Applying the Five Buddha Wisdoms toward Ourselves

Exercise to Enhance the Five Types of Deep Awareness

In the last session we spoke about enhancing the five types of deep awareness in terms of directing them toward others. However, we can also enhance them toward ourselves. We’ll begin with an exercise, because it’s far more effective than starting with a long discussion.

  • We begin once again by focusing on the breath and quieting the mind.
  • We generate a caring attitude toward ourselves: “I’m a human being, like everybody else. I have feelings, just like everybody else. The way I treat myself affects how I feel, just as the way that I treat others affects how they feel.”
  • We then direct the mirror-like deep awareness at the feelings and emotions that we’re feeling right now. This is not about our physical sensations, but about the emotional state that we’re in. Try to become aware of the complex factors that make up this moment of how we feel, without mentally commenting, being judgmental or commenting. Be aware of any judgmental feelings that we might have toward ourselves. Also, we can include feeling nothing, if that’s our present state.
  • Then, with equalizing deep awareness, we try to see that the present feelings that we’re feeling are equal to any other feelings that we’ve previously experienced. They’re only a feeling or an emotion, no more and no less. They’re no big deal. This acceptance can allow us to face our various emotions with equanimity and without any fear.
  • Then, putting together equalizing deep awareness and deep awareness of reality, we try to see and identify the patterns in our feelings and emotions.
  • With individualizing deep awareness, we acknowledge the uniqueness of what we’re experiencing right now.
  • Next, with accomplishing deep awareness and deep awareness of reality, we try to see how best to relate to what we’re feeling. Maybe we need to be kinder to ourselves. Maybe we need to be firmer – not treat ourselves like a baby – and lift ourselves out of a depression.
  • Then lastly, with awareness of the deepest reality, we try not to solidly identify with the mood of the moment. Try to see that our moods and ourselves are changing all the time and that we’re also open to change.
  • Now, we try to combine all of these types of deep awareness: With mirror-like deep awareness, we’re aware of what we’re feeling now. Remember, it’s equal to any other feeling that we’ve previously experienced; it’s nothing special. We can see the pattern, but we respect the individuality, the uniqueness of the moment. We understand how to relate to it, even if it’s just to leave it alone. We don’t identify with it. We understand that it will change. Underlying all of this, we have a caring attitude toward ourselves: “I’m a human being with feelings, just like everybody else. And the way that I relate to myself, my feelings and my emotions is going to affect me very much, whether I ignore them or pay attention and deal with them.”
  • Then, we quiet down and let the experience settle.

This exercise is one way in which we can work, in relation to ourselves, with these five types of deep awareness. As you probably have experienced, it can be quite powerful.


Balancing Equalizing and Individualizing Deep Awareness

I have a difficult time identifying the equalizing deep awareness and the individualizing one. Somehow, I feel that they oppose each other and are in conflict. Can you explain this further?

If we are eating fruit, for example, or drinking juice, we can be aware that when we drink a certain juice, it’s orange juice. We can equalize it with other similar tasting glasses of juice that we have drunk and say, “This is orange juice.” However, we can also, without any contradiction whatsoever, individualize it in terms of this particular glass of orange juice being sweeter or less sweet than others.

In the exercise, we’re using equalizing deep awareness with respect to what we feel in two ways. First, in the most general way, we acknowledge that any emotion that we’re feeling is equal to any other emotion that we’re feeling. In this sense, there isn’t really any emotion that we feel that is more important than another emotion. There aren’t any that we need to fear. They’re just emotions. Similarly, when we see things, they’re just sights, and when we hear things, they’re just sounds. It’s no big deal. The second way that we use equalizing deep awareness is to identify patterns in our feelings. We equalize them to other situations in which we felt something similar.

For instance, maybe there’s a pattern of feeling sad or feeling very excited, which actually acts like a screen to protect what we feel on a deeper level, such as insecurity. We see the pattern; however, the individualizing deep awareness is also very important here because it’s not just another time when we feel sad, or it’s not just another time when we feel excited. The feeling or emotion is an individual instance that has arisen in relation to this or that circumstance going on right now, or maybe it has nothing to do with what’s going on now. Although we might have a general strategy for how to deal with this type of emotion, we need to modify it in terms of the present situation. Basically, equalizing deep awareness works like this.

Depending on the situation, there are many different strategies that we can use. For instance, we might feel sad, but the situation might be one in which we can’t indulge ourselves and we must continue with what we’re doing. Other times, we might notice the pattern and purposely not pay attention to it or deal with it directly. There are also times in which we can investigate and work more deeply with the feeling by being kind toward ourselves and thinking of the good things in our lives. If so, we deal with the feeling in this way because it’s appropriate to that moment.

In this way, the equalizing and the individualizing types of deep awareness aren’t contradictory at all; they complement each other.

Dealing with Various Types of Emotions, Even When They Are Changing

What do I do about my emotions changing while doing the exercise?

Whether we do an exercise like this as a formal exercise or we do it as part of our normal everyday lives, the more we observe an emotion, the weaker it will become, and perhaps more so with people who are very emotional. The emotions become a bit less intense because, with examination, we become a little removed from them. However, for those who are more alienated from their emotions or feelings, when they first start to do this type of practice they might feel nothing. As they do the exercise and become more relaxed, then suddenly they discover that there is some feeling underlying this nothingness. For some people, the emotions are quite deep but hidden, and for others they are very much on the surface. When the emotions are very much on the surface, they usually represent something deeper. Being overly emotional about things, for example, may be a manifestation of underlying insecurity.

When we try to identify and focus on the pattern, the whole quality of the exercise often changes in terms of the feeling. The intensity in the moment may not be strong, but it may increase when we recognize the pattern. Further, the context and awareness of that pattern affects the intensity of what we’re feeling now in the current moment. That now isn’t just the exact second but includes the entirety of what we’re examining. As we progress through the exercise, we really identify the pattern and, within the context of that pattern, modify it slightly according to the individual situation. Of course, what we feel changes from moment to moment; however, in doing this exercise, I wouldn’t imagine that our emotions would change dramatically to something completely different.

Of course, our experience with this type of practice will vary according to what we feel. If we’re feeling just sort of general sadness and existential angst, that’s one thing. A depression is another thing. Also, these don’t have to be terribly vivid feelings. It could simply be identifying a pattern of feeling low-level anger, jealousy or attachment. As we can see, there are many different types of feelings that we can work with.

When we’re feeling nothing, then it’s important to remember the Buddhist teachings about negation phenomena. A nothing is an absence of something. Is it a lack of enthusiasm, in which we have no excitement for anything? Is it an absence of compassion? For example, we’re supposed to be a Mahayana Buddhist and we meditate on love and compassion, yet when with people, we really don’t feel anything and act almost mechanically. We try to help them, but don’t feel anything. It’s crucial to investigate when we feel nothing or just very little. What is it an absence of? It could be an absence of joy or excitement in our lives. It could just be boredom, feeling like every day is the same. It could even be exhaustion because of not having time off or time for ourselves.

There are many different types of feelings that we might have and often they’re not so dramatic. If we’re the type of person that covers these types of non-dramatic emotions with an external grand show of emotion, then it can be more difficult to see what is lying underneath. Often, there’s not only insecurity, as I’ve mentioned, but possibly also fear or nervousness. There are many possibilities that we can explore.

The Importance of Having a Caring Attitude toward Ourselves

What is essential in all of this is to have a caring attitude toward ourselves. First of all, we need to recognize and acknowledge that:                            

  • We’re a human being. We have feelings, like everybody else.
  • The way that we feel affects the quality of our life.
  • The way that we treat ourselves and deal with our emotions affects us even more; therefore, we need to care about ourselves. This is important.

Of course, we need to balance this with the caring attitude that we have toward others. However, this could lead to all sorts of possible syndromes, like not being able to say “no.” If so, we need to explore and identify the feeling or the emotion behind that. Perhaps we’re afraid to say “no” because the other person will reject us. Therefore, we tolerate as much bad behavior as they throw at us, no matter what the other person does, because we don’t want to be abandoned. We are too insecure. Perhaps, we don’t want to say “no” because, as a bodhisattva, we’re supposed to help everybody. To say “no,” means we’re guilty or a bad Buddhist. We’re supposed to always help others, and if we don’t, then we’re selfish and bad.

These syndromes and the patterns therein need to be recognized and dealt with. We need to appreciate how they affect the quality of our life, which can be very far-reaching. In terms of not saying “no,” this is a very common syndrome. For instance, we’re supposed to be the good mother, good wife or husband, and so we feel that we can’t take time out or do anything for ourselves because we have to support and take care of our family. This is a very noble thought; however, it can also be very unhealthy in the way it’s carried out. A balance is necessary, with respect to ourselves so that we don’t feel guilty if we take time for ourselves. After all, each of us is a human being, like everybody else in our family and everybody else in the world. That’s why this caring attitude is really very essential.

On the other hand, we can go to the other extreme as if we are the center of the universe, the only one with feelings, and thus completely disregard others’ feelings. Actually, we don’t even consider that others have feelings, so we say and do whatever we want. That’s the other extreme. In this case, any little thing that somebody says or does hurts our feelings, and we make a big show out of it.

Making Mental Comments about Ourselves

When you talk about not making comments or not being judgmental, does it mean any comment whatsoever? I find it very difficult, for example, when discovering patterns, not to make any comments in order to clarify them in my mind. Is it the aim to just have a calm mind with no comments at all?  

We need to clarify a little bit here. The main thing that we want to quiet down is extraneous comments. You know, thinking about something else, comparing ourselves to other people and these types of comments. In trying to identify a pattern, we need to avoid being swept away into a whole story or movie about previous instances that we’ve experienced, as that’s mental wandering. Instead, we want to try to stay focused on what we’re doing. In fact, it may be helpful to verbalize in our minds what the pattern is, but not mentally talk too much about it.

We have to be a little bit delicate here. On the one hand, verbalizing and identifying the pattern is helpful. On the other hand, we don’t want to lock ourselves into some solid box, thinking, for example, “I am a depressive person, or I am a paranoid person” and then solidly identifying with that. To work with patterns more effectively requires a little bit of an understanding of voidness.

I always think of the example of alcoholics: It’s important initially to identify oneself as an alcoholic, especially if one has been in denial about that. However, after working with Alcoholics Anonymous or whatever program we do, eventually we have to stop identifying ourselves as an alcoholic, although that may take quite a bit of time. Otherwise, we’re identifying ourselves as being permanently an alcoholic, but just one who has stopped drinking, and we become totally addicted and dependent on Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and live in fear of starting to drink again. We need to develop the self-discipline and self-confidence to eventually just go on with our lives.

With the issue of being self-judgmental, if that is our attitude, always thinking, for example, “I’m such an idiot. I’m such a loser,” that’s something that we need to deal with. In this case, we want to quiet down this constant criticism of ourselves in our minds, as we’re observing and trying to work with our feelings. This becomes more and more subtle and remarkable, actually, as we look at it. Our attitude or emotional feeling toward ourselves can be harsh and judgmental, as in, “I’m so fat or so ugly;” “I’m fat but I still eat like a pig and I have to lose weight; but, I’m hopeless. I can’t lose weight.” Because of this type of negative attitude, we experience many conflicts. For instance, we lose a couple of kilos and then we put them back on in one or two weeks, and then we become disgusted with ourselves. How do we deal with this? Do we want to constantly yell at ourselves in our heads?

Of course, we can explore whether or not that evaluation of ourselves is correct. We may or may not actually be fat. An anorexic person is not actually fat, although they think of themselves in that manner. Other people are actually quite obese; they are fat. Also, we might discover that our attitude toward ourselves is basically unrealistic. If we are fifty years old and expect that we’re going to weigh the same as when we were twenty-one, that’s probably being a bit unrealistic, isn’t it? It very well may be that this is the emotion and attitude that we have to attend to, in terms the unrealistic expectations we may have about our body, achievements, or whatever it might be.

This particular application of the five types of deep awareness toward ourselves is helpful when we’re actually feeling one of these emotions. However, there’s another general way of applying these five types of deep awareness toward ourselves. We’ll do this exercise in the next session.