“…no matter what emotions arise, taking emotion as the path requires skill because emotions are strongly experienced in the body’s chemistry, as well as the mind.” – Tsoknyi Rinpoche
According to the contemporary spiritual teacher Tsoknyi Rinpoche, whatever you feel in any given moment is based on an earlier imprint in your being.
He explains that there are two types of imprints:
- Learned patterns
- Karmic residues
The number of imprints in our being is literally uncountable. Typically, it’s these patterns that are running the show of your life.
I suspect these learned patterns are similar to the “deceptive brain messages” discussed in the book You Are Not Your Brain. The reason deceptive brain messages are difficult – but not impossible – to change is because the very structure and function of the brain reinforces them.
Tsoknyi Rinpoche brings together the world of science with ancient wisdom to illustrate how we can change deeply held emotional habits. He says, to bring awareness to our emotional patterns, we need a roadmap, which has three elements:
- Emotion, feeling, mood
- Knowing, thinking, awareness
- The reified “I” and sense of fixation
We need to work with all three elements to free ourselves from stubborn emotional patterns.
Once of the most important keys is to welcome emotions – even the difficult ones – rather than seeing them as the enemy.
The secret to overcoming a deep-seated emotional pattern is repeatedly bringing awareness to it in a kind and gentle way. At the same time, we correct the misperceptions at its root. The pesky emotions can include anything from a strong phobia to patterns of anger, sadness, anxiety, or other turbulence that repeatedly arise in our life. Tsoknyi Rinpoche created three “modern mantras” which embody this approach.
Mantra One: “It’s Not Me”
The first step is to fully acknowledge and accept the residue. Instead of seeing it as an enemy, befriend it. Simply be aware that you have a particular fear or emotion that arises like clockwork when triggered or sometimes for no apparent reason at all.
Normally, we are so enmeshed in an emotional pattern that when it arises we identify it as “me.” For example, “I am a sad or angry or fearful person.” Using the first mantra, gradually removes this identification with the emotion as a part of a concrete self, which Tsoknyi Rinpoche calls the “reified I”.
Normally, when the feeling arises we just go with it. We follow it up with a chain of reinforcing thoughts and make the experience even stronger.
Now, instead, when the feeling arises, we can use the first mantra and gently say to our self: “It’s not me.”
It’s important to repeat the mantra with great kindness. Although your thinking mind may fully understand your message, the emotional brain doesn’t get it. It needs to really feel it and take it in. It needs to hear the new message many times.
With this modern mantra and the gentle tone, you are skillfully communicating between awareness and feeling, and between the three different parts of the brain – the neo-cortex, the limbic system (the emotional brain), and the reptilian brain.
Mantra Two: It Is Real, But Not True
When the feeling arises, it feels real doesn’t it? For example, in the case of a phobia you feel terrified and the sense of immanent danger feels very real. The problem is that you believe the imprint. But we actually have so many imprints that are completely off the mark. They are no longer relevant, but they continue to rule your life. This is something you can change with the use of these new mantras.
Again, welcome the feeling with an open mind. Then speak to it kindly introducing the correct understanding. “Dear feeling, I know this feels real. It’s coming from an imprint that I had as a child. It feels very real, but you know it’s not really true. It feels real, but it’s not me. It’s not true”
Kindness is essential. With kindness, the emotions will slowly respond and change. Harshness or pushing yourself too hard, will only make you shut down further and create further problems.
It’s necessary to repeat these mantras more than once. In fact, it must be done many times to dissolve the imprint. It takes time to change deeply held emotions and patterns that are etched into the subtle body.
Tsoknyi Rinpoche says that we need to change the learned patterns before we can purify karmic imprints. Once you change the learned patterns, he explains, its much easier to purify the karmic imprints. Becoming a healthy human being is a basis for our spiritual practice on the path to enlightenment.
Mantra Three: Happy for No Reason!
All the reasons and conditions we establish for being happy are unstable. They are impermanent and subject to change. Embrace the idea that happiness comes from within and remind yourself with this mantra: Happy for No Reason!
I have been practicing the first two mantras to dispel deeply embedded sadness that seems to come from a bottomless pit. In fact, I’ve had different intuitives tell me that it’s not just my grief alone, but ancestral grief as well. It feels endless and that itself can be disheartening.
When the sadness arises, I feel a contraction in my throat and then tears begin to pour out. Now, as soon as I feel the physical sensations grabbing hold in my body, I gently remind myself: “This is not me. This feels real, but it’s not true.”
This is often times sufficient to relax the physical sensations and release the emotion. This is not suppressing or denying the emotion. It rises up in its full glory. But there is a way to release it instead of being overwhelmed by it and falling into a stream of sadness.
Using these modern mantras works for me. I know I will need to repeat them many more times to fully dissolve such a long held imprint. But I’ve felt their immediate effectiveness many times now. Sometimes, I’m still swept away when the emotion feels especially powerful, but that occurs less frequently.
If you are troubled by repetitive emotional patterns, and who isn’t, these modern mantras may be the perfect solution for you.
Do you take your troubling emotions as real? Have your found skillful methods for releasing them?
This article was based on the first part of a public talk given by Tsoknyi Rinpoche on September 23, 2011 at the Rigpa Center in Berlin, Germany. If you would like to learn more, please read Taking Emotion as the Path, by Tsoknyi Rinpoche. Image: Pundarika Foundation