The Buddha taught skillfulness. With intention, attention, and effort, one can approach the goal of freedom. So if you have an afflictive thought/emotion such as anger or desire, he taught that you can identify that afflictive thought. You can see that the thought/emotion will harm yourself or others. In the same way, you can see that putting into action an afflictive thought such as anger or desire, one will cause harm to oneself or another.
He taught that having realized this, one can choose renunciation of the thought and action.
Wouldn’t this be wonderful! But the deepest afflictive emotions cannot be reasoned with. They cannot be persuaded to go away. Yes, one can effectively restrain oneself from acting on these thoughts, but they may never go away. Over time – maybe long periods of time – the thoughts can erode into less compelling psychic forces. But in the meantime what can we do?
I have a friend who is in a profound state of anger and shock, because her husband of fourteen years left without a word or a warning. I have a former husband, who is now a friend, who is dying of incurable lung disease. My friend and former husband have just fallen in love. This is wonderful! Love is irrepressible, as it should be. There are deep, psychic forces, like love, that are irrepressible despite the “prognosis.” Love is not normally thought of as afflictive, but it often is a cause of pain.
Irrepressible. So maybe trying to make these emotions go away, or trying to be skillful to effect renunciation, won’t work. What is left is to accept them, to live with them. If the emotion is love, then whole-heartedly accept that loving, even though you know it could be painful. My friend and former husband know that pain lies ahead. He will die within the year, and she will lose him. But they are going into this with eyes wide open, and hearts wide open.
To accept that there is suffering and pain, and yet to love with our whole heart is the nature of being alive.
Buddhism talks about “letting go.” But it may be that letting go is the letting go of resistance – of pushing away, of trying to isolate and protect oneself. Letting go may be a kind of surrender to your life as it actually is.