Over the years I have been meditating, my emotions have got quieter and quieter. This does not mean that I have got less sensitive, or that I have somehow felt fewer emotions. It is just that those emotions I feel have been much more easily mastered.
Let’s take loss as an example. From time to time, I lose my wallet. In the old days, I used to become very agitated, and start to lose control of my thoughts. My mind would fly to terrible speculations about what might happen if someone had stolen the wallet. My muscles would tense, and I would become unable to relax.
Nowadays, I still have a loss response. I notice that the wallet is gone, and my emotional response tells me that something important is happening. I then begin to take action to try to find it. The main difference between now and before, is that now I am in control of my thoughts; now I do not speculate so wildly; and nowadays my muscles stay relaxed.
The emotion is still there, but it is quieter. I am not fighting it, because I have spent years allowing space for it to breathe. I am not speculating wildly, because I have spent years analysing my emotions and putting them into perspective. I am no longer a bundle of worry-about-me; instead, I am a bundle of awareness.
Another way of describing it: it is as though what was before a deadly serious battle, is now something of a game. This doesn’t mean I’m playing with people disrespectfully. I still conduct myself with respect towards others. But at the same time, I don’t stake so much on the outcome. Externally, I look like much the same person. Internally, my motivation is completely different.
This kind of transformation over the years is probably most evident in relationships. In my early days, when arguing with people, I would get prickly if I sensed that I was being treated with disrespect. This would lead me to push against the other person, or even to run away entirely. Nowadays, I still see others’ behaviour, but I don’t take it so personally.
I used to be more sensitive to rejection. Everybody likes to be accepted, and I still have this preference – it makes life much more pleasant. But while I used to react with anxiety when others rejected me or my views, now I find myself a lot more still. I am more able to go where I want, and do what I want, without fear of judgement by others. I still take others’ views of me into account, but not as a personal slight, only as a strategic consideration.
How has meditation achieved all this? My main daily meditations are focused around learning not to be over-attached to any people, things, or outcomes. This takes some doing, and I have spent thousands of hours just sitting with my own thoughts, noticing when I get distracted, and gently returning to my focus. This repeated discipline has given me greatly enhanced mastery over my own thoughts and responses.
In addition to this non-attachment, I have meditated a lot around compassion. Without compassion, non-attachment is dry and useless. But allied with compassion, non-attachment is very useful. Compassion motivates us to give kindness to others, and non-attachment helps us to give this kindness without expectation of anything in return.
The result is that my emotions have got quieter and more sensitive to what is around me. In that sense, though not so loud, my emotions are more useful. I am like a radio telescope, receiving countless signals across empty space. There are fewer clouds, fewer distracting vibrations. I can see more clearly.
I hope I have communicated something of the paradox: that as our emotions become more still, they become more sensitive, and more positively useful.