I was communicating about an upset today with someone close to me, and noticing before and afterward the way very old parts of me–long-standing emotional blocks that I feel in my body–were “resonating” with the disagreement. There was the emotional experience related to the issue itself, and then, separately, this mass of unprocessed “stuff”.
We all have these emotional blocks. They are what Eckhart Tolle refers to as “the pain body.” Buddhists call them “samskaras.” Western psychology calls them our “conditioning” or “triggers.” They are the body equivalent of a memory, and they are very often suppressed from conscious awareness. When something happens in the present moment that is similar to a string of experiences (consciously remembered or not) from the past, one of these emotional blocks gets fired up in reaction. As a result, the intensity of the emotional sensation will be as strong as the sum total of the entire string of experiences (including the present one). Then we respond to the present, not realizing that the magnitude of our reaction is disproportionate. The very way we SEE the present is as if all those memories are lumped into it. And this happens to us many times a day, every day, if often subtly.
So what can we do? Start with the assumption that we aren’t seeing fully clearly. Hold the question, “what’s the lens?” Get to know the areas of life where we get reactive. Default to kindness, generosity, forgiveness. Assume the best. And own it, in dialog with others–“this is MY experience.” “This is how this is landing for ME.” …As opposed to assuming objectivity.
Over the long run, with the right practice techniques, these blocks can be permanently released. It often takes years (as it has for me so far), but we gradually see more clearly, and feel more and more freedom in our lives. The tragedy is that this path of “emotional/psychological development” is actually independent (though related) to the path of “spiritual development” which most contemplative traditions focus on. The two paths must be pursued together in order to find deep, lasting freedom. To put it simply, for the spiritually-inclined: enlightenment is only half the picture.