The Body as Metaphor; Untying Knots

More Thich Nhat Hanh:

There is a term in Buddhist psychology that can be translated as “internal formations,” “fetters,” or “knots.” When we have a sensory input, depending on how we receive it, a knot may be tied in us. When someone speaks unkindly to us, if we understand the reason and do not take his or her words to heart, we will not feel irritated at all, and no knot will be tied. But if we do not understand why we were spoken to that way and we become irritated, a knot will be tied in us. The absence of clear understanding is the basis for every knot.
   If we practice full awareness, we will be able to recognize internal formations as soon as they are formed, and we will find ways to transform them. For example, a wife may hear her husband boasting at a party, and inside herself she feels the formation of a lack of respect. If she discusses this with her husband, they may come to a clear understanding, and the knot in her will be untied easily. Internal formations need our full attention as soon as they manifest, while they are still weak, so that the work of transformation is easy.
   If we do not untie our knots when they form, they will grow tighter and stronger. Our conscious, reasoning mind knows that negative feelings such as anger, fear, and regret are not wholly acceptable to ourselves or society, so it finds ways to repress them, and push them into remote areas of our consciousness in order to forget them. Because we want to avoid suffering, we create defense mechanisms that deny the existence of these negative feelings and give us the impression we have peace within ourselves. But our internal formations are always looking for ways to manifest as destructive images, feelings, thoughts, words, or behavior.
   The way to deal with unconscious internal formations is, first of all, to find ways to become aware of them. By practicing mindful breathing, we may gain access to some of the knots that are tied inside us. When we are aware of our images, feelings, thoughts, words, and behavior, we can ask ourselves questions such as: Why did I feel uncomfortable when I heard him say that? Why did I say that to him? Why do I always think of my mother when I see that woman? . . . . Observing closely like this can gradually bring the internal formations that are buried in us into the realm of the conscious mind.
   During sitting meditation, after we have closed the doors and windows of sensory input, the internal formations buried inside us sometimes reveal themselves as images, feelings, or thoughts. We may notice a feeling of anxiety, fear, or unpleasantness whose cause we cannot understand. So we shine the light of our mindfulness on it, and prepare ourselves to see this image, feeling, or thought, in all its complexity. When it begins to show its face, it may gather strength and become more intense. We may find it so strong that it robs us of our peace, joy, and ease, and we may not want to be in contact with it anymore. We may want to move our attention to another object of meditation or discontinue the meditation altogether; we may feel sleepy or say that we prefer to meditate some other time. In psychology, this is called resistance. We are afraid to bring into our conscious mind the feelings of pain that are buried in us, because they will make us suffer. But if we have been practicing breathing and smiling for some time, we will have developed the capacity to sit still and just observe our fears. As we keep in contact with our breathing and continue to smile, we can say, “Hello, Fear. There you are again.” . . . .
   If we know how to live every moment in an awakened way, we will be aware of what is going on in our feelings and perceptions in the present moment, and we will not let knots form or become tighter in our consciousness. And if we know how to observe our feelings, we can find the roots of long-standing internal formations and transform them, even those that have become quite strong.

The first step in untying your knots is acceptance. You have knots; they are there. When something rubs you the wrong way, and you produce a flurry of negative emotions that seems to come from nowhere, that event has set off your insecurities. Maybe it was something about the way you were raised, or a traumatic experience you’re being forced to re-live. If you feel ashamed, incensed, or paranoid about the way you’ve reacted, that’s a knot. If you don’t treat it gingerly, or make an effort to untie it, you’re only putting more tension on the knot. You’re only tying it tighter.

Remember what happened to my shoulder? Since I didn’t want to acknowledge being injured, since it went against the image I had of myself as an ideal physical being, I made the situation worse. Something about the experience threatened my identity, so I resisted. The result: now there’s scar tissue in my right shoulder.

The main reason why I take such pains to maintain good physical shape is because I think the body is an incredible metaphor for the whole of existence. I know from experience that if your body is in good alignment, your emotions and spirit are more likely to be so. I was amazed when I read this passage; body and soul, the process for healing is identical, down to the very WORD: knots!

So how do we go about untying emotional knots? It’s just the same as untying the physical ones! Bring awareness into yourself. Be compassionate and understanding as you explore yourself. Once you find an uncomfortable spot, something that makes you anxious, that it feels like you can’t deal with, take notice. Try to settle into this spot. During meditation, or in an otherwise safe and comfortable environment, explore the pain you’ve hidden away there. Be open and loving towards it. Breathe; it will be OK. To quote Eckhart Tolle: “The pain body may seem to you like a dangerous monster that you cannot bear to look at, but I assure you that it is an insubstantial phantom that cannot prevail against the power of your presence.”

Explore the causes; try to come to an understanding. Like tension in your body, if you put enough energy into the resolving of this knot, it will burst colorfully. The emotional tidal wave that results can only be described as one of the best things ever.

During high school, I had a crush on this girl. Her voice was amazing, and she was everything I wished I could be. Yet lots of things got away from me in high school; I fell out with a lot of friends, and I let her get away from me, leaving with only a few mellow goodbyes. Last spring, I found out to my astonishment that a mutual friend from high school had died. Though we fell out of contact, and he traveled far away, I had never stopped idolizing him. His death was a shock, an unreal reminder that we have the power to craft our lives according to our choices, and that we also must live with the consequences. Once I was a better man, more adjusted, prouder of myself, I was going to visit him overseas. Now, that opportunity was obliterated, and I could never reconnect with him. I couldn’t tell him how much I loved him, and how important his example was in my life.

Sometime later that week, the girl from high school contacted me again. She realized (before I did) that there are some things you can’t put off, wanted to tell me that I had been important to her. Four years later, after all the regrets that I’d wasted a golden opportunity, that love was something I couldn’t have, I found out she had “liked me back.”

This was the untying of the greatest knot of my life. I can’t begin to describe the wave of emotions which swept me away. After years of self-denial, I realized that love is something attainable, and that I can have it right now, if only I reach out.

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3 Responses to The Body as Metaphor; Untying Knots

  1. adamcmadison says:

    Are you guys together?

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