How You Get in the Way of Your Own Healing (and Other Intentions)

shi yao hai and shi yao lian

Shi Yao Hai and Shi Yao Lian, Practitioners Buddha’s Alchemy

July 12, 2017

When we are not well, even when we think that we want to get better, sometimes we are not really working towards healing. We may believe without a doubt that we are doing everything possible to change our situation and help ourselves, but how we work against our own well-being involves the unskillful use of our minds, and is very subtle. This is because, for the most part, we have been conditioned into patterns of thinking, interpreting and behaving in ways that are contradictory to what we say we value. We subconsciously and sometimes consciously work against what we say we would like to have in our lives. This can be problematic if we think we have convinced ourselves that we are committed to a certain path (like healing), but we don’t see it manifesting in our lives. Often we blame ourselves, others or the world for things not working because we know we are trying so hard, and doing all of the “right” things. But what is really going on when our reality doesn’t match our believed intentions? Many people just write their circumstances off as luck, fate, bad timing, or “not meant to be”. The term bad karma is even thrown around as if it is also something to blame. Karma is actually what is playing out, but not as it is commonly understood. Karma is not happening to us. We are creating karma, albeit mostly unconsciously, every breathing moment of our lives. The unconscious part is the problem. If we don’t understand how we create our circumstances and experiences (karma), then we cannot do it skillfully, or influence anything in the direction that we hope to. Even if we tell ourselves 100 times per day that we wish a certain outcome, with every imaginable affirmation known, we will never be able to move energy in the desired direction without an understanding of how to move it.

Why We Are Not in Control of Our Minds

Buddhist psychology gives us a starting place for understanding habituated mental patterns that ultimately determine one’s viewpoint and their interaction with themselves and the world. This is indeed the core of karma. Karma translates as “action”. More specifically, it refers to the interdependent nature of all phenomena (everything in the world). Every intention, thought, and behavior has an effect that ripples out into countless directions and ways and is one of a number causes of the reality that we experience. How and if we experience emotions like hope, fear, anxiety, helplessness, anger, or depression depends largely on the mental conditioning that we have allowed to shape our view. Our view tends to color our entire life experience and the subconscious patterns at work beneath it are consistent from situation to situation. Even if we think we can respond skillfully to a specific difficulty or challenge in life, our preset mental patterns will determine whether or not that will be our truth.

ripples of karma

At the core of the way each individual responds to life are patterns of behavior that are determined by how a person thinks, feels, perceives and believes. We can divide these patterns into 4 archetypal bases of conditioning, which we call the emotional bases or worldly drives.These worldly drives more or less represent ways of wanting. Because of societal conditioning, people are trained into ways of wanting. Wanting is a dysfunctional base and not conducive to skillfully affecting karma – ie – directing life’s circumstances to live in tune with what you truly value. Directing karma is what we must do if we wish to influence our health or anything else in life. Understanding how the emotional bases work allows us to catch ourselves in unskillful behaviors and gives us an opportunity to practice what is superior in terms of influencing our desired direction and circumstances. Each emotional base has at its core a pair of dichotomous viewpoints which provide the subconscious focus and determine experiences for any individual operating from that base. In Buddhist psychology, we cultivate and practice skillful focuses that ultimately result in consciousness and character change, the key to living from an enlightened view. There are corresponding symbolic Buddhas for the antidotes to each emotional base. View them as a prescription for ridding the self of unskillful and destructive habituated patterns.

Keep in mind that although as individuals we may have a propensity towards a particular emotional base, we all have facets of each of the 4 emotional bases present within our subconscious. These constitute what we call ego. Also, although this article focuses on the negative aspects of the emotional bases and their antidotes, there are positive aspects that can be expanded and worked with skillfully.

Our view tends to color our entire life experience and the subconscious patterns at work beneath it are consistent from situation to situation. Even if we think we can respond skillfully to a specific difficulty or challenge in life, our preset mental patterns will determine whether or not that will be our truth.

The 4 Emotional Bases and Their Antidotes:

1.Prone to Self-Importance:

… is preoccupied with being known, special and important. It operates from a predominant dichotomous viewpoint of first / last, and focuses on fame versus defamation. People strong in this emotional base want to be recognized and appreciated, and often strive for attention. In the extreme manifestation, perfection can be obsessive. This prevents connection to others and development of deeper loving relationships. Prone to importance can become a basis for the growth of anger, restlessness, and impatience. The perpetuation of anger and selfish non-loving attitudes can poison the mind and body, therefore interfering with healing. People prone to importance measure themselves off of the outside world and regard it as being the basis of truth. Unbalanced attention on objective outcomes and prioritizing self over others are habituations to be changed.

The Antidote:

Humility and detachment are the medicines for prone to importance. Recognizing self-absorption and practicing humility instead fosters an awareness of that which is bigger than the limited self. Detachment from worldly outcomes eases the habitual tendency for defining the sense of self off of external circumstances and the constant craving for being special. The Buddha of wisdom and fearlessness represents the fruit of following the path of humility and detachment.

2. Prone to Fear and Rationalization:

…is preoccupied with avoiding any type of suffering or discomfort. This can be physical, mental or spiritual pain. The predominant dichotomous viewpoint is getting / losing. People strong in this emotional base want to avoid anything that brings conflict or confrontation. At extremes, this can manifest in antisocial like behaviors, even to the point of isolation. Unhappiness occurs due to the realization that happiness does not come from the world, and there is subsequent disenchantment and disappointment. Prone to rationalization becomes a basis for unhappiness and distrust (of people and life). There is an inferior or poor self-image and a weak sense of reality.

The Antidote:

Learning to live from the meaning of goodness, and living in the present moment are the medicines for prone to fear and rationalization. Living in the present moment means staying out of the emotions of the past and projections into the future. Fear and anxiety are the byproducts of these. Being aware and attentive in the present moment is crucial. In other words, practicing presence in the present moment is the key. The Buddha of enlightenment represents the fruit of following the path of living in the moment.

healing through emotional bases

Buddhist Psychology – The 4 Emotional Bases

By Dawn Bertram

3. Prone to Dependence:

…is preoccupied with being accepted, approved of, belonging, fitting in, and being loved. The predominant dichotomous viewpoint is good / bad. The person with prone to dependence looks at the environment and decides if it is safe to participate in what is happening. They are always feeling into a situation before taking action. Concern about whether they will be judged is of priority. There is always doubt about whether or not they are good enough. Acting in a way to be perceived as good enough, and with expectation of favors returned are motivators. When there is not enough kindness returned or help available when needed, people in prone to dependence become jaded and dissatisfied with life. They tend to blame themselves if they perceive that they are not accepted. Misbehavior, drugs, alcohol, and other addictions are some of the more extreme manifestations when someone is trying to escape this type of emotional pain.

The Antidote:

Focusing into things that a person likes to do and developing that into skillfulness is the medicine for prone to dependence. The energy of “liking” an activity and skillful doing frees the mind from preoccupation with self. Keeping company with similarly focused people is also beneficial. The Buddha of equanimity and deep inner peace represents the fruit of following the path of overcoming delusion and ego.

4. Prone to Dominance:

…is preoccupied with control over circumstances and people, and being right. The predominant dichotomous viewpoint is right / wrong. People in prone to dominance do not like to be “wronged”, or thought of as being wrong. There is often the perception that they are beyond argument, and they don’t only believe they are right, they know they are right. When imbalanced, there is a central delusion of pride. A person in prone to dominance is decisive but tends towards forcefulness and aggression. They can end up taking from others that they perceive as weaker.

The Antidote:

The fostering of compassion is the medicine for prone to dominance. Cultivating the wisdom of non-judgmental non-reactiveness negates the ground for pride. When you give up judgment, everything is equal. Perceiving things with an even mind frees one from pride and delusion, as does generating non-discriminating compassion. The Buddha of generosity and compassion represents the fruit of following the path of non-judgment and compassion.

interconnected karma

Putting It Into Action

Initially, it can be difficult when working with the habituated mind. We don’t really want to acknowledge our unskillful ways. It can be daunting to try to imagine living life much differently and to break away from the expectations put upon us by others and ourselves. There can be clinging to types of satisfaction or perceived gain that our old broken patterns have brought, no matter how negative the outcomes or experiences have been. Remember, meaning is the most important need in a human’s life, even if it is relatively negative meaning. Each emotional base brings with it learned justifications for its repeated patterns. When one has justified something over and over again throughout life, it is hard and frightening to suddenly recognize its futility. It is even more difficult to consciously choose to behave differently.

The first step is awareness and mindfulness of the way the emotional bases are operating in one’s life. That is, noting thoughts, feelings, intentions, perceptions, and beliefs as they occur. Mindfully contemplate and apply the antidotes when unskillful behavior arises.

As one becomes more comfortable with these recognitions, deeper analysis can begin. Where do the thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and beliefs arise, and where do they go? Is there a substantial reality to them? Are they constant and unchanging? If you switch your conscious focus, do they persist?


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