Regina Stribling, who writes on Buddhism for Examiner.com, unearthed this tasty nugget of Jack Kornfield’s—his talk, The Seven Factors of Enlightenment—where he shows us how to “taste the freedom of reconnecting with the openness and luminosity of mind that is our true nature.”
1. (Focus and Investigation) Recognizing the emotional/mental state or behavior: When an emotion or ruminating thoughts occur, the first step is becoming aware of what is occurring. Instead of following the scent of drama welled up in the emotions or thoughts, stop for a moment. What is actually happening right now? For example saying to myself, “I am feeling depressed about not being with him.” Is that the most honest answer? Is depression what I feel or is it a deep sense of loss? Truly asking myself, “What is this state I am feeling right now?” Then simply name the emotion or thought. For example: sadness, anger, thought about him/her.
2. (Concentration) Tending to the emotion/behavior through helpful tools: Helpful tools are those core positive coping mechanisms that assist in bringing peace to the mind and body. For example: mindful breathing, journaling, yoga, painting, biking etc. Most of our moments are filled with the not so positive tools of coping with life such as eating a carton of ice cream, driving recklessly through the mountains, or drinking a lot of wine. I chose rather unique examples because we each have our own ways of coping that are unique to the individual. We all know what is best for us and yet we continue to choose the seemingly “easier” option. Even so, this step is about honest concentration.
Only you know the positive coping mechanisms that support you in your life. If you don’t, ask someone who might know and can give you a hint.
3. (Awareness) Listening, paying attention, and being present with the emotion/behavior exactly as it is—honestly—in a non-judgmental way: Upon finding the root to the emotion, I listen and pay attention to my sensations in my body. I may say to myself “Okay, I am really sad right now. I feel really low about him leaving. My hands are shaking and my heart hurts.” Really being aware of what is occurring as if I am an eagle soaring above the situation. Then I may say to myself, “It is okay to be sad right now.”
Once being present with the emotion occurs, then a space opens inside of us to recognize that the state or situation will not last. Saying to myself, an ancient Jewish line of wisdom, “This too shall pass.”
4. (Tranquility through Expression) Letting go/Releasing the emotion and eventually the situation: Releasing occurs in different ways. One way is being able to smile and laugh at the drama of the situation. Another is through crying, walking out the anger, or swinging on a swing. Ultimately the best way to release and let go of a pending emotion and situation is forgiveness. Yes, even Buddhists rely on forgiveness. Forgiveness in the form of self-forgiveness and also forgiving the other person/people involved. We all are only human and are doing the best we can in any given situation with what we have been given ourselves. Soygal Rinpoche (The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, HarperCollins Publications) writes about forgiveness as “Your feeling of being unforgiven and unforgivable is what makes you suffer so. But it only exists in your heart or mind.”
One aspect of feeling an emotion is that sometimes we indulge and sob excessively or punch walls to allow catharsis to happen. Yet simply allowing the emotion to be as it is without indulging allows for a greater sense of peace to eventually enter.
5. Positive Reframe: Bringing in balance by allowing space to exist: This last step is extremely helpful. Once going through the previous steps, you can then reframe the situation in a positive light. For example, seeing the loss of a boyfriend/girlfriend as an opportunity. Yes an opportunity for another situation perhaps an even better situation to occur. By honestly experiencing a challenging emotion/behavior/situation as an opportunity, you are more capable of letting go and accepting your life as it is, fully in the present moment. In doing so, the fire and storm around the situation lessens. The grip on your part in the drama becomes more loose which allows space to enter. When space enters, there is now room for peace to enter into a situation previously thought of as detrimental, hysterical, or never ending. The reframe may not happen right away, however, keeping the reframe in mind is a helpful beginning.
Find more of Jack Kornfield’s text and audio talks at DharmaSeed.org, a site dedicated to preserving and sharing the spoken teachings of Theravada Buddhism.