Working with Difficult Emotions

Ajahn Viradhammo

Working with Difficult Emotions

It’s not that you don’t sometimes feel negative or at least conflicting emotions towards others in monastic life or in any other type of relationship. You do feel them. However, the task is to make them conscious and see them for what they are.

Experiencing difficult emotions is normal. But those emotions are not to be believed or pursued. Instead, they’re to be known for what they are: changing conditions that can trigger a certain reaction in us. Once we recognize that a difficult emotion is nothing more than a changing condition, this allows it to end. And how does something in the mind come to an end? It ends when the mind doesn’t react to it—when the mind doesn’t put any energy into it.

At one of the larger monasteries like Wat Pah Pong, you might have twenty, thirty, or fifty monks living there at one time. As monastics, we have to learn how to be friends even with someone who “gets up our nose.” That’s an interesting situation because all the monks are very good people.

So the first part of the practice is to watch the tendency to be judgmental. The next part of the practice is to respond to the other person in a spirit of friendliness and caring, rather than judgment and cynicism. It’s lovely that we can consciously make those kinds of choices. This enables us to use interpersonal conflicts as a way of training the mind. We can actually focus on a difficult relationship at work, at the monastery, or with family, and use it to make our negative habits of mind conscious.

Say, for instance, that monk A or monk B is making me feel annoyed or intimidated. Rather than simply shying away from them or blaming either myself or them for the fact that I’m feeling this way, I’m going to learn more about this feeling. When an interaction with this person triggers in me some egotistical or negative state of mind, I can reflect: “OK, this is what arrogance, annoyance, dislike, or inferiority feels like.”

In effect, this conscious knowing—which includes being aware of how this negative mind-state feels in the body—allows the mind-state to emerge into full consciousness, which then allows it to cease.

This reflection by Ajahn Viradhammo is from the book, The Contemplative’s Craft, (pdf) pp.74-75.