Dealing with Emotional Triggers

Summary: A meditator asks Sathi how to prevent ourselves from jumping to conclusions and making snap judgments.

Sathi replies that there are two situations in life. Mindful and unmindful. When we are mindful we are not caught up by outside influences. When we are not mindful we are easily influenced by outside things beyond our control.

Becoming more mindful is a process. We need to pay attention to the input from our senses without losing ourselves. How? By recognizing the sensual experience for what it is. Seeing and recognizing what you are seeing. Hearing and recognizing what you are hearing. Being an observer.

As a mindful person, we are practicing not to worry, blame, or complain about what happened in the past. The only thing we will do is learn from the past and move forward.

A discussion follows touching on the ideas of:

  • How to not get triggered by different situations.
  • Is righteous anger in the face of injustice acceptable?
  • Being angry because someone hurt someone else? Or, because someone is being mean to someone else?
  • How our personal experiences can trigger something that doesn’t affect other people.
  • Recognizing anger as a weakness and using that to build yourself into a better person

[Sathi] Any questions for suggestions for discussion?
[Meditator] My question is around what recommendations would you have regarding how to, as a mindful person, remain calm and mindful whenever you witness something that triggers you?

How to prevent jumping to conclusions and judgments. On the way here, something happened on the side of the road. I thought it was an accident. I already had that vibrating in my head. It happened to be a deer that was on the side of the road. But there was a person dressed in camouflage on top of the deer. I want to think they killed it or were ending it, right? Maybe the deer was hit. I realized that’s horrible. There was blood all over. It looked like he was cutting [the deer’s] head.

Then I caught myself, jumping to conclusions. You know it is deer season. The guy was dressed in camouflage. Maybe he was indeed killing the deer. Why do you have to judge? That’s what the guy does for his sport. So I was like, “How do I deal with the deer being killed in the first place?” Then, I wanted to, “Maybe he is saving the deer!” Like the innocent, good-will part of my brain.

[Sathi] You can see two situations in our life. One situation is when we are mindful, we manage to not lose ourselves to outside [influences]. That is one situation.

The second situation is, when we are not mindful, we lose the piece of our mind due to outside influences.

If you look at your life, who are you most of the time? Are you a person who is not losing themselves? Or, are you a person who gets lost due to outside [influences]?

Mindfulness comes with a few different steps. The first step is using our senses without losing ourselves. How? Clearly seeing or clearly recognizing the sensual experience as a sensual experience. Seeing and recognizing what you are seeing. Hearing and recognizing what you are hearing.

When we are not mindful, what is happening, we get caught up in our own mind’s stories or judgments or backgrounds. When it comes to our judgment, we go beyond what you [actually] see or hear. That’s the primary level of mindfulness practice.

The most important part for human beings, where the mindful practice is leading us, it the losing yourself part. Emotions. All these internal experiences. They are not part of reality. But, we experience that as who we are. As to how you have built or trained yourself.

There are certain things we can tolerate in the world. In your life, there are certain things you can tolerate. With those things, you don’t lose yourself. But, some other [people] might lose themselves. Not you.

When you see that others are losing to certain things, we think, “They are really foolish. Why are they losing themselves for that?” But, they don’t see it. When you lose yourself due to something, you think, “This is reality.” But, there might be other people who don’t lose themselves due to that [situation].

With our mindful practice, we are building our level of toleration. Our ability of tolerating. You are not really separating yourself from the world. But, you clearly see if something is in your control or not. Is there anything I can do? If there is nothing you can do, think about why you are having this emotional rush in your mind? Why are you cooking yourself if it is out of your ability or limits?

The mindful person is not a numb person in the world. The mindful person is totally aware of what is outside of you and what is in your capacity. The mindful person is always taking responsibility for what you can do. Your limits.

For the unmindful person, what is happening is, we don’t know how to separate these. We don’t have the ability to separate these. This is a skill we are building [as a mindful person].

When we have become an adult or mature person we can clearly see how we are not getting involved in a situation like children do. We are beyond this childish behavior. But, as an adult, we don’t blame children for behaving like children. Because we know, that is who they are. With their limitations. We don’t blame children for playing with toys. We don’t blame children when they are scared of the dark. We don’t blame children when they scream when they see blood. We don’t blame them because we know who they are.

We know if somebody acts in the same way, as an adult, then we question why. This adult and the child judgment we make is based on their age or their appearance. It is a physical change. When it comes to the spiritual level of adults or mindful people or a spiritually mature person, then your behavior [judgment] is going to be different. Your behavior [judgment] will be different from the behavior of children.

As a mindful person, we have to use this mindfulness to recognize what is reality and what is not reality. Where should I pay attention and where should I not? When should I worry and when should I not worry? Then slowly you are becoming such a person.

Physically, children can handle certain physical challenges. They cannot handle other challenges. Adults can handle certain challenges better than children. Because their body has matured.

In the same way, when our minds are mature, we can handle certain things. You know when to pay attention and when not to pay attention. Children may touch everything. They get involved with everything they see and hear. But, adults will say, “That is not my area. This is not my concern.” Or, “It is our neighbor’s area.” or, “This is somebody else [to deal with].” Adults know how to separate. In the same manner, the spiritual person will know how to separate themselves from certain emotional experiences.

As a meditator, we are practicing not to worry, blame, or complain on what happened in the past. Even actions that you have done [yourself] in the past. You are learning and training not to involve with it. The only thing we will do is learn [from the past] and move forward.

As a spiritual person, you will not give power to regret or anger or frustration. When those things are there we are not giving power. We are practicing not to get involved with these [influences]. But, whenever you happen to notice an opportunity to step in and do something in order to change the world… That can be based on compassion, generosity, or something very useful, then you will not step back. You will step in and try to do your best.

That is how this spiritually mature person will act by knowing the result. If you are contributing to anger, anger will reproduce anger. Compassion will reproduce compassion. Whatever you plant is what you will harvest. By knowing that simple reality, the mindful person will pay attention to things that are useful and beneficial.

Now, think about how the outside experience you mentioned caused you to lose your peacefulness. Consider this as a mindful person, you are punishing yourself for another person’s mistake. Think about being angry. Every time you are angry, you are punishing yourself for another person’s mistake. Frustration, you are punishing yourself for another person’s blindness or ignorance. They are the ones who are ignorant. But, frustration led you to lose your peacefulness. The meditator, or mindful person, would practice to protect themself from that garbage.

As a mindful person, you will see this person’s mistake, this person’s ignorance. “How can I help? Help myself or others? How can I protect others from this person’s behavior?”

Think about this. You have somebody who is really ignorant in your house and starts a fire in the house. As a mindful person, what would you do? Maybe you will try to throw water and stop that person or you would run outside the house, carrying other people out including the person that started the fire. That is what you can do.

But, as long as you get frustrated, “How come you did this foolish thing?” If you happen to start an argument and staying in the house while it is burning, that is not going to help anyone.

The first step is to run out of the house, save yourself, and other people. If you see a neighbor burning their house you will run into their house and then burn yourself with the neighbor? That is what an unmindful person would do. That is not the action of a mindful person.

The mindful person is not a selfish person. The mindful person is practical.

I hope I answered your question. Does anyone want to share any thoughts?

[Meditator] Going back to the question, “How do we not get triggered?” I think sometimes, me at least, it seems you do get triggered and what we do is simply recognize that we got triggered and once we recognize it we have the choice. How do we choose? So, mindfulness to me is a practice of learning to recognize how I am reacting. Learning to see how I am triggered by things. Deciding how I want to deal with them and gradually with time, my recognition gets closer and closer to the trigger. Pretty soon the trigger is smaller and smaller. It’s a gradual process. I don’t go out and decide I’m not going to be triggered anymore. Over the years I can gradually be triggered a little less and less than I used to.

Life gets more peaceful. And I choose. I think one of the things you said, and for me has been so helpful, is to not carry regret and guilt. I am grateful for the awareness.

[Sathi] One of the challenges in this world is that we haven’t trained to see anger as a weakness. We have to remember, anger is the greatest weakness we are carrying. We always think, “I have the right to be angry.” It is just like, I would say, somebody, jumping into the garbage. When someone thinks they have the right to be angry it is like saying they have the right to jump into the garbage. Anger, we need to always recognize as a weakness. It is very easy to be angry. Everybody gets angry. But, compassion is not the subject to everybody. Everybody has the ability to be compassionate, but in reality, few choose to have compassion.

When somebody is doing something very foolish, if you really see this person as innocent and not knowing what they are doing, you would feel sorry for them. “This person doesn’t know what they are doing.” Without really knowing this person is doing something bad to their own self.

[Meditator] Is there such as thing as righteous anger in the face of injustice?

[Sathi] I would say that is how we justify this anger. We justify being in the garbage. “I’m angry, I have the right to be angry. You deserve to be screamed at.” [laughing] [Meditator] How about [in the situation] of being angry because someone hurt someone else? Or, because someone is being mean to someone else?

[Sathi] Can that anger do anything? That anger will only destroy you first before you even speak up. The most effective way, if there are people, who have done this out of compassion. Compassion has more power.

One of the historical events we have seen is what Mahatma Gandhi has done in India. One of the things he managed to do throughout his work was to not lose himself. He did not let them get into his mind or loose his compassion. That is the most practical we can see in our history. Finally, he managed to win. That is about compassion.

[Meditator] I think he and Martin Luther King is another example. Many people wanted them to be angry instead of being non-violent. Many of his advisors, I forgot who they were for Martin Luther were, they were very angry at him for not being more angry. [chuckles.] [Meditator] I think in the face of violence, and it’s a violent sensual pain, I guess, I would agree, it is very hard to not be angry. Hunting season is always like this. The other day, they were showing pictures at work, and they were all [inaudible] so I’m trying, my colleague is a friend, so I try not to argue. The very first time I tried to argue many many years ago, I stopped, that was the last argument about hunting.

So, how do you feel? I don’t need to kill a deer. But, they do. [inaudible] they hurt the animal as little as possible. Whatever. But, it is very hard to be compassionate and it is a fine line between being aghast like you don’t care at all vs being engaged `if you do care, but, you can’t do anything so it is hard to know. You feel like Gifty[?] you know. Are you accepting?

[Meditator] In the beginning of your answer, you mentioned something about something that may trigger you maybe doesn’t trigger another person because this is your life. For example, where I grew up, seeing a dead cat or dog run over on the road was like the most normal thing. There are a lot of stray cats and dogs. Here, it is not as common. And, there are no deer in Cuba! [laughing] The reality, such a huge animal, seeing it killed at the side of the road… however, a cow on the side of the road, totally different.

It’s also the conditioning we all have.

[Sathi] Even here, you can see a lot of deer killed along the side of the road. So, this is actually how we are seeing things. I remember, a few years ago, it was a big concern to people in this part of the world of hearing how much dog killing was happening in China for food. But, ask that same question, “How much chicken killing for food?” What’s the difference? Because we are not used to killing dogs in this part of the world for food. Now, we are blaming somebody else for killing dogs while we are killing a lot of chickens and cows for food. It is how we are seeing things. But, the only thing is, we cannot change the world.

The only person we can change is ourselves. That would be the lesson for the world. Then, slowly that message will become part of the world. People can change themselves, their way of thinking. This will influence your family. That family will carry that outside the family.

[Meditator] One thing you mentioned is how anger, if we are able to recognize it, is a weakness. Also, the fact that there is nothing wrong in discovering that you have a weakness. It is good to realize you are having that weakness so you can work on it. In the past, I felt guilty for being angry. But then, what do you do with that. And I’ve been embarrassed by feeling that way but haven’t done anything about it.

[Sathi] That’s another wonderful thing [of being] a mindful person. When you see that you are angry. By seeing that, you can smile at [yourself] and say, “Yes, I lost myself there. That thing could sneak into me and made me to lose myself.” You are simply smiling at yourself because you recognize what happened. The next time that happens you’ll say, “Okay, again last time I lost myself because of this. This time I will not lose myself.”

You are building yourself, building your tolerance level, and recognizing that you are building mindfulness. You remember that the last time you lost your mindfulness. That is why that could get into you and cause you to lose [control] of yourself. You let the weakness overtake you.

That’s a good thing. When you happen to lose [control] over yourself, and you notice it, that is a good thing. You should be really happy, “I’m glad I’m seeing this. I’m glad I’m seeing my weakness.” Because if you don’t see this weakness, what happens is that you keep justifying it, keep letting it happen again and again. Be very happy when you catch yourself.

It is ten o’clock and it is very good to see all of you. We can continue this with tea. Thank you very much for being here.


Recorded on November 16, 2019 at the Meditation Center in Chaska, Minnesota.

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