When a negative feeling like irritation comes up, it can be challenging to want to be truly awake to that irritation. At those moments, one just needs to trust in this practice because one’s intentions are good.
Developing trust in that full consciousness is often all you have to do. You don’t have to get rid of a negative mood or emotion, nor do you have to hate yourself for having it; but you do have to be awake to it—all of it. By staying with a difficult emotion such as irritation, we begin to see the cessation of these negative, egotistical energies. Why? Well, because we haven’t invested in that difficult feeling. We haven’t reacted to it. We haven’t made more of it than what it is.
…Ajahn Sumedho would often say, “Consciousness is the escape hatch.” The famous image he uses is of a group of prisoners within your mind who are banging on the doors of your consciousness, and you keep saying, “No, no, I’m not going to look at you.” Then, when you do decide to become conscious of them, they float away, they’re liberated.
The mind that doesn’t bring things into clear consciousness tends to murmur on and on, doesn’t it? How often, when we’ve been experiencing some sense of uptightness or annoyance, has there been a kind of ghostly whispering in the back of the mind—a whispering that we’re not fully aware of? Then, all of a sudden, we notice it and bring it into full consciousness.
It’s like having a stone in your shoe when you’re walking. You’re usually so preoccupied with something else that you don’t think to take off your shoe to have a look inside. The stone is there; it’s somewhat bothersome, but we don’t really pay attention to it—much like we tend to do with negative mind-states. But when we do finally acknowledge the problem and address it skillfully, there’s usually a tangible sense of relief.
The awakened mind, however, isn’t necessarily a mind that’s always happy, peaceful, and compassionate. Instead, it’s awake to the way things are. The awakened mind has faith in the fact that full awareness of this condition or of that mental state does liberate the mind. This kind of awareness involves bringing a mind-state into full consciousness and simply observing it—as opposed to running with it, ignoring it, getting in there and re-organizing or fixing it or trying to get rid of it.
This reflection by Ajahn Viradhammo is from the book, The Contemplative’s Craft, (pdf) pp. 70-72.