There is a stigma within self-help that we need to beat out the bad parts of our disposition. We create habit trackers because we are unmotivated, we wake up early because we are lazy, and we plan every part of our lives out because we will inevitably forget that assignemnt was due yesterday, otherwise.
All this is good and well. I am not here to flip the script and rip on productivity, but instead offer a lesson I’ve been learning in self-compassion in order to counteract any overcorrective behaviors.
In my meditative practice, I have been working through some different Calm courses on self-compassion. More specifically, a course on Radical Self-Compassion by Tara Brach has resonated and seeped into my practice recently. In this course, Brach discusses the RAIN technique for dealing with negative internal emotions, and the acronym stands for: Recognize, Allow, Investigate, and Nurture.
I don’t want to get into the meditative practice in this episode, but I will offer you a short story told during the program and how this story has reframed negativity for me.
Although there’s some discussion about the validity of this story as Pali scripture, Brach tells the story as so:
On the night before the Buddha’s Enlightenment, the evil spirit Mara — who personifies greed, anger, lust and other negative products of the ego in Buddhist scripture — would visit and tempt Prince Siddhartha to stop meditating. As Brach tells it, Mara was defeated, but would return occasionally to fight Siddhartha once more. On one visit, the Buddha invited Mara to sit down as an honored guest. He offered Mara a cushion and a cup of tea. Mara the the Buddha would sit across from each other, the Buddha undisturbed, and Mara eventually left when he realized his attempts were fruitless.
While from a historical standpoint I am pretty certain tea did not reach India until the British colonizers arrived, this story serves as a powerful myth nonetheless.
Often times, we try to shut out negative emotions. We live in fear of failure, anxious that people may deem us inadequate, shameful of our work ethic, bad habits, or unclear goals. As Buddha looks his inner-demons in the eyes and invites them to tea, we realize that defeating negative emotions means looking at them head on. By realizing your negative attributes are as much a part of you as a birth mark or a broken arm, we can learn to accept and nurture those parts of ourselves and even turn them into strengths.
One example I often think about is natural energy levels. Captain Sinbad has pushed this idea on multiple occasions, and it is the notion that every person’s circadian rhythm wires them to have energy peaks and nadirs throughout the day. Instead of shying away from those parts of the day when we feel our energies crash, either through procrastination or a caffeine boost to push through, we could give those weaknesses an honest observation and ask, “how can I work this into my favor?”
Personally, I wake up with a high level of energy, and this is where I will get in one to two deep work sessions between 7-11AM. Yet, something I neglected for years throughout high school and my early years of college is that I often fall into a motivatonal slump in the early afternoon. Put simply, I run out of steam to complete any deep cognitive work, or this work does not come without a high level of resistance to say the least. It isn’t until about 4-5PM when my energy returns and I can press into another work session if I need.
By inviting Mara into my reflections, I finally uncovered this truth and have learned to shine light upon this darkness. From the hours of 11AM to 3PM, I try filling my time with housekeeping, administrative tasks and exercise. I will tidy my desk, answer emails, and give my brain some cognitive rest in order to relax and prepare myself for success when the next work session arrives.
Another point of resistance hardwired into my psyche is the urge to dilly-dally. My tendency to let a friendly conversation or Philosophy 101-leveled debate drag out could be my fatal flaw, but my willingness to not ignore it makes it anything but fatal. As Better Ideas always says, Inaction is a Slow Death, Action is a Life Giving Breath. Rather than shutting Mara out, ignoring that dilly-dallying, I’ve made it a real project of mine to conquer the tendency this year.
By inviting this negative attribute in and allowing it to be part of my existence, I fight it everyday rather than pretending it does not hold control over me. By sitting this tendecny down for tea, I converse with my dilly-dallying and we find compromise. I schedule out my mornings and afternoons with tasks that leave little room for frivilous conversation, and when all the checkboxes are complete, I am able to nuture my love for directionless conversation with even more intention and passion because I know the day is done and my tasks are complete.
Negative emotions and personal weaknesses haunt us all. The question is: how will you treat your guest? Will you behave like a bad host and ignore your negative emotions? Will you try to combat its existence or sever it out of your somatic reality entirely? Or will you boil the hot water, pour out some tea for this good friend, and let that negative emotion be seen for what it is?
Have an awesome week!