“Relax and release: Letting go of the past” talk and reference notes

Sept 12, 2017 Group Meditation Part 2 of 2

This talk was given September 12, 2017 by Freeman at the Boundless Love Project’s Group Meditation. Before listening to the talk, we suggest you listen to this guided mindfulness meditation which preceded the talk. This talk has been edited to improve its clarity, content, and to shorten its length.

Summary of talk's main points:

• The biggest obstacle to being mindful is our identification with the conceptual mind: the thoughts we think and their corresponding emotions in the body.

• To stop identifying with the thoughts and emotions, we must be the watcher of our thoughts and emotions.

• To determine if you are being the watcher, feel your inner body sensations and notice, “am I calm, relaxed, and peaceful at this very moment?” Throughout your day, always having some of your awareness directed towards your inner body sensations to feel if you are relaxed or not.

• “Past-ing” is the delusion of mistaking our memories, stories, and thoughts about the past as being more true and real that the reality of the present moment. As with all delusions, it results in our suffering and the suffering of others.

• Trapped energy is both a delusion and a by-product of delusion. When active, it causes us to over-react in a way that harms ourselves and others. Use the FEEL technique to release trapped energy, when it arises.

The Two Nuns

One day, two nuns were walking through the countryside on their way to a temple that is thirty miles away. Early in their journey, they walk through a town with very muddy roads.

On one side of the muddy road they find a man in a dapper suit and freshly-shined shoes on his way to a wedding taking place on the other side of the muddy road. One of the nuns, seeing his predicament, offers to pick him up and carry him across the muddy road. He consents. So she picks him up, carries him over the muddy road, and sets him down on the other side still clean and pristine. He is very thankful and the nun wishes him well.

The nuns continue their journey. Many hours later, they are nearing the temple, and the second nun turns to the first and says, “How could you pick that man up? In our order, we are not even supposed to talk to men, let alone touch them!”

The first nun turns to her and say, “Dear, I put that man down hours ago, are you still carrying him?”

What this article covers

This article is about how to let go of, and free ourselves, from the burden ofthe past we carry with us. In this article we will:

  • Talk about what it is like to be mindfully grounded in the present moment.
  • Discuss how to let go of the past when it arises as thoughts in the mind.
  • Finally, we will teach the Relax & Release or FEEL Technique. This technique helps you release trapped emotions from the past, that when triggered, arise with the ferociousness of a tornado, in the present moment.

Let’s get started.

The key to mindfulness: Watching the mind’s thoughts and emotions

Through our mindfulness meditation practice, working with the “be here now” slogan, listening to talks, and reading these articles, we are developing our ability to remain grounded in the present moment.

The biggest obstacle to being mindfully grounded in the now is our identification with the conceptual mind: the thoughts we think and their corresponding emotions in the body. Last week we talked about how all thoughts and emotions are impermanent. They are fleeting, dynamic, changing, and temporary. We also talked about how our thoughts and emotions are impersonal. We don’t control them. The content of these thoughts and emotions have been determined by forces outside of our control such as our genetics, biology, and the experiences that have happened to us. Given that we lack full control over our thoughts and emotions, it make no sense to mistake them as representing who we are, to take them personally, or to either resist or grasp at them in an attempt to control them. It is better, and creates a lot less suffering, to simply watch them and let them be as they are.

Seeing these internal forms of thoughts and emotions as impermanent and impersonal, allows us to mindfully watch them in an objective, calm, relaxed manner. When we are mindful in this way, we are the watcher, the witness, the observer of our mind. When we are not the watcher, we mistake the thoughts in our head as being true and we imbue them with a sense of self. Then when delusional thoughts arise, we suffer.

When we are the watcher, we observe the mind and emotions in a clam, peaceful, and detached manner. We can see which thoughts are delusional, which are not, and act accordingly. When we are the watcher, we are operating at a higher level of consciousness than the conceptual mind, which needs words to understand and interpret the world. The watcher in us has the ability to understand deeper wisdom that is beyond words, thoughts, and stories. It can understand paradox, and see reality as it is without needing the filter of the conceptual mind.

When we are the watcher, we are more aligned with our deeper essential nature, and feel peaceful and calm regardless of our circumstances. The more we live as the watcher, the faster our wisdom, peace, love, compassion, and joy grows.

The best way to determine if we are being mindful, if we are the watcher, is to feel our inner body and notice, “am I calm, relaxed, and peaceful at this very moment?” To use this knowledge, practice always having some of your awareness directed towards your inner body to feel if you are relaxed or not.

Miss Havisham: Stuck in the past

Now that we know what it is like to be mindful, let’s talk about what it is like to live in the past.

An exemplary example is the character of Miss Havisham, from the novel, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Early in her life, a young man wooed her and proposed. She was deeply in love and heartily agreed to marry him. At 8:40 in the morning of her wedding day, dressed in her beautiful wedding gown, Miss Havisham received a note from her beloved saying that he had successfully defrauded her of her wealth and had no intentions of marrying her.

The grief, sadness, embarrassment, and sorrow that Miss Havisham experienced was very deep. For the rest of her life, she never moved on from that experience. She had all of the clocks in the house stopped at 8:40 a.m. For over three decades, she sat in the room with the wedding cake wearing her wedding gown, dwelling in her grief and sorrow. In her pain, she concocted a mean-spirited scheme to use her adopted daughter to break the heart of a young man named Pip.

The past only exists as thoughts, stories, and memories in our head. When we mistake these stories to be true, or use them to define ourselves, then we are lost in the past. Although Miss Havisham was defrauded and jilted at the alter for one brief moment of her life, mentally she relived that moment day-after-day for decades, keeping the suffering of that moment alive in her perpetually.

The Delusion of Past-ing

This is the delusion of Past-ing: mistaking our memories, stories, and thoughts about the past as being more true and real that the reality of the present moment. When we are a victim of past-ing we feel a lot of regret, sadness, discontent, blaming, self-pity, hopelessness, and longing for our glory days. We cannot build a good life on these mental states.

Let’s make it really clear that the now is all that actually exists. Look around the room and point to anything that is outside the present moment, that is actually in the past? Do this activity now.

You can’t do this, because, as we experience it, the past does not exist outside of our mind. That is why it is delusional to drag the past with us everywhere we go. The delusion of past-ing causes us to suffer in many ways:

• First, like with Miss Havisham, it causes us to relive and re-experience the awful, traumatic times in our past.

• Secondly, the stories about our past severely limit us. Miss Havisham believed that because of the awful things that had been done to her, she could never be happy. This became a self-fulfilling prophecy. How many limiting stories and thoughts, based on our past experiences, do we have in our head about what we cannot do, cannot achieve, cannot tolerate? All of these stories, when mistaken to be the truth, keep us trapped and imprisoned, and limit our full potential.

• Thirdly, the ego may also dwell on fond, happy memories, of our glory days to cause us to suffer. The suffering arises when we yearn for and cling to having things be as they were, with the result being that we are perpetually dissatisfied with the present moment, and depressed about our life situation because it will never be that wonderful again.

Letting go of the past

Seeing how much suffering the delusion of past-ing causes, let’s turn now to look at what we can do to let go of the past.

If after Miss Havisham was left at the alter, she had been graced with a moment of mindful awareness, she would have woken up, as if from a dream. She would notice that she is not currently being defrauded and jilted. She would realize that life had moved on from that moment in time, and that being stuck in it was harming herself and those around her. Even if the residual emotions of grief and sorrow were present in her, her mindful observation of them would create a soothing space around them that would paradoxically provide her peace, tranquility, and ease, despite the grief and sorrow being present.

This is how we let go of the past. We become mindful of the present moment. We move beyond the mind, and become the watcher of the mind; its thoughts and their associated emotions. When thoughts of the past arise, we see them clearly, we know them to be the past. If they cause an emotional reaction in us, then we know we are taking those thoughts to be true, and we are caught in the delusion of past-ing. Still, we stay mindful. We see the delusion and know it to be delusion. The more we see the delusion clearly as delusion, the less power it has over us to cause us to suffer or to limit us in any way. In this way we stay firmly grounded in the truth.

How to visit the past without getting stuck

Spend most of your life focused on the present moment, because that is what is real, true, and all there is. However, there are times when it is helpful to remember the past and the lessons learned from past experiences. When we remember the past, we must do so mindfully, grounded in the present moment, as the watcher of our thoughts and emotions. In this way, we can remember the past while maintaining peace and calm throughout the body. By keeping some of your awareness in the felt sensation of the body, you will be able to gauge how successful you are at doing this by how calm, peaceful, and relaxed the body remains while you do it.

To summarize, mindfully watching our thoughts and emotions helps us not get trapped by delusion into believing the mind’s thoughts about the past as still being true or more important than the present moment. But don’t take my word for it, instead take the word of the highest authority in the land, Oprah Winfrey. Haha! She says, “Whatever has happened to you in your past has no power over this present moment, because life is now.”

How emotional energies get trapped in the body

Up to this point, we have looked at how to deal with the thoughts and stories about the past. But there is another way that the specter of the past haunts our present moment, and that is through emotional energies that are trapped inside of our bodies.

Emotion is a kind of energy that moves through our body. But whenever our mind, heart, or body is closed, constricted, stressed, or tense, that emotional energy cannot move freely through the body and be released. Emotional energies are like these dice in my hand. When my hand is clenched into a fist, the dice are trapped and unable to escape. When I relax and loosen my hand, the dice naturally release from my hand without any effort on my part.

In essence, these trapped energies are a by-product of the ego, because the only time we become closed, tense, and guarded is when a delusion is active in us. Moreover, these trapped energies are themselves delusional because when identified with, they distort our view, and cause an unskillful over-reaction to what the situation requires.

Once these emotional energies are trapped inside the body, they can be either dormant or active. When they are dormant, the emotions exist in a stable holding pattern, like the electron that moves around the nucleus of a hydrogen atom. While in this dormant, stable holing pattern, the emotions are not felt or experienced by you.

Some trapped energies are active in us up to 100% of the time, causing us to live in constant misery. Due to our continual resistance to them, and resulting tensing and closing up of our body, they remain trapped. Many other trapped energies are dormant for most of the time, but can arise out of nowhere with the ferocity of a mother bear protecting her young from danger.

How trapped emotional energies get activated and take you over

These dormant emotions are triggered, which means they become active, when an emotional energy that is similar to the dormant energy arises in the body. When the dormant energy becomes active, it can do so with explosive results. It is easy to spot when you are someone else has been triggered because their reaction to a situation is way out of proportion to what the situation requires.

If you unconsciously identify with those unleashed energies, if you are not the mindful watcher of those energies, they will overpower you and cause you to be very unskillful.

Spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, wrote in, The Power of Now, what it is like when these trapped energies, which he calls “the pain body,” are triggered and you are not mindful of what is happening. He wrote:

"Once the pain-body has taken you over, you want more pain. You become a victim or a perpetrator. You want to inflict pain, or you want to suffer pain, or both. There isn't really much difference between the two. You are not conscious of this, of course, and will vehemently claim that you do not want pain. But look closely and you will find that your thinking and behavior are designed to keep the pain going, for yourself and others. If you were truly conscious of it, the pattern would dissolve, for to want more pain is insanity, and nobody is consciously insane."

Tolle goes on to explain that these trapped energies, once unleashed, cause this suffering as a way to “feed” on it. Once they have had their fill, they once again become dormant.

To recap, trapped emotional energies, which became trapped because we were tense and constricted when they arose, are triggered by a similar emotional energy. They rise up, taking us over, and then cause us to lash out causing suffering to ourselves and others. Can any of you relate to this information based on your own personal experience?

Relax and release: how to release trapped emotional energies

What can we do about this? If you are paying attention, you may have already guessed it: we mindfully observe these trapped energies in as calm and relaxed a manner as possible.

We can use the Relax and Release, or FEEL method, to release trapped emotional energies when they are triggered. FEEL stands for: Feel the emotion. Establish the emotion to be trapped emotional energy. Eliminate thinking. Love and accept the emotion. Let’s walk through this in a little more detail.

Let’s pretend you’ve been triggered. Here is what to do. 

1. Feel the emotion. Put all of your attention into feeling the emotion. No one has ever died from feeling their emotions, but many have died by running away from their emotions in a crazed, angry, or vengeful state. So with as much kindness, courage, and love, feel the emotion, no matter how unpleasant it is.

2. Establish (meaning "recognize") the emotion to be trapped energy. Wordlessly know the emotion to be what it is: this is trapped emotional energy that has been triggered in me. In this way, you are acknowledging this trapped energy to be an impersonal, impermanent,  delusion and nothing you want to become psychologically entangled with.

3. Eliminate thinking. Don’t think about, judge, or conceptually analyze the emotion. Gently place all of your attention and energy into feeling the emotion. Don’t let the emotion become a story or thoughts. Calmly and effortlessly focus all of your attention on feeling the emotion directly. If thoughts do arise, ignore them. Let any thoughts be in the background of your awareness. Continue to focus all of your awareness and interest on the felt-experience of the emotions. Get really curious and interested in how the emotion feels.

4. Love and accept the emotion. Allow the emotion to be. Accept that right now, this is what you feel. Know this emotion, however unpleasant, is here to help you awaken; to help you come out of your suffering. By loving the emotion,  by seeing the good in the emotion, the mind and body can be more relaxed, soft, and calm while the emotion is present.

This is challenging and requires courage. Many meditators use the slogan, “The way out of suffering is through,” to remind them to lovingly and courageously lean into feeling unpleasant, challenging emotions when they arise.

Continue to do these four things until the emotion, like the dice falling effortlessly from my hand, releases on its own. Again, this is the process for releasing trapped emotional energies when they have been triggered: Feel the emotion. Establish the emotion to be trapped emotional energy. Eliminate thinking. Love and accept the emotion. Then continue to silently, lovingly, and calmly feel the emotion until it releases on its own.

Meditation as the path of purification

This relax and release, or FEEL, technique is also known as the path of purification, because when you are doing it, it can feel as if you are being passed through a purifying fire that is burning up these trapped emotional energies from the body. Afterwards, it can feel as if you suddenly realized that you’ve been carrying a backpack full of rocks around with you for your whole life, and you take it off. You feel lighter, freer, more open, and expansive.

If this FEEL method seems familiar to you, it is because this is what our mindfulness meditation practice teaches us to do. It’s training us to accept, welcome, and love whatever arises in a calm, peaceful, and relaxed manner; without a lot of mental noise; and to patiently be with it until it goes away on its own.

Our meditation practice helps us in two ways. First, by training us to be calm and relaxed with whatever is arising, we prevent new emotional energies from being trapped in us. Secondly, by training us to be calm and relaxed with whatever is arising, we are able to release trapped emotional energies that have been triggered. People who are enlightened, who are free from suffering, continuously live as the watcher. As a result, they no longer fall prey to delusions of thought, for they see them as they are. In addition, by being the watcher,  they purify and release all of their trapped emotional energies as they arise. By being the watcher, we can all walk the path towards lives free from suffering.

Be here now

We are continuing to work with the slogan “be here now.” Last week we used this slogan to remind us throughout our day to be mindful of the internal forms of thoughts, emotions, sensations, and habit patterns. We were also encouraged to see the ephemeral and impersonal nature of all of them.

This week, we want to slogan to remind us to check in several times a day and ask ourselves:

1. Am I the watcher? Am I calm, peaceful, relaxed, and at ease right now? Just answering the question by placing your awareness into the body and feeling for the answer, shifts you into being the watcher. Try to always keep some of your awareness in your body to notice if everything is relaxed and calm or not.

2. Am I past-ing? Notice when your mind is fixated on the past, and how it brings those past emotions back, causing you to reliving the experience. Know that the past is an illusion. It no longer exists in the now, which is all there is. When you remember things, try to do so as the watcher, with a lot of peace and ease.

3. Do the FEEL technique when you, or those around you, are triggered. If you are triggered, remember to FEEL: Feel the emotion. Establish (discern) the emotion to be trapped energy. Eliminate thinking. Love and accept the emotion. Continue to do these things until the emotion is released.

Because human energetic fields are contagious, if someone around you has been triggered, it is good to do the FEEL technique as a way to protect yourself from becoming egoically reactive to their reaction. In addition, you will help them by neither opposing nor indulging their reactive behavior, which may help to bring them out of their egoic condition quicker. Their ego may think you are being cold, or indifferent, but what you are doing is a great act of love for yourself and them.

To summarize, use the “be here now” slogan to remind yourself to reflect: Am I the watcher? Am I past-ing? and to do the FEEL technique whenever you or someone you are with is emotionally triggered.

The now is all there is

The present moment is all there is. The past only exists as thoughts and stories in our head, and as trapped emotional energies inside our body. To live from the now, means that we live as the watcher of our thoughts and emotions. As the watcher we can identify which thoughts are delusional, cause us to suffer, limit us, and cause us to behave unskillfully, and let them go. Seeing how these thoughts don’t serve us, or anyone, we don’t act them out. But we also don’t energize these thoughts by resisting them either.  We just let them fall away on their own, as is their nature to do.

In this way, we can all be wise and chaste nuns who carry the man in his dapper suit and shined shoes across the muddy road to set him down clean and dry on the other side. Then, without missing a beat, we can get on with our lives, without wasting another thought or any mental energy, on what’s over and done with.

Journal activity: Mindfully returning to the past

1. Place all of your awareness in your body and feel what it feels.

2. Keep most of your attention on the felt sensations of the body, while also remembering a pleasant time from your past: It could be a vacation, camping trip, day at the fair or amusement park, winning or achieving something, getting married, or any day that is pleasant to remember.

3. Can you remember it while remaining grounded in the felt sense of your body? Play with doing this. Mindfully notice the difference between when you are the watcher of your mind and emotions and when you are identified with your thoughts and emotions.

4. Journal any interesting insights, experiences, or questions you have about this activity.

Introduced words defined

Watcher

The awareness in us that observes the mind and body in a calm, peaceful and detached manner. The watcher can clearly see delusions of the mind as delusions, emotions as emotions, sensations as sensations, habit-patterns as habit-patterns without adding any story, thoughts, or ideas to them. The watcher is a higher level of consciousness than the mind, which can only understand concepts. The watcher has the ability to understand deeper wisdom that is beyond words, thoughts, and stories. The watcher can understand paradox and see the truth of reality as it really is, without needing the filter of the conceptual mind. The watcher emanates from our essential nature.

When we are mindful, we are the watcher. When we are the watcher, we are peaceful and calm regardless of our circumstances. The more we live as the watcher, the faster our wisdom, peace, love, compassion, and joy grows.

Synonyms: witness, observer

Mind

The part of the body responsible for generating thought and concepts and their associated emotions, moods, and mental states. In an untrained mind, the thinking mind endlessly spews out thoughts, most of which are repetitive, useless, or delusional. Delusional thoughts, when believed, are reflected in the body as disturbing, unpleasant emotions. These negative emotions then generate more disturbing thoughts creating an escalating vicious circle of needless psychological suffering that result in unskillful actions.

The mind is a wonderful tool when used correctly. When used correctly, it can help us communicate with one another, help us learn from the past, and help us chart a course into the future. But the mind is easily deluded. It mistakes words to be the truth, stories of past and future to be reality, concepts of self to be who we are, and more. When lost in these delusions we suffer and act unskillfully harming ourselves and others.

To go beyond mind, we must be the watcher, the awareness that observes the mind in a calm, relaxed, and healthfully detached manner; the awareness that sees all of the mind’s thoughts and emotions as impersonal and impermanent. In this way, our awareness, which is of a higher consciousness than that of the mind, can see the mind’s delusions as delusions and not become ensnared by them. This is what mindfulness meditation trains us to do.

Past-ing

The delusion of mistaking our thoughts about the past as being more real or important than the present moment. We know this delusion is active when we feel emotions that are more appropriate for the remembered situation than for our current situation. For example, if I am sitting safely at home in a chair, and then remember the time I almost fell off of a cliff, and the body feels fear, panic, and anxiety, then the delusion of past-ing is active in me.

Pasting causes suffering in a variety of ways: by having us re-experience traumatic events; by creating limiting and false beliefs about what we cannot do, tolerate, understand, or achieve; and by causing us constant dissatisfaction with the present moment because it is not as it used to be.

The past is over and done with. The way to address all delusions is with mindful awareness as the watcher of our thoughts and emotions. When we calmly see the delusion of past-ing arising, we see it as the delusion it is, and neither indulge it by acting it out, nor resist it with judgment, hatred, or other form of aversion. We just note the impersonal, impermanent, and unsatisfactory nature of the delusion and watch it until it goes away on its own, as is its nature to do.

Trapped energy

Non-tranquil emotions like fear, panic, anger, hatred, addiction, or lust that are imprisoned inside of the body. Trapped energies are typically in a dormant state and have no effect on us, until triggered.

Trapped energies arise, or become active, when they are triggered as a result of an internal feeling or thought, or external experience that is similar to the feelings, thoughts, and experience where the energies originally became trapped. For example, is someone was trapped in a closet and experienced a lot of panic that you resisted feeling, that panic becomes trapped energy. Now that trapped energy may be triggered and cause panic to arise anytime that person is in an enclosed space, even though they are totally safe. In fact, the tell-tale sign that trapped energy has been triggered is that the triggered person over-reacts to a situation in an irrational, unskillful manner.

Energies are trapped inside of us whenever we experience them in a tense, constricted, or unmindful manner. This happens when we relate to the experience in a greedy or aversive manner. That is why in meditation we learn to be mindfully aware of everything pleasant and unpleasant, simply noticing it and seeing it as impermanent and impersonal. By being calm, relaxed, peaceful, and mindfully aware of the energies of thoughts, feelings, and sensations as they arise and pass away, it prevents those energies from becoming trapped.

Triggered

The arising or activation of trapped energies which previously had been dormant. Trapped energies lie dormant in the body and are activated when a thought, feeling, or experience arises that is similar in some way to the original experience where the energy was trapped. For example, let’s say someone badmouthed you to a friend behind your back causing you to lose that friend. When you learned what happened, you felt a lot of sadness that you resisted feeling, causing that energy to become trapped. Now that trapped energy may be triggered, causing you to feel a deep sadness, any time a friend slights you by not immediately responding to a text or being unable to make your party due to a family emergency. This sadness arises even though they are still your friend and love you dearly. In fact, the tell-tale sign that trapped energy has been triggered is that the triggered person over-reacts to a situation in an irrational, unskillful manner.

The skillful way to respond when trapped energies have been triggered is to “relax and release.” This slogan is short for calmly, patiently, relaxing the mind and body, as this allows energies to move freely through your system and then release on their own. This is easier said that done, so here is a fuller description of how to do it. When you are triggered, first refrain from doing or saying anything, as it will most likely be unskillful.

Secondly, take a mini-breath-meditation to calm and relax the mind and body, and mindfully observe the thoughts, feelings, and sensations without acting them out, pushing them away, or taking them personally. Finally, do this as long as is necessary for the energies to go away on their own as is their nature to do. By doing this, you will release some of those trapped energies and be less reactive in the future.

This process of “relax and release” is easier said that done. Thankfully, insight meditation trains us in this “relax and release” method, so we are better able to do this when triggered during our daily life.

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