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Home > eBooks > Unpublished Manuscripts > Developing Balanced Sensitivity: Practical Buddhist Exercises for Daily Life (Revised Second Edition) > 20 Dissolving Disturbing Emotions into Underlying Deep Awareness

Developing Balanced Sensitivity:
Practical Buddhist Exercises
for Daily Life
(Revised Second Edition)

First edition published as Berzin, Alexander. Developing Balanced Sensitivity: Practical Buddhist Exercises for Daily Life. Ithaca, Snow Lion, 1998.

Order the first edition of this book directly from Snow Lion Publications.

Part V: Advanced Training

20 Dissolving Disturbing Emotions into Underlying Deep Awareness

Both grasping at mental activity's natural facets for security and fearing them as a threat arise from projecting and believing in dualistic and triplistic appearances. Deconstructing these confusing appearances leaves us with merely the experience of these natural functions. Similarly, disturbing emotions also arise from projecting and believing in deceptive appearances, especially dualistic ones. Under the influence of these emotions, we become insensitive or hypersensitive. Upon deconstruction, we find underlying them the key for gaining balance – our network of five types of deep awareness.

The following presentation derives from the abhidharma discussion of the five major disturbing emotions: naivety, arrogance, longing desire, jealousy, and anger. Other-voidness teachings provide the most detail about their deconstruction into deep awareness. Since low self-esteem is rampant in the West, we shall expand the scope of the classic presentation of the five major emotions to include related emotions that arise within the context of self-disparagement. In doing so, we follow the Buddhist commentary tradition of filling in a classical text with logical implications that adapt its teachings to specific situations. Shantideva's method of countering pride, competitiveness, and jealousy by exchanging the viewpoint from self to others suggests the analytical tool we shall use: shifting the aim from others to self.


Naivety (moha) is the confusion, either about cause and effect or about reality, that accompanies destructive behavior or thought. Such confusion may arise because of not knowing about these matters or because of apprehending them in an inverted manner. When we are naive about cause and effect, we may believe that our insensitive actions and overemotional behavior have no effects. We might also imagine that they bring happiness when in fact they cause harm. Hypersensitive to any suggestion that our taxing behavior is responsible for our strained relations, we might in addition blame everyone else for our troubles. When we are naive about reality, we do not realize that the dualistic appearances our mind creates are merely waves of clear light activity. They do not refer to anything real. Consequently, we overreact.

Distorted, antagonistic thinking often accompanies naivety, making us closed-minded. This leads to stubbornly denying the existence of cause and effect or refusing to accept the existence or facts about a situation or about someone. It also makes us defensively or aggressively insist that our dualistic experiences correspond to reality.

Since naivety, especially in its closed-minded forms, is a common ailment that most people do not even detect, let us list some examples:

  • Naively denying the existence of our feelings, we alienate ourselves from them.
  • Although upsetting thoughts or images obsessively come to mind, we do not want to think about them.
  • We imagine that by not thinking about our problems, they will go away.
  • Believing that we are the center of the universe, we do not want to consider another's view.
  • We insist that someone do something for us even if the person has no time.
  • Convinced that we are incapable of relating, we are frightened of others and close ourselves off from meaningful contact.
  • Refusing to accept the reality of a loved one as an independent person, we become overprotective.

When we recognize the dualistic appearances behind our naivety, we can deconstruct them. For example, suppose we have a sixteen-year-old and our mind has been creating the feeling of a seemingly concrete threatened "me" versus a seemingly concrete threatening thought, such as "you no longer need me in the same way as you did as a baby." According to the other-voidness view, when we relax the grip of insecurity, we find awareness of reality. In other words, we know that our child is sixteen years old. Nevertheless, we do not wish to think about what this fact implies, and so we feel anxious. Naively believing that treating our child like a baby will create no problems, we are overprotective. Anxiety and naivety, then, obscure our awareness of reality.

Further beneath our tension lies the awareness that constitutes the deepest sphere of reality, namely the clear light mental activity that gives rise to experience. When we fully relax, we experience thoughts as merely waves on the ocean of the mind. Thus, thinking of our child as an independent person is no longer a threatening experience.

The self-voidness position explains that when we relax the grip of frightened naivety, we find underlying it mirror-like awareness. We had taken in the information of our child looking, acting, and speaking like a sixteen-year-old, but either had not paid attention or had chosen to ignore it. When we open our mind and our heart, we reach the underlying experience that was there all along - merely taking in information like a camera or a microphone.

In short, naivety is not like producing and engaging with objects, taking in information, or knowing what things are. This disturbing emotion is not a fundamental feature of mental activity. It arises only when we overlay these basic activities with dualistic appearances and believe in them. Only when we conceive of a concrete "me" facing a concrete "object" do we become frightened of our experiences. Consequently, we naively shut ourselves off as if we could avoid reality. When we release our feeling of dualism, or at least our belief that it refers to what is real, we discover the mirror-like awareness of reality that was there all along as the structure of our experience.

Arrogance and Stinginess

Arrogance is the self-aggrandizing feeling that we are better than others are, in all or in just certain ways. For example, we are arrogant about being wealthier, more clever, or better looking. It may be conventionally true that we have more money than someone else has. However, when we project and believe in the dualistic appearance of a seemingly solidly wealthy "me" and a seemingly solidly impoverished "you," we feel that this makes us a better person. Thus, we become proud, conceited, and arrogant.

A syndrome related to arrogance occurs when we transpose self-aggrandizement to others. We feel that they are inherently better than we are, in all or in just some respects. Although abhidharma analysis does not discuss this disturbing emotion, inordinate esteem of others commonly occurs among people with low self-esteem. Since the structure of aggrandizing others parallels that of self-aggrandizing arrogance – with the difference being merely a shift of aim from others to self - the two emotions deconstruct in the same way.

The dualistic appearance of ourselves or others as concretely superior to someone, or to others in general, is nonsense. No one exists in this fantasized way. We all share the same fundamental features of mind and heart that allow us to become a Buddha. When we realize this, we relax the grip of our disturbing emotion. What remains is the underlying mental activity, namely awareness of equalities. We were merely considering others and ourselves in terms of a shared feature, how much money we have. Only when we overlay such consideration with a dualistic appearance and concrete identities do we regard one side as inherently better and the other as inherently worse.

Stinginess is the unwillingness to share something with others. It derives from the dualistic appearance of a seemingly concrete "me" as inherently more worthy of possessing something than a seemingly concrete "you" are. A nervous feeling that sharing with this "you" would threaten the security of this "me" often accompanies belief in the deceptive appearance.

If we suffer from low self-esteem, we might transpose the aim of stinginess to ourselves. With a denial of self-entitlement and an inability to say no, we do not allow ourselves a fair portion of something – be it money, time, energy, or space – and give more to someone than we can afford. We do this because we believe in the dualistic appearance that our mind creates of a seemingly concrete "me" as truly unworthy and of a seemingly concrete "you" as inherently more deserving. Insecure and anxious, we unconsciously feel that setting limits and keeping anything for ourselves will incite the person to reject or abandon us.

The self-deprivation associated with anorexia resembles destructive self-denial in favor of others. Both involve a comparison of ourselves with others; anorexia, however, does not involve sharing anything. On the other hand, miserliness – the hoarding of money with unwillingness to spend it even on ourselves – does not partake of the same structure as anorexia and self-deprivation in favor of others. This is because miserliness does not entail comparison with someone else. Moreover, as a disturbing and destructive emotion based on confusion, denial of self-entitlement in favor of others differs from the constructive self-sacrifice of a parent for a child that even animals exhibit.

Arrogance and stinginess are similar disturbing emotions. With both, we consider ourselves as better than someone else is. Deconstructing the dualistic appearances that fuel our stinginess enables us to relax our insecurity and tension. Again, we discover underlying awareness of equalities. We were simultaneously considering others and ourselves in terms of possibly sharing something. The same deep awareness becomes apparent when we relax our inordinate esteem of others and our destructive self-denial in favor of them.

Longing Desire and Clinging Attachment

Longing desire is the obsession to possess someone or something, while clinging attachment is the nervous insistence not to let go once we possess the person or thing. Both are based on the dualistic appearance of (1) a seemingly concrete "me" who cannot live without having some person or object and (2) a seemingly concrete "you" or object that could make me secure if I only had it or if I never let it go.

Traditional discussions of longing desire and clinging attachment present only the active form of these disturbing emotions. A passive form, however, frequently occurs. It manifests as the obsession to be possessed by or to belong to someone or to some collective group, and not to be abandoned once we belong. Most often, the person we wish to belong to is a lifetime partner and the collective group is a business firm or a club. Thus, although these disturbing emotions often occur among persons with low self-confidence, they may also affect a wider population.

We need to see through the deceptive appearance fueling these disturbing emotions. Denying our ability to cope on our own, we are exaggerating the qualities of someone or something. Fooled by this, we become infatuated. When we deconstruct the appearance by understanding that it does not refer to anything real, we relax the grip of our insecurity. Underlying our inflation of the person, the group, or the object into someone or something truly special, we find individualizing awareness. We merely specified a particular person, organization, or thing. Only when we overlay that specifying with a dualistic appearance and concrete identities do we experience ourselves as inherently deprived and the person, group, or object as inherently alluring.


Jealousy is the inability to bear someone else's achievement, for instance his or her success. We wish that we could achieve it instead. A variation occurs when someone receives something from someone, such as love or affection; we wish that we could receive it instead. This disturbing emotion derives from the dualistic appearance of (1) a seemingly concrete "me" who inherently deserves to achieve or receive something, but did not, and (2) a seemingly concrete "you" who inherently did not deserve to get it. Unconsciously, we feel that the world owes us something and it is unfair when others get it instead.

Under the influence of low self-esteem, we may direct toward ourselves a disturbing emotion akin to jealousy. With self-depreciation, we feel that we are inherently undeserving of what we have, while others innately deserve it instead.

Naivety about cause and effect usually accompanies jealousy. For example, we do not understand and even deny that the person who received a promotion or affection did anything to earn it. Moreover, we feel that we should get it without having to do anything to bring it about. Alternatively, we feel that we did do a lot but still did not get the reward. Our mind makes things appear to happen for no reason at all, or for only one reason: what we alone did.

When we deconstruct these deceptive appearances, we relax our feelings of injustice. Beneath our jealousy is merely awareness of what has been accomplished. This makes us aware of a goal to achieve. If we do not begrudge someone else for achieving or receiving it, we can perhaps learn how the person accomplished the feat. This enables us to see how to accomplish it ourselves. We only feel jealous because of overlaying this awareness with a dualistic appearance and concrete identities.


Anger is the generation of a rough state of mind toward someone or something, with the wish to rid ourselves of it or to do it harm. This disturbing emotion derives from the dualistic appearance of (1) a seemingly concrete "me" who cannot possibly endure this person, group, or object and (2) a seemingly concrete "you," group, or object which, if I could eliminate would make me secure. Just as longing desire fixates upon and exaggerates the good qualities of someone or something, anger focuses on and inflates the negative qualities.

The abhidharma discussion does not include as a form of anger negative feelings toward oneself. Yet, a disturbing emotion akin to anger clearly arises in people with low self-esteem. Something that either we or someone else has done often prompts it, while feelings of inadequacy and guilt normally accompany it. Thus, we may be infuriated with ourselves simply because of shortcomings we have or mistakes we have made. On the other hand, when someone acts terribly toward us, we may similarly overestimate our own bad qualities and blame ourselves. Insecure and afraid of rejection if we say anything about the incident, we suppress the anger we might feel toward the person. We direct it at ourselves instead.

According to the other-voidness presentation, when we deconstruct the deceptive appearances fueling our anger, we relax the tension of our hostile rejection. We find simply mirror-like awareness, for instance that someone is acting in a certain way. The self-voidness position explains that we discover awareness of reality. We are simply differentiating between the way that someone is and is not behaving and seeing nonjudgmentally that one is appropriate and the other is not. Only when we overlay this fundamental mental activity with a dualistic appearance and inherent identities do we respond with violent emotion toward what we find unacceptable.

Worry and Complaint

Worry and complaint are two additional disturbing syndromes that arise from projecting dualistic appearances onto deep awareness and other innate facets or our mind. Worry comes from viewing ourselves as inherently helpless and regarding a person or a situation as something out of our control. When we relax our insecurity and tension, we find merely individualizing awareness and concern about someone or something. Our calmer view allows us to evaluate the situation to see what can be done, if anything, and then simply to do it. As Shantideva said, "If a situation can be changed, why worry about it? Just change it. If we cannot do anything to change it, why worry? It does nothing to help."

When we realize that underlying someone's neurotic worries over us are warm concern and individualizing awareness, we can defuse our hypersensitive response. Instead of viewing the person's behavior dualistically as a threat, we focus on awareness of individualities. Being the object of this type of awareness coming from someone cannot possibly rob us of our individuality. Moreover, recognizing the person's concern for us reinforces our patient understanding.

When we complain about having to do something or haughtily protest when someone asks us to do it, we are also caught in a dualistic web. A seemingly concrete "me" appears to be facing an inherently distasteful task that we do not want to do. When we relax the grip of this compelling feeling, we find accomplishing awareness focused on a task that needs doing. Also present is reality awareness focused on the issues of our ability to do it and of the propriety of our doing it. We also see that someone asking us to do something does not threaten our freedom. In this way, we just do what needs to be done, if there is no harm, or we decline if the task is inappropriate. We may use a similar method to avoid overreacting when we hear someone else complaining about having to do something.

Exercise 22: Dissolving Disturbing Emotions into Underlying Deep Awareness

During the first phase of this exercise, after creating a quiet, caring space, we look at a photograph or simply think of someone toward whom we have felt or are currently feeling disturbing emotions. For each emotion, we may need to choose a different person. If we cannot recall feeling a particular upsetting emotion, we may extrapolate from familiarity with others' experience of it and try to imagine what it must be like. Acknowledging and regretting the pain that our imbalance may have caused the person about whom we felt the emotion, we resolve to try to overcome these problems.

First, we try to recognize the dualistic feeling behind each disturbing emotion as based on sheer fantasy, and then we endeavor to deconstruct it. We begin the process by trying to relax completely. As we feel our tension easing, we try to feel the fantasy and its accompanying disturbing emotion releasing themselves, by using the image and feeling of the clenched fist of our mind slowly opening. Since tension often manifests in a tight feeling in our gut or chest, we also try to feel a clenched fist opening there. We may supplement the method with the image and feeling that tightly grasping the dualistic appearance and disturbing emotion was like tightly clutching a color image projected on water. Nothing substantial was ever there.

With our mind, emotions, and feelings now clear, we try to recognize and rest in the corresponding form of deep awareness that underlay our disturbed state of mind. The more we relax our mental and physical tension, the deeper we are able to settle into the underlying awareness. If relaxing our mental grip also releases repressed feelings of sadness or pain, we try not to become tight again with fear. Instead, we try to let the feelings flow and pass with our breath as we normally exhale.

Next, we look at a photo or think of someone who has felt or is currently feeling the same disturbing emotion toward us. Again, if we cannot recall anyone like this, we may extrapolate from what others have told us from their experience. Similarly deconstructing our overreaction toward being the object of someone's upset emotions, we try to rest again in the underlying form of awareness. We conclude by trying to feel compassion for this person, who does not relax and contact his or her deep awareness. Disturbing emotions are bringing the person much pain.

For practice in a workshop, the group facilitator may choose one form of disturbing emotion for each of the five types of deep awareness. When practicing at home, we may do the same. For advanced or thorough practice, we may work with all the disturbing emotions associated with each of the five types of awareness.

Dissolving Naivety into Mirror-like Awareness of Reality

(1) First, we consider an example of naivety about cause and effect. We may choose a small child, for instance, on whom we naively felt that our words or actions had no effect. We had insensitively felt that fighting with our partner in front of him or her did not matter. Viewing the experience dualistically, we had imagined a concrete "me" acting in a vacuum and the child as a concrete entity unaffected by surroundings. Our insensitivity has brought the child much unhappiness, which we now regret.

Realizing that such ways of existing are impossible, we drop our naivety about the situation. Suppose we had known about the effects of our actions, but had felt it too painful to admit or to deal with. We now try to drop the tension behind our naive assumption that if we do not think about or acknowledge something, it will disappear. From the other-voidness point of view, we find awareness of reality. We see the conventional facts of the situation. In other words, we see the effects of our actions on the child. They had been there all along. We either had not noticed them or had ignored or denied them if we did. From the viewpoint of the self-voidness presentation, we find mirror-like awareness taking in the information that is clearly there.

We focus for a minute on these two mutually supportive types of awareness: awareness of reality and mirror-like awareness. Such vision allows us to deal soberly and sensitively with the situation now. We need care, however, not to feel guilty by overinflating the importance of our actions. As explained in Chapter Six concerning not being afraid to respond, we have contributed to the situation but have not been the sole source.

Now, we focus on someone who insensitively said something painful to us and was naively unaware that his or her words would be upsetting. For example, perhaps the person said something about a loved one we had recently lost. Deconstructing the hypersensitive feeling of a seemingly concrete poor "me" who has been hurt by a seemingly concrete cruel "you," we try to relax. We try to discover the underlying mirror-like awareness of reality. Our loved one is gone. Whether or not someone reminds us, nothing can change this fact. This helps us to accept reality, although no one can deny that it is sad. Realizing how terrible the person must feel when others overreact to his or her insensitive remarks, we try to feel compassion. We hope that the person will soon overcome his or her naivety.

(2) Next, we repeat the procedure with an example of naivety about reality. We choose, for instance, someone who told us something about him or herself that we have difficulty accepting, such as that he or she is getting older and now tires more easily. Until now, we have denied or ignored this fact or have not taken it seriously. Feeling ourselves to be a seemingly concrete "me" for whom things are as we imagine them to be, we have been trying to relate to a seemingly concrete "you" who matched our dreams. Our insensitivity has caused the person frustration, which we now regret. Trying to release the tension of our naivety, we find mirror-like awareness of the person's reality. Taking in the information and accepting it as true enables us to treat the person with proper sensitivity and respect.

Then, we focus on someone who has naively refused to accept the truth about us, for instance that we are not romantically interested in him or her. Deconstructing our dualistic feeling of a seemingly concrete "me," about whom everything is obvious, frustrated by a seemingly concrete blind "you," we try to remain with mirror-like awareness of our actual feelings about the person. This helps us to stop overreacting by being defensive. Feeling compassion for the person living under this illusion gives us the balanced sensitivity to impress the truth without being cruel.

Dissolving Arrogance into Equalizing Awareness

(1) We next look at a picture or think of someone to whom we arrogantly feel superior in one way or another or have felt this way in the past. This may be someone from our personal life or perhaps someone of a different race whose picture we saw in a magazine. Our conceit has led to hatred and pain, which we deeply regret. We notice that we have compared the two of us and judged ourselves to be a seemingly concrete superior "me" and the other to be a seemingly concrete inferior "you." When we try to relax the tension and insecurity that compel us to make the comparison, we find equalizing awareness. We are merely considering the two of us as human beings. This allows openness and balanced sensitivity toward the person.

Turning to someone who arrogantly feels he or she is better than we are, we similarly deconstruct our oversensitive response of outrage. Our response came from feeling like a seemingly concrete maligned "me" being insulted by a seemingly concrete arrogant "you." We may be poorer than this person is, but that does not make us an inferior being. Calmly focusing on deep awareness of our equality as human beings, we try to feel compassion toward the person whose prejudice produces so many problems.

(2) We then choose someone whom we consider, with inordinate esteem, as better than we are in one way or another. Our obsequious attitude makes the person extremely uncomfortable, which we now regret. Relaxing the tension of our dualistic view of a seemingly concrete inferior "me" and a seemingly concrete superior "you," we try to rest in the equalizing awareness lying beneath. We may not be equal in education or in our position at work, but we both have our strong and our weak points. We both have joys and sorrows in our life.

Lastly, we focus on someone who aggrandizes us as better than he or she is. Relaxing any discomfort or annoyance we might experience, we deconstruct our dualistic feeling of a seemingly concrete, perfectly normal "me" imposed upon by a seemingly concrete, preposterous and tedious "you." We try to rest in deep awareness of our equality and direct compassion toward this person who feels ill at ease in our presence. He or she may deny or reject our verbal reassurances that no one is inherently better or worse than others are. Yet, if we keep our deep awareness in mind, our actions will speak louder than our words.

Dissolving Stinginess into Equalizing Awareness

(1) Next, we focus on someone with whom we did not want to share something. Our insensitive stinginess hurt the person, which we now regret. We try to relax our dualistic feeling of a seemingly concrete "me" who would be deprived if this seemingly concrete undeserving person were to share what I have. When we loosen our tension, we find equalizing awareness of the two of us as people who could partake of something. This view of equality enables us to accept the fact that the person would also enjoy having a share. We try to imagine nondualistically giving him or her some of what we have. A traditional method to overcome reticence to share is to give a portion of something with our right hand to our left.

Choosing someone stingy who was unwilling to share something with us, we similarly deconstruct our hypersensitive feelings of a seemingly concrete, poor deprived "me" and a seemingly concrete selfish "you." Trying to focus on our equality as human beings, we see that missing a share does not make us inferior. We then try to direct compassion at the person whose selfishness causes others so much resentment.

(2) We then turn to someone for whose sake we wanted to deprive ourselves of our own fair portion of something – for instance our free time – in order to give the person more than he or she needed or even wanted. Our attitude was unhealthy, not only for ourselves but also for the person, which we now regret. Relaxing our dualistic feeling of a seemingly concrete unworthy "me" and a seemingly concrete, more deserving "you," we settle into an awareness of equality that allows fairness to us both.

Lastly, we consider someone who, with destructive self-denial, has kept little or nothing for him or herself and given us more than our due share of something. The person may be, for instance, an overly doting and anxious parent who sacrifices everything for our sake. With insensitivity and narcissism, we may have taken the situation for granted with the feeling of a seemingly concrete "me" who deserves the attention and a seemingly concrete "you" who owes it to me. Alternatively, with hypersensitivity and guilt, we may have protested and rebelled with the feeling of a seemingly concrete undeserving "me" and a seemingly concrete "you" who owes me nothing. In either case, we regret the pain our attitude must have caused our parent. We try to deconstruct our feeling of dualism and relax in the equalizing awareness with which we merely consider the two of us. Compassion for our parent, whose compulsive and often unnecessary sacrifice must make life difficult for him or her, allows us gratefully to accept our fair share and to refrain from abusing our parent's generosity.

Dissolving Longing Desire into Individualizing Awareness

(1) Following this, we look at a picture or think of someone whom we long or have longed to possess in some way or another. We may choose a person from our life or perhaps a magazine photo of someone scantily dressed. Acknowledging the pain that we caused by insensitively treating the person as merely a sex object, we feel regret. We then try to relax the anxious, insecure feeling of a seemingly concrete deprived "me" who desperately needs to have a seemingly concrete enticing "you." This leaves us with individualizing awareness. Rather than grabbing after the person, we are merely focusing specifically on him or her or on some of his or her qualities. We try to appreciate these points without overinflating them.

Turning to someone who longs to possess us, we try to relax our hypersensitive feeling of a seemingly concrete endangered "me" being hunted by a seemingly concrete pursuing "you." In place of being obsessed with escaping, we see the person with awareness of him or her merely as an individual. This allows us to deal compassionately and straightforwardly with the person without feeling intimidated or acting cruelly.

(2) We then focus on someone to whom we wish or have wished we belonged, for instance as a life partner or as an employee. We regret the discomfort our expectations and demands may have caused the person. Relaxing the insensitive dualistic feeling of a seemingly concrete "me" for whom self-worth and fulfillment only can come from this seemingly concrete "you" including us in his or her intimate circle, we again discover individualizing awareness underlying our longing desire. We are merely specifying this person and focusing on some of his or her qualities. If we add equalizing awareness, we further see that others may share similar qualities. Although each person is a unique individual, no one is so special as to be indispensable. Other potential partners and jobs surely exist.

Lastly, we consider someone who longs to be our partner and for us to include him or her in all aspects of our life. Relaxing the hypersensitive dualistic feeling of a seemingly concrete claustrophobic "me" imposed upon by a seemingly concrete demanding "you," we arrive at awareness of the person as an individual. Respectful compassion allows us to set appropriate limits without being harsh or insensitive.

Dissolving Clinging Attachment into Individualizing Awareness

(1) First, we focus on someone toward whom we feel or have felt clinging attachment, for instance our preadolescent child. Perhaps we treat him or her as a fledgling whom we try to hold on to and keep in the nest. Regretting the discomfort and embarrassment we cause our child, especially in front of his or her friends, we try to relax. We deconstruct the anxious, insecure feeling of a seemingly concrete "me" who cannot live without a seemingly concrete "you" as my baby always under my close supervision. Loosening our tight emotional grip leaves us aware of our preadolescent simply as an individual. A more gentle loving view allows us to respect our child's individuality and to be sensitive to his or her need for space and freedom.

Next, we consider someone, perhaps in our family, who clings to us with attachment as his or hers to control. We try to relax our hypersensitive feeling of a seemingly concrete threatened "me" being oppressed by a seemingly concrete manipulative "you." Seeing our family member simply as an individual allows us to find a compassionate solution that leaves the person feeling secure in our love.

(2) We may follow the same deconstruction procedure with someone to whom we cling with attachment as the person to whom we belong. Feeling insecure, we are terrified that he or she may abandon or fire us. Regretting the pressure our attitude causes the person, we try to relax our tension. We do this by deconstructing our dualistic feeling of a seemingly concrete insecure "me" whose only hope for protection from hardship is a seemingly concrete savior "you." Our calm awareness of the person as an individual and our consequent respect for his or her situation allow us to face with dignity whatever might happen in the relationship.

Lastly, we focus on someone who, with clinging attachment, is emotionally dependent on us and is paranoid that we will abandon him or her. Relaxing the hypersensitive dualistic feeling of a seemingly concrete vampire "you" draining the resources of a seemingly concrete victimized "me," we become aware of the person simply as an individual. Treating the person with respect and compassion reinforces his or her feeling of self-worth and self-confidence.

Dissolving Jealousy into Accomplishing Awareness

(1) Next, we focus on someone toward whom we feel jealous, either now or in the past. Consider, for example, the new boyfriend or girlfriend of our previous partner. It feels as though we are a concrete "me" who inherently deserves our old partner back and the person is a concrete "you" who inherently does not merit the honor of enjoying her or his company. We regret the pain that our jealousy has brought. When we relax the tension of our bitterness, we discover underlying it awareness of what has been accomplished. We see that the person has accomplished having our old girlfriend or boyfriend as his or her partner. Our emotional sobriety allows us now to see our old partner's strong and weak points more objectively, with mirror-like awareness of reality. Appreciating what the person toward whom we felt jealous now has to deal with, we know how to relate sensitively.

Choosing someone who has been or is currently jealous of what we have achieved, we deconstruct any feelings of annoyance or guilt we might have. We might feel, for example, that we are a concrete "me" who inherently deserves what we have gotten and that the person is a concrete "you" who inherently does not deserve the same. Trying to relax, we become aware simply that we have accomplished what we have through cause and effect. This enables us to wish, compassionately, that this person might find the causes to achieve the same.

(2) We consider next someone whom we feel or have felt is more deserving of what we have than we are. For example, we might have been born into a wealthy family and, uncomfortable with our privileged life, felt that a homeless person deserved it more than we do. Lavishing the person with unearned gifts, however, never taught him or her the value of work. The person became dependent and lazy, which we now regret.

The dualistic view that fueled our self-depreciation and guilt was that we are a seemingly concrete undeserving "me" and the person is a seemingly concrete more deserving "you." Relaxing the tension of this view, we settle into the accomplishing awareness that we, not the other person, have gained or achieved what we have. A dispassionate mind allows us to reflect that, according to the laws of karma, whatever happens to us is the result of our previous actions. If we have not done anything obvious in this life to warrant what we have, we must have done something positive in earlier lives that has brought about our gain. Being at peace with our situation allows us to use what we have to provide others with the opportunities to achieve the same for themselves.

Lastly, we think of someone who feels that we are more deserving of what he or she has than he or she is. We might feel disgusted with the person's low self-esteem or, opportunistically, wish to take advantage of the person's discomfort with his or her lot. Our dualistic view may be of a seemingly concrete insulted "me" being exploited by a seemingly concrete absurd "you" who is trying to alleviate feelings of guilt. Relaxing our confusion leaves us with accomplishing awareness. We are aware that the person has attained what he or she has and that now we may receive a part of it. We try to feel compassion for this person whose charity is driven solely by feelings of guilt.

Dissolving Anger into Mirror-like Awareness of Reality

(1) We then focus our attention on someone toward whom we are or have been angry. We may even choose a political figure whose policies annoy us. Our anger causes terrible scenes that disturb everyone around us, which we now regret. Thinking of the person or seeing his or her picture makes us self-righteously feel like a seemingly concrete oppressed "me" facing the onslaughts of a seemingly concrete terrible "you." When we try to relax the tense impulse to destroy what we dislike, we discover mirror-like awareness. We are merely taking in the information about how the person is acting. We also discover awareness of the reality of the situation: we are differentiating that the person is acting like this and not like that. This understanding provides the calmness to see that although the person may be acting horribly now, he or she can change. This permits us to respond more appropriately.

Turning to someone who is angry with us, we deconstruct any dualistic feelings of rejection or outrage at the person's accusations, such as "How dare you accuse me." Fueling our feeling is belief in the myth of a seemingly concrete innocent "me" and a seemingly concrete unfair "you." Trying to relax leaves us with mirror-like awareness of what we have done and reality awareness to see its propriety. If what we did was wrong, we try to imagine calmly apologizing. If we were right, we try to imagine not feeling threatened. In either case, we try to feel compassion for the person who is obviously miserable while being upset.

(2) Next, we choose someone who mistreated us. With low self-esteem, we blamed ourselves and silently redirected our anger inwardly. Later, our suppressed feelings might have manifested in hysterical crying or self-destructive behavior. The person could not understand our conduct and felt helpless and dismayed. He or she may even have lashed out and told us to stop being stupid. We regret the frustration and grief that our internalized rage has caused us both. Relaxing our self-recriminating anger, we try to let go of our dualistic feeling of a seemingly concrete guilty "me" and a seemingly concrete "you" who might abandon me if I said anything about the incident. Deconstructing like this, we find mirror-like awareness of what happened between us, and reality awareness that it was like this and not like that. The calmness and clarity this discovery grants allows us to stop dwelling on blame and to find a solution.

Then, we consider someone who is afraid to object when we say or do something hurtful, and redirects the anger inwardly instead. We try to relax our exasperated dualistic feeling of a seemingly concrete frustrated "me" who is trying hard and a seemingly concrete impossible "you" who is not cooperating. With mirror-like awareness, we see our behavior and the person's response. Reality awareness reveals that the relationship is painful to both of us and not to just us alone. Understanding the person's emotional distress gives us the patience and compassion to deal with the situation in a more gentle and sensitive manner.

Dissolving Worry into Individualizing Awareness and Caring Concern

Next, we look at a picture or think of someone we obsessively worry about now or have done so in the past. Acknowledging the discomfort we cause him or her, we feel regret. Noticing our dualistic feeling of a seemingly concrete helpless "me" facing a seemingly concrete "you" who is out of my control, we try to deconstruct it. Relaxing our tension leaves us with individualizing awareness of the person and with warm concern. Calmer now, we try to imagine what we can do to help, if anything, and then we try to picture simply doing it.

Focusing on someone who constantly worries about us, we try to deconstruct our hypersensitive feeling of a seemingly concrete suffocating "me" being smothered by a seemingly concrete overbearing "you." Relaxing our tense paranoia, we find individualizing awareness of the person and concern about ourselves. Aware of the pain that the person's behavior is bringing us, we try to appreciate the suffering that he or she is experiencing too. With compassion, we then try to turn our concern to the person, with the wish that he or she be free of this suffering and the worry that is causing it.

Dissolving Complaint into Accomplishing Awareness of Reality

Lastly, we choose someone who asked or told us to do something that we did not wish to do. Insensitive to others, we exasperated everyone around us with our complaints. Regretting this now, we try to note the dualistic and triplistic appearances that fuel this turmoil. Arrogant and outraged, we felt like a concrete "me" who was inherently too good to have to do this task or to be told what to do. The task seemed innately degrading, while the person asking us to do it seemed like a concrete "you" who was trying to rob us of our independence and dignity. If the person later reminded us of the task, we became even more furious, thinking that he or she did not trust our intention or ability to do it.

We try to relax our belief in this paranoid vision. The more we relax, the more tension we release. Our accomplishing awareness has been focusing on what needs to be done, and our reality awareness has been dealing with the issues of our ability to do the task and of the appropriateness of our doing it. Calmer now, we imagine deciding what to do and, no matter what we choose, we try to feel compassion for the person who needs the task done.

Then, we turn our attention to someone who complained about something that we asked him or her to do. Deconstructing our overreaction of annoyance at a seemingly defiant "you" confronting a seemingly concrete innocent "me," we try to relax. Seeing what needs accomplishing, we try to imagine calmly evaluating whether the person can do it and whether doing it ourselves would be more appropriate or perhaps less of a bother. We try to feel compassion for the person who has become so upset in the face of this task.

Overcoming Loneliness and Resolving Conflicts

During the second phase of the exercise, we sit in a circle, create a quiet, caring space and then focus on other members of our group. Since we may not feel any disturbing emotions toward these people, we can work with the feeling of loneliness. Even if we are not lonely now, almost everyone has sometime felt lonely.

We begin by remembering the feeling of loneliness and then looking at the people around the circle. When we are obsessed with feeling sorry for ourselves, we are caught in the dualistic appearance of ourselves as a seemingly concrete "me," inherently alone, and of these people as seemingly concrete, unattainably distant "you." We naively close ourselves off from any contact. Trying to relax our tension allows us to reach our mirror-like awareness. With it, we try to take in information about the people. Moreover, with awareness of reality, we try to see that each of them, with appropriate effort on our part, could become a friend. This vision helps to dispel our fear.

Next, we try to notice how loneliness colors our experience of seeing these people. By making us feel either better or worse than they are, it creates a distance. Feeling perhaps that they are not good enough for us, we do not want to open ourselves and share our feelings or thoughts in friendship. Perhaps feeling the opposite – that we are not good enough for them – we fear rejection. Now, we try to relinquish our paranoid fantasies and to discover the equalizing awareness that lies behind them. We have been considering these people and ourselves in the same moment. Appreciating the connection that this automatically creates, we try to extend our natural warmth to them.

Until now, we might have hoped for someone special to come. Attached to the dream of an ideal friend, we might have longed for such a person to end our loneliness as we looked around the circle. Realizing that no one can meet such a high ideal helps us to drop our fantasy. This opens us to the experience of the moment, namely looking at each person in the circle with awareness of his or her individuality. Trying to do this now, we realize that everyone has both strong and weak points. When we accept that fact, we can begin to form realistic friendships.

We might have often envied others for having close friends. Further, before our session began, we might have noticed someone in our group who aroused our interest and hopes. We were jealous that he or she was joking with others. Trying to relax, we find ourselves left with accomplishing awareness. We now look at the people in the circle with this awareness that to form a friendship we also need to approach them and speak.

Some of our previous friendships may have failed. We might now be bitter and angrily blame others for having been cruel. Trying to relax the dualistic feeling of oppressor and victim leaves us with mirror-like awareness of what took place. Further, with awareness of reality, we see simply that our former friends acted unacceptably and not as we would have preferred. This does not mean that all friendships will inherently turn sour or that everyone will inevitably hurt us. Realizing this, we try to look at each person in the circle with openness and no preconceptions.

We may have worried that others will dislike us. Trying to relax our anxiety leaves us looking at each person as an individual, with concern about how he or she will respond to us. Our wish is that the person be happy with us. Recognizing that this wish for someone to be happy is the wish of love, we try to strengthen that loving concern. Love opens the door to forming friendships.

We might have complained about loneliness or about having to join groups to meet people. Trying to relax our feeling sorry for ourselves, we find ourselves looking at each person in the circle merely with awareness of what we have done. To meet these people, we had to come here. Happy at the opportunity for friendship that we now have, we try to look at each person with appreciation and gratitude that he or she has also come.

Following a similar method is helpful for conflict resolution, especially if both parties agree to try the same approach. We need to switch from closed-minded naivety about the other's position to mirror-like awareness of reality. Dropping our arrogance, we need to see each other as equal and each other's position as equally valid. Unattached to how we would like things ideally to be, we need to use individualizing awareness to evaluate the specifics of the situation. Not jealous if the other party were to get his or her way over certain points, we need to work out compromises with accomplishing awareness.

Most of all, we need to drop our anger. With mirror-like awareness of reality, we need to see our differences objectively. This enables us to resolve them nonjudgmentally. Instead of worrying about how the other party will respond, we need to feel concern that he or she be happy with our proposals. Therefore, we need to make them reasonable. In addition, instead of complaining if the person objects to any points, we need to see what has to be done to accomplish our aim. If we have a conflict with someone in our group, we may sit privately with the person and use this approach to try to resolve it.

Dislodging Low Self-Esteem

We practice the third phase of the exercise while focusing on the disturbing emotions that we might have toward ourselves. These emotions most frequently arise in association with low self-esteem. After creating a quiet and caring mental space, we look at our face in a mirror. We try to relax the closed-minded naivety we might have in not wanting to accept, for example, that we are old and fat. To help us do this, we need to let go of our value judgments and preconceptions of how we should look. The breathing method of letting go and the images of writing on water and a swell on the ocean may also be useful for this. Since we need especially gentle concern toward ourselves, we may intensify our initial generation of care with the line of reasoning:

  • "I am a human being and have feelings, just as everyone else does."
  • "How I regard and treat myself affects my feelings, just as how others regard and treat me affects how I feel."
  • "Therefore, just as I hope that others care about me and about my feelings in our interactions, I care about myself. I care about my feelings. I care about my feelings toward myself."

With mirror-like awareness of reality, we then try to look objectively at what we see. Identifying with a younger and slimmer "me," we may be too proud to admit that we no longer look like that. Relaxing our arrogance, we now try to look at ourselves with equalizing awareness. We see that whether thin or fat, young or old, each appearance is equally "me."

We may be clinging to the image of an ideal weight and hair color that is outdated and unrealistic. Relaxing our attachment to this ideal, we try to look with individualizing awareness at how we are at this stage of life. Further, we might envy the way that we looked and felt when we were younger. Letting go of our envy, we try to look at ourselves with accomplishing awareness. We gained our previous look and level of energy because of youth. Those times are gone. Now, we can only accomplish what is realistic for our age. We may be angry with ourselves for having gained so much weight. Realizing that this does not help, we try to relax our anger. With mirror-like awareness of reality, we see simply that we are old, not young, and fat, not thin. Seeing the facts enables us to deal with them more soberly and sensitively.

If we are overly worried about how we look, we try to relax and look at ourselves with the caring concern that underlies our tension. Accepting the situation specific to our age, we set ourselves a reasonable goal for losing weight. If we frequently complain about having to diet, we try soberly to see what we need to do to accomplish our goal. Then, we try simply to do it.

We repeat the exercise putting down the mirror and just working with our disturbing feelings about ourselves. Lastly, we work with our upsetting emotional responses to the series of photographs of ourselves from the past.


Developing balanced sensitivity is an organic process. Although the twnety-two exercises add to the process one at a time, they build up an organic network in which each exercise interconnects with all others. As the network grows, it functions more maturely. The experiences and insights gained along the way reinforce one another as we assimilate them into our lives. The integration process further expands our innate networks of positive force and deep awareness. Drawing upon these strengthened networks enables us to act with more balance in our lives.

Since the factors affecting any situation are nearly infinite, totally balanced sensitivity comes only with the attainment of a network of deep awareness encompassing everything. In other words, it comes only with the attainment of Buddhahood. This fact, however, need not daunt us. Although insensitive or overemotional moments inevitably continue to arise as we train, nevertheless, with sincere motivation and sustained effort, a pattern of progress begins to emerge. Our heart and mind are fully capable of balance in their sensitivity. Any progress made toward realizing their potential more than compensates the hard work involved. Not only do we benefit from our efforts; everyone whom we engage reaps the fruits.