Posted in The Spiritual Life, Uncategorized, Zen Buddhism

Dealing with Strong Emotions

When I was on my 3-year cancer journey, my psycho-oncologist said that I was “dealing with” cancer. I wasn’t “fighting,” “struggling against,” or battling” it. I was simply dealing with it.

I really liked that construction, and I’ve been using it for all kinds of things ever since.

Since words – being labels – have impact, I choose them with care. Like “strong” emotions. I don’t say “powerful” emotions, because that implies they have power over us. They do not. At least not unless we let them.

All of this came up last night when one of my students asked for suggestions in dealing with her own strong emotions around the recent U. S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe V. Wade. For anyone unfamiliar with this ruling, the original gave women a right to abortions, although each state could place some restrictions on that right. Now, slightly over half of our population no longer has agency over their own bodies.

No wonder emotions are running high.

But this post isn’t about abortion or self-determination. It’s about any strong emotion and how to deal with it.

Here is the process I suggested to my student. It works well for me personally, and I recommend that you try it for yourself. Like a recipe, feel free to add, remove, or adjust ingredients to suit your taste.

1. Face the Emotion

Look at the emotion squarely. Face it head on. Label it, if you like. You might label it “frustration,” “anger,” “disappointment,” or “sorrow” to give a few examples. You might use language to label it, or you may have a felt sense of what it is, instead.

Do not think about the source of the emotion. As Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chodron says, “Let the storyline go.” Continuing to think about it is like pouring fuel onto a burning fire. Instead, encourage the emotion to extinguish all on its own. (Nirvana literally means “blowing out” or “extinguishing.”)

Do not “stuff” the emotion, as that’s unhealthy both psychologically and physically. Sometimes we need to be with the emotion for a few minutes, and that’s all natural and good. Just don’t feed it with the story.

2. Recognize the Emotion is Impermanent

When we meditate – and I hope you’re meditating regularly – thoughts come up all the time. It’s part of the process. When thoughts arise, we realize that they are as ephemeral as clouds in the sky. We notice and acknowledge them, then allow them to dissipate. This is the practice.

We can do exactly the same thing with strong emotions. No matter how intense the feeling or how much it seems like it’s about to overwhelm us, we know it will pass. All things do.

 “All conditioned things are impermanent.”

– the Buddha

Our emotions are conditioned on our upbringing, the circumstances, what we ate for lunch, and more. Remember that they are temporary and that “this, too, shall pass.”

3. Release the Emotion

Now that we’ve laid the ground work, it’s time to let that shit go. As my grand-teacher, the Korean Zen Master Seung Sahn, used to day, “Put it all down.” (He also used to say, “Changing, changing, changing, changing, changing…”)

Perhaps this is a purely mental process for you. Perhaps you take a deep breath and blow it out forcefully, imagining ejecting the emotion from your body. Perhaps you feel your body relaxing all over as you sense the strong emotion draining away. It really doesn’t matter. Just let go.

By the way, these three steps can be accomplished faster then it’s taken you to read this far. So don’t despair! Just do the work.

4. Go into “Action” Mode

This is where the rubber meets the road, we put our money where our mouths are, or we walk our talk. (Feel free to choose your expression or come up with your own.)

Don’t like how something is going? Make a plan to change it.

Let’s go back to the example of my student who was experiencing some anger about the overturning of Roe V. Wade. She already participated in a demonstration about it. What else can she do?

  • Support organizations and officials who seek to change the law through donations or volunteering her time.
  • Educate the people in her circle about why this is important to her.
  • Support groups who are providing legal access to abortion to women in states where it is now illegal. (Usually this means providing them transportation to another state and back.)
  • Avoiding spending money in states where abortion is illegal.
  • Chanting and meditating for the benefit of all involved.

I’m sure you can come up with some others.

The point is that you are not powerless, no matter whether that strong emotion made you feel that way for a tick.

I encourage you to try out my “recipe.” Give it a taste test, then make your own adjustments. At the end of the day, nothing I or anyone else says matters unless it works for you.

The next time you start to feel yourself getting spun up, take a breath and try this process. I guarantee it’s better than doing nothing.

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism

My Current Daily Practice

My spiritual practice has taken many forms over the years.  One thing I’ve learned is that the line between “spiritual” practice and other practices is purely imaginary.  Here are the things I’m doing now which I consider parts of my spiritual journey:

  • Sitting and enjoying a cup of green tea while reading inspiring works.  My tea is part of my new cancer-prevention regimen, so is also part of my physical practice or self-care.
  • Reading inspirational literature (while enjoying my green tea.)  I spend about 20-30 minutes reading from a variety of daily readers in several different traditions.  Five of them are Buddhist.  Seven of them are not.  This practice also helps to keep me mentally sharp.
  • Giving myself an all-over Reiki treatment.  Reiki is a Japanese energy technique used for relaxation and healing.  I spend about 15 minutes on this.  Reiki, like my tea, also falls under the category of physical health.
  • Meditating.  Yes, I do a traditional sit-and-still-the-mind practice.  I’m currently doing 40-45 minutes per day.  I’m participating in the Winter Feast for the Soul, which I highly recommend, even starting “late.”  Of all the meditations offered, I’m doing the Tibetan one, which includes some chanting.

It all adds up to 90 minutes per day.  I could never do it if I saw these things as tasks or chores.  Luckily, I enjoy each part of my routine, even mindfully brewing my tea.  And it sure beats watching television.  At the end of my life, I may wish that I had meditated more, but I doubt I’ll wish that I had watched more television.

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism

“Going” on Retreat

I completed my at-home retreat.  This was my first “solo” retreat – though with all the animals at home, I never felt alone.  I didn’t end up seeing my friend on Saturday, but I did have to dog sit for a different friend who is recovering from major surgery.  Her dog doesn’t like one of my dogs, and major drama ensued.  While my retreat experience wasn’t fully restful, I got to be of service to both dog and owner, and that was good practice, too.

Because numbers are how Americans are taught to keep score:

  • Zazen periods: 14
  • Demons fed: 4
  • Prajna Paramita practice periods: 4
  • Chanting periods not part of other practices: 3
  • Metta meditation periods: 4
  • Neighbors I had polite conversation with while walking the dogs: 4
  • Wandering dogs I returned to their owners: 1
  • Number of 200mg ibuprofen gelcaps consumed: 9

I learned a lot about how my mind works and about the nature of mind.  I managed to avoid the major temptations of sleeping too much and turning on the computer.  I will do this sort of “householder retreat” again when the opportunity presents itself.

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism

Roll-Your-Own Retreat Schedule

My beloved husband is going out of town next weekend.  So, I’ve decided to take Sylvia Boorstein’s advice and “don’t just do something, sit there!”  Below is my tentative schedule, based on Hubby leaving around 7 Friday and returning sometime after 2 on Sunday.

Of course, all schedules are subject to change!  I will probably be seeing a friend on Saturday afternoon; I’ll just chop out the activities I had scheduled for that window of time.

My plan is a mix of Zen and Tibetan practices.  They actually blend together better than one might think.  Tributaries of the same stream.

I’ll try to report back after I see how it actually works!


7:00 PM           Open Formal Retreat.  Prajna Paramita Practice (Sunset is at 7:40)

8:00 PM           Demon Feeding Practice

8:30 PM           Walk Dogs, Feed Dogs, Cat, Bun

9:00 PM           Evening Bell Chant

9:30 PM           Lights Out


5:30 AM          Wake Up, Walk Dogs

6:00 AM          Prajna Paramita Practice (Sunrise is at 6:15)

7:00 AM          Demon Feeding Practice

7:30 AM          Breakfast, Walk Dogs

8:30 AM          Zazen – Bowing, Chanting, 3-4 Periods with 10 minutes of walking in between

11:30 AM        Relax (Yoga, Shower, Read, Etc.)

12:30 PM         Lunch, Walk Dogs

1:30 PM           Relax (Read, Etc.)

2:00 PM           Zazen – 5 Periods with 10 minutes of walking in between

5:10 PM           Relax (Yoga, Read, Etc.), Walk Dogs

6:00 PM           Dinner

7:00 PM           Prajna Paramita Practice (Sunset is at 7:39)

8:00 PM           Demon Feeding Practice

8:30 PM           Walk Dogs, Feed Dogs, Cat, Bun

9:00 PM           Evening Bell Chant

9:30 PM           Lights Out


5:30 AM          Wake Up, Walk Dogs

6:00 AM          Prajna Paramita Practice (Sunrise is at 6:15)

7:00 AM          Demon Feeding Practice

7:30 AM          Breakfast, Walk Dogs

8:30 AM          Zazen – Bowing, Chanting, 3-4 Periods with 10 minutes of walking in between

11:30 AM        Relax (Yoga, Shower, Read, Etc.)

12:30 PM         Lunch, Walk Dogs

1:30 PM           Zazen

2:00 PM           Close Formal Retreat

2:01 PM           Nap.  🙂  KATZ!

Posted in Week in Review

The Week in Review through 10/19/08


Demon Feeding:  7
Prajna Paramita Practice:  2
Vipassana (periods):  0
Zazen (periods):  0

Chanting: 1


Talks attended:  0
Talks given:  0
Interviews received:  0

Retreats (days): 0

Books Finished: 1

“Feeding Your Demons” by Tsultrim Allione


My practice this week involved rescuing my husband, who was broken down by the side of the freeway, rather than going to the Zen Center.  Hard training.  🙂

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism

Spirit Rock Retreat 2008, Day 8

9:30 AM

Notes from Lama Tsultrim’s closing talk

How to set up a Prajna Paramita shrine. “If one worships Prajna Paramita, one has honored all Buddhas, past, present & future.” – “Buddhist Goddesses of India.” Copy of the 8,000 line sutra, wrapped in yellow cloth, placed on the shrine. In Prajna Paramita temples, that is the object that is revered. An image of her on the shrine or hanging behind [is fine, too]. “Of course, you have to actually read the sutra.” Edward Conze has a good translation.

I asked if all Tibetan chants were this soft. No. 🙂 Tsultrim learned this “melody” for the Prajna Paramita mantra from Alan Ginsberg, who learned it from Gary Snyder. “It’s a lineage!”

“The past has been erased from your heart. But let me tell you who you are.” Tara to Machig.

Then we did another dyad. I had my same lovely partner. The first question was how the sacred feminine manifests in me. Then we did “let me tell you who you are.” My partner saw me as a wise goddess, with wings, who can float. She saw me as manifesting balance in my relationship with my husband, in my work, & in my own feminine & masculine attributes. I saw her as Green Tara, ready to take on the issues of her time, while learning to love & care for herself.

Notes from Anna’s closing talk

We can’t jump over the difficult parts of our lives. No “spiritual bypass.” Employ various methods, because no one practice does everything. “If it did, we would teach it to you.” We need to integrate & stabilize the deep retreat experience into our lives. That is a way of practicing the dharma.

One of the most liberating practices is investigation. Inquiry. What is this demon? How do I feed it? Deep questioning. What is this? Who am I?

Balance between movement & stillness, study & practice, relationships & aloneness.

We finished the retreat as we began, with Tsultrim leading us in the Prajna Paramita manta.

A lady named Teresa is giving me a ride to the airport. I have some powerful karma with a different Teresa – so much so that I have a negative association with the name. I am taking this gift from the universe as an opportunity to get over it.

11:54 AM
I spoke briefly with Tsultrim & told her I’d like to study with her, while continuing my Zen practice. She advised me to start with Kapala Training I – which happens to be offered during the time Michael will be in Laguna Seca. And so my karma unfolds…

I made friends with the woman I had had trouble liking. I spoke to her just now and she’s quite nice! Isn’t that interesting…?

Posted in Week in Review

The Week in Review through 10/12/08


Demon Feeding: 9
Prajna Paramita Practice: 4
Vipassana (periods): 0
Zazen (periods): 3

Chanting: 1


Talks attended: 0
Talks given: 0
Interviews received: 1

Retreats (days): 0

Books Finished:


I had a consulting interview with Tim.  I told him about my experiences on retreat, and he was very supportive of my having learned some Tibetan practices.

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism

Spirit Rock Retreat 2008, Day 1

9-21-08 Spirit Rock
4:15 PM

Christine picked me up. We stopped & had hot tea on the way to the airport. I look forward to seeing her next week when she picks me up.

The flight was fine. Had an entire HS [high school] football team aboard. As a fellow passenger said, “Way too much testosterone on this flight.”

Met Babs & caught the shuttle. She’s a “back to the land” rancher who raises Percherons. I enjoyed her company. We got to SR early so we went hiking. Beautiful vistas in the rolling hills! Saw a fawn & several hawks.

My roommate, Kate, seems nice. Very mindful.

My work meditation is to wash vegetables. How appropriate! I did this at Deer Park [Monastery] & hated it. I volunteered for it here from the available jobs so I can practice detachment – or non-attachment. Now, I’m off to get trained. I wonder how much training I’ll need in washing vegetables…

7:30 PM
Dinner was good, though light. Lunch is the big meal here.

I managed to avoid washing any of the 40 lbs. of bok choy! I did help wash 13 lbs. of roma tomatoes, 8 lbs. of bell peppers, & 1/2 flat of cherry tomatoes. The other members of my veggie washing team are Regina, Barbara, & Micha (who just got married to her girlfriend of 21 years!)

Kate & I have set up our home & basic ground rules. We have established that she is the window expert & I do the blinds. We managed to “fix” both.

I hope Michael did well in his [motorcycle] race. I think of him often. The only reason I regret not brining a camera is that I would have liked to share images of this place with him.

9:30 PM
The opening session was great. Chanting the prajna paramita [mantra] – 80 to 90 women – chanting at a pitch I can reach rather than too low. Lots (too much?) estrogen in the room. 🙂

It’s so quiet here, I can hear my tinnitus constantly. I could even hear my heart beat during meditation, though, curiously, only on the inhalations.

The talk opened with a quote from Ammachi about how feminine energy is needed to save the world. Something certainly is needed. I hope I can help.

Now it’s off to sleep. I look at my wedding ring tattoo, remembering the night Michael & I got them – & then went dancing at Miss Kitty’s! I think I just found the one sacred thing that only I share with him…

1st interview
Anna 4:00 Rm 1 9/22/08


6:00 Wake Up

6:30 Morning Sitting Meditation/Sky gazing

7:15 Breakfast Meditation

8:00 Walking Meditation

9:00 Sitting Meditation

9:30 Teachings

10:30 Walking Meditation

11:00 Sitting Meditation

11:30 Teachings

12:30 Lunch Meditation

2:30 Sitting Meditation

3:00 Movement or Walking Meditation

4:00 Sitting Meditation or Small Group Interviews

4:45 Walking Meditation

5:15 Dinner Meditation

6:45 Sitting Meditation/Sky gazing

7:20 Stretch Break

7:30 Teachings

8:30 Working Meditation (Washing Vegetables)

9:00 Sitting Meditation

9:30 Sleep