We come into this world with some built in tendencies to be attracted to and repelled by certain things and experiences. We are attracted to sweetness and softness. We tend to withdraw from the bitter or rough. As we grow we expand the range of things we are attracted to and repelled by. We lose interest in picking things up off the floor and putting them into our mouths. What was attractive has become repulsive. We develop a taste for things bitter, and what once made our lips curl in revulsion becomes our substance of choice.
Through experience we develop our preferences and our aversions. When we think of a person, place, or thing we may feel unpleasant emotions arise in us in response to the thought. Years after leaving an unpleasant job we may have an uncomfortable feeling each time we drive by the building where we worked. There is nothing there to harm us now, but the feeling remains, even though the feeling is cut off from any real danger.
Some feelings of aversion may be quite strong and obvious. These we may identify as anger or hate. Just thinking about some person we hate may bring up powerful feelings and a desire to do them harm. These thoughts and feelings separate us from the other and create a barrier that somehow protects us from them. If nothing else, the barrier prevents us from seeing similarities between the object of our hate and ourselves.
Other aversions are more subtle. We may not notice any obvious emotion connected with the aversion, but in some way our behavior is affected. Perhaps we have some work to complete, but time passes and the task remains undone. Maybe we have a phone call we should make, but the call is never made. Maybe we have a self improvement goal, but we never meet it. We find that in spite of our best intentions we don't do the exercise, we don't sit to meditate, we don't read the book, we don't say the affirmations. We may not know why, but something blocks our progress.
As we develop ourselves spiritually and psychologically, one of our critical tasks is to identify our aversions and work through them. We can free ourselves by dropping useless aversions. We can heal ourselves by letting go of our hatreds.
Place yourself in a calm state of mind. Allow your breathing to come and go by itself. Release the tension you may be holding in your muscles.
Close your eyes and think about your own attractions and aversions. Imagine that you can look at the many parts of your life as if they were laid out on a map. Family is here. Work is over there. Relationships are someplace in between. And imagine that components of your life that are attractive to you are a warm pleasant color, perhaps a rosy pink. Now imagine that the areas of your life that you respond to with aversion are a cold color, perhaps an icy blue. Those things in your life that you love are warm and comfortable. Those parts of life that are aversive appear less inviting.
Now take your time and scan the map. Look for the warm comfy spots, and also notice the colder bluish areas. When you encounter a part of your life on this map that you identify as less warm, less comfortable, focus in on it and try to sense what about it is aversive to you. What aspect of this area repels you? Do you feel threatened? What is the nature of the threat? Is this a current threat or is it from the past? Can you relinquish the experience of feeling threatened by something that is no longer a real threat?
You may find areas on your personal map of attraction and aversion that stimulate anger. Notice these feelings of anger. Look carefully at them. Feel where they reside in your body. Ask yourself what the anger is about? What is the thought that keeps the anger alive in you?
If it is a person you have anger about, are they still doing the thing that made you angry in the past? Who is making you angry? Is it them, or is it you clinging to the anger? Might it be useful to drop this emotion that gnaws at you?
Tell yourself that you release your anger. Tell yourself that you will no longer be limited by outdated negative emotions. Create an opening in your heart where the anger once was, and allow warmth and compassion to flow in.
Looking again at your life map, you may find places where you may feel very little emotion, but you sense stagnation. Maybe you see these as greenish areas. Perhaps these are areas where you would like something to happen, but nothing happens. Maybe you feel that you just can't get going. Try to visualize what is keeping you stuck. Do you sense some element of fear around this issue? What is the fear? What has your imagination told you might happen if you made progress? Is this realistic? Note that there has been an element of aversion active in this area. Let this awareness begin the process of dissolving the aversion.
As you go about your life this week, be aware of when you are responding to things and events as aversive. Map out for yourself the cold dark areas of your psyche that keep you from feeling joy in life. Warm those places with the antidotes to aversion which are love, forgiveness and compassion.
May all beings be filled with joy and peace.
May all beings everywhere,
The strong and the weak,
The great and the small,
The mean and the powerful,
The short and the long,
The subtle and the gross:
May all beings everywhere,
Seen and unseen,
Dwelling far off or nearby,
Being or waiting to become:
May all be filled with lasting joy.
Let no one deceive another,
Let no one anywhere despise another,
Let no one out of anger or resentment
Wish suffering on anyone at all.
Just as a mother with her own life
Protects her child, her only child, from harm,
So within yourself let grow
A boundless love for all creatures.
Let your love flow outward through the universe,
To its height, its depth, its broad extent,
A limitless love, without hatred or enmity.
Then as you stand or walk,
Sit or lie down,
As long as you are awake,
Strive for this with a one-pointed mind;
Your life will bring heaven to earth.
Buddha's Discourse on Good Will
© 2002 Tom Barrett