Sadness, loneliness, depression — feelings most of us don’t welcome.
Speakers like Tony Robbins and Sharon Pope as well as a growing number of Psychologists say that suppressing or avoiding feelings is not good for us. Experiments show that suppression of emotions leads to increased sympathetic activation of the cardiovascular system and worse memory for social information such as names or facts about individuals seen on slides 1.
There are also authoritative references that link cancer to a “type C personality.” Type C personalities are known for their tendency to “suppress wants, needs and desires.” 2. The implication being that suppressing these things increases the risk of cancer. Dr. Gabor Mate explains that the type C personality does not predestine a person to get a disease. Instead the type C personality predisposes a person to certain ways of thinking that increase stress. It’s like a kind of internal stress magnifier. Since our ways of thinking can be changed, there are ways we can reduce our risk. The Welcoming Prayer is one of them.
The Welcoming Prayer often feels counter intuitive to people because it welcomes the very emotions that have been pushed away, repressed, or denied. Feelings that are not acknowledged continue to arise until we pay attention to them. The Welcoming Prayer is a time-tested method for paying attention.
“If you ignore an emotion, it will get stronger.”
But I Don’t Want to Feel That!
All feelings carry information for us and therefore none are really negative, according to Karla McLaren. Sadness tells us we experienced a loss. Jealousy that we need better alignment with a source of love. Anger that we need to restate our voice or set a boundary. And so on. When we push them away, we reinforce a belief that ignorance is bliss, a truism that only applies to subjects we don’t need to know about.
I have discovered from my own tendency to ignore unpleasant emotions, that ignorance is the mildest form on a spectrum of illusions about “what is.” At the extreme end are delusions I only wish were true. I like them better than what is actually going on. Denying what is and clinging to a fantasy, however, is dangerous to my mental health. But so is stark realism. Some optimism and a positive outlook can motivate me to change situations in my life that initially seem insurmountable, but never the less are not; and a dream that is “not yet” true can inspire me to improve the world, not just for myself, but for others.
But I always found it difficult to figure out when to follow a dream, and when to face reality. Two years ago I discovered the Welcoming Prayer.
I began using this prayer daily to start my meditation time. I found it difficult at first, especially when trying to welcome things into my life that I perceived as truly awful. I was welcoming loneliness, sadness, fear, and anxiety. I was welcoming sickness, pain, loss, and hardship. It seemed outrageous to welcome nasty people, unfair circumstances, and painful conditions when what I really wanted was them all to go away. I wanted freedom from them all. So then I let go of the desire for freedom!
It felt crazy to let go of my desire for survival too. What if that meant I didn’t survive? “What if” indeed.
I discovered that the key is to focus on those desires that are causing me suffering. Worried about loosing my job? Welcome anxiety, let go of the desire for self sufficiency. Sad about a relationship that didn’t work out? Welcome loneliness, let go of the desire for affection and love.
The crazy thing is, it works!
This prayer sends a strong message to the subconscious that I will not be driven by desire. It is a mindful transfer of motivation from biology and fear, to what practitioners call the “true self.”
The True Self
The true self is understood by different people to be different things. But whatever the true self is, they all agree that surrendering the things you desire most — puts you in contact with it.
The true self is your authentic self, your imago dei, that part of you that is connected to God [or higher wiser part of yourself if you don’t believe in God]. Once you’re in right alignment with that, you can decide what you are going to do in the outer world from a place of calm acceptance. Sometimes you might choose to fight, achieve, compete, or strive for something important. Other times you might choose to acquiesce.
The important effect is that now the choice is not made from desperation or grasping. It is made from a sense of thoughtfulness and reflection.
And I find this state very similar to that dearest interest of mine, sabi. When desire has been disengaged the poetic vision can unfold. This kind of poetic vision is it’s own reward, but it also opens the mind to the layers in any experience. Paradox, irony, pathos, all become richer and more interesting. This is a mellow and tempered state, full of richness and value.
So, it seems, the Welcoming Prayer is a practice that can foster connection to the True Self; and being so connected allows most of us to more easily enter the state of being that is, or is very similar to, sabi.
Could it be that the poetic drive, specifically the poetic drive behind haiku and other forms of nature aesthetics, is a way to connect to the True Self? I am beginning to think so…
- Richards, J. M. , & Gross , J. J.(2000). Emotion regulation and memory : The cognitive costs of keeping one’ s cool. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 410-424. see also Gross, J. J., & Levenson , R. W. (1997) . Hiding feelings: The acute effects of inhibiting negative and positive emotion. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 106, 95 – 103.