What Are You Spreading?

07/03/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

In the midst of the recent Swine flu panic, most of us have been more careful than usual with our physical hygiene. We wash our hands more faithfully, cover our sneezes more correctly, avoid touching surfaces in public places and maybe worry more. We also have been humbled by how quickly and uncontrollably a pestilence can spread. Minus the unnecessary worry, these precautions are all good. Yet there is another pestilence that spreads just as quickly, largely goes unreported and causes much unnecessary suffering. And each of us plays a daily part its contagion.

As we all have realized to some degree at least, life is filled with pain as well as pleasure, suffering as well as happiness. Just as there are bound to be times when we are physically sick with a cold or something more serious, there are times when we are emotionally hurting.

Hopefully we are quick to protect both our loved ones and the general public when we have a physical infection. Who do we protect when we hurt emotionally? Do we even consider the possibility of keeping our emotional hurt contained, or is it allowed to randomly infect whomever we meet?

In a different age, or in some cultures today, we might have been taught to hide our feelings. Growing up in the 1950's, if a scowl showed up on my face I was quickly told to wipe it off. I would certainly never suggest we return to that mode of emotion control. Plus, it didn't work. I would still feel anger, or sadness and still find some way of expressing it, but now with a sweet smile masking my true feelings.

There is another, more honest and natural form of emotional hygiene. And similar to physical hygiene, we can learn to take responsibility for our own emotional suffering without spreading it to our loved ones and the general public.

The first step is to simply admit to ourselves when we are feeling emotionally bad. As in many physical discomforts, there is often a simple remedy. Do we need to take a walk? A break? A nap?

If the emotion is more complicated, do we need to clear the air with someone? Clearing the air is quite different from polluting the air with our emotions. Clearing the air requires first recognizing what we are feeling and then choosing to tend to it without spreading it.

Physical hygiene was a radical discovery, and for years many people resisted it at all levels of society. It perhaps seemed unbelievable to people at the time that something as simple as washing one's hands could have such beneficial effects.

Likewise, we can be wonderfully surprised to discover how simply cleaning up after-or during-an emotional attack can by itself spread a sense of well being for all.

Emotions, like viruses, can be quick to spread. Sometimes we are infected before we know it. Sometimes the emotion can seem so in control that we don't know how to begin cleaning up. Or like a recurring illness it just comes back. And we have to go to work, or get the kids ready, or make that call.

In the midst of the whirlwind of our daily lives, we can take a ten second break. We can choose to put our attention deep inside, under the emotion. We can release our attention from the narrative of who did what, or why something should or should not have happened. Under all the stories that relate to a particular emotion, there is just the vibration of the emotion itself. Without the usual accompanying story and judgment, the feeling can be simply, directly experienced. In this direct experience of emotional sensation, a startling discovery happens.

In this small amount of time you can discover what lives under all emotion: the undisturbed cleanliness of internal open space.
What follows may surprise you. Time may actually expand. Breath can come more freely. The opportunity to say what needs to be said may present itself. You are at peace with yourself and your emotions.

And if time continues to move too fast, and no opportunity to speak clearly has shown itself, you still will have come in contact with the peace at the core of yourself. This peace, like the negativity of physical or emotional infections, spreads.

What do you want to spread?
What are you spreading?

For an infectious moment, watch this popular YouTube, and spread it if you can!

Gangaji is holding a silent retreat at Lake Tahoe June 7-12 and will be touring Europe this summer. Read more about Gangaji's events and catalog of books and videos online.