted to offer a few words on working with painful emotions and how our meditation practice can help.

In the Buddhist view, there are three possibilities for meeting our “negative” emotions. I outline them briefly in this talk, with a focus on anger (perhaps the most difficult of difficult emotions).

Next week, I’ll be back to you with some thoughts on working with grasping and, the following week, on the urge to hide from everything. And more on difficult emotions to follow!

I feel inspired to do this because I just completed my latest book, The Buddhist Enneagram. The enneagram is a system that outlines nine kinds of people (yes, only nine!) and each type’s emotional trap. Anger is the first trap But you don’t have to be interested in the enneagram to learn from each trap. So stay tuned.

And if you are interested in the enneagram, my book can be ordered here.

I truly hope you find this talk useful. If you have any reflections or questions, please share in comments.

With love, Susan

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  • Posted by:  Jane Deakin

    Thank you Susan very helpful indeed as ever. J xx

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      So glad to hear it. <3

  • Posted by:  Sue Ellen

    A highly timely talk, both from social and personal perspectives. On a personal level, I blew it. Straight out dropped all of the breathing/finding space/sitting with difficult emotions training. I am not proud. My husband and I were arguing, loudly, and I felt under siege. My throat and chest tightened, I felt that I was drowning in my own anger and that of my co-combatant. I tried mightily to focus on the bodily sensations, to make a space to breathe, but being under constant verbal barrage, I just couldn’t. We both said things that hurt and we were both shaken, we reconnected later and agreed that the issue was not worth the battle. But here I am, Ms. Meditator, Ms. Dharma Student – yet unable to access what I have learned and know in the moment. If I had to name the storm of emotions, they would have included panic, fear, frustration, helplessness, hopelessness, hurt – all the heavy hitters. Back to square one. Is it always back to square one? Can the glimmer of wisdom be so hard to see? Feeling discouraged and bruised on the day after.

  • Posted by:  Wendy

    Thank you, Susan! Perfect timing… very helpful. 🙏🏼

  • Posted by:  Gail Overstreet

    Thank you. My body is finally manifesting the effects of long-term anger/sadness/grieving – with my teeth and eyes both impacted; surgery on the horizon. As a self-preservation oriented 4w5 – well, I’m not exactly keeping it together, but your talk helped today. Sitting with ‘What Is’. Love to you…

  • Posted by:  kathleen

    Hi Susan, Thank you for this offering. I am sitting on the floor of my almost empty apartment feeling a variety of emotions as I am leaving my home town with sadness and loss. Your meditation came just at the right time! I plan to use it again this evening. I have so much on mind that I had difficulty focusing on my breath-that’s just where I’m at right now! I’ve learned from you that that’s ok too! Thank you Susan-you are truly a blessing to me and so many others!

  • Posted by:  Melanie

    Thank you for this. I really needed it.

  • Posted by:  amy

    So useful and elegantly said, thank you, as always Susan!!!

  • Posted by:  Larni

    Thank you Susan. I find many gems in my experience of your talks and in each meditation.

  • Posted by:  Vani

    Dear Susan, thank you for sharing this practice. However I still don’t really understand how you can leave the story on one side, while focusing on the feeling of anger in the body while meditating. How do you dissolve the anger? How can you find a path forward? Specially when you have involuntarily hurt others but you still exposed things that need addressing?
    I’d love to manage this emotion better, I would love to even become an anger master! 🙂

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      Great questions, Vani. Anger tends to dissolve more readily when you make space for it by simply feeling it…rather than acting on it, speaking out from it, creating a satisfying narrative arc for it, and so on.

      It is not comfortable and it takes patience. And since it seems that the more we TRY to dissolve it, the stronger it gets, we could experiment with just sitting with it for a periodm watching it as you would watch your breath in meditation. It is definitely not easy, I totally get that.

      And I would love to become an anger master too! If you want more insight into how this works, please google “Five Buddha Wisdoms” and read up on Vajra wisdom. You could also check out the wonderful book by Kevin Townley called “Look, Look, Look, Look, Look Again” which deconstructs each of the five wisdoms through the lens of art. It’s an incredible work.

      Be patient with yourself! Keep me posted! Wishing you all the good things, Susan

      • Posted by:  Ara

        I find anger to be boring without the story. Is that the point?

        • Posted by:  Susan Piver

          Ha ha! That is great. Maybe so. Great to think this is possible–

  • Posted by:  Shirah

    Thank you Susan, this series is coming at the perfect time for me and your approach/cues are resonating. I am trying to take Pema’s advice to drop the story and feel the feelings.

    • Posted by:  Susan Piver

      So glad it is useful, Shirah. And Pema’s advice is completely stellar. I try to follow it too. Warmly, S

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“With wisdom, creativity and artistry, Susan Piver brings a Buddhist lens to the spiritual map of the Enneagram. The results are vibrant and nourishing; a banquet of insights that help us transmute our difficult emotions into pure expressions of our basic goodness.”

 – Tara Brach, author of Radical Acceptance