Two scientists, Dr. Wendy Hasenkamp (Brunel University/King’s College London) and Dr. Elena Antonova (Science director of Mind & Life), join two contemplative practitioners, Geshe Tenzin Namdak (Jamyang London Buddhist Centre)and Fr. Laurence Freeman (World Community for Christian Meditation), for a lively discussion on negative emotions and their possible solutions, moderated by Scott Snibbe (podcast host and creator of A Skeptic’s Path to Enlightenment).
The dialogue begins with an exploration of why we call certain emotions ‘negative’ or ‘destructive’, and how they can lead to patterns of behaviour that bring suffering to ourselves and others. The speakers discuss the possible antidotes to non-virtuous states of mind, and how contemplative traditions offer us practical tools to let go of the grasp of negative emotions.
From the dialogue:
Dr. Elena Antonova: “An accepted dogma on which a lot of our Western society is based, and which has dominated our baseline idea of the mental state, is the state of anxiety, survival, vigilance and separation (because we also perceive animals primarily as being in a relationship of predator and prey). However, some scientists suggest that we should entertain the possibility that serenity, contentment, and connectiveness is our primary baseline, but that this gets disturbed when we’re put in the state of flight or fight response.”
Dr. Wendy Hasenkamp: “We need to repattern these entrenched patterns that have been developed over the course of our lives – and potentially inter-generationally, which can be done in many ways. We are learning about neuroplasticity and neural pattering, and that there’s a capacity of the brain to change. We need to reactivate a pattern that’s already there, and then carve a different path, which comes close to contemplative traditions where we have to sit with negative emotions, and where we learn about the role of acceptance and how to lovingly embrace what’s happening to us, after which we can start to create a different pathway or outcome.”
Father Laurence Freeman: “There’s a variety of spiritual practices, centred in meditation, that can release us from the pattern of the hold of these negative emotions over time, with support from others… Essentially, as the Buddhist would say, we have Buddha nature, or as the Christian would say, we are in the image of God. We are a living icon of the Divine. Yet we need to build up a likeness to God, over a lifetime, through becoming aware of ourselves and our problems, and also hoping (and later on trusting) that at the core of our being is an essential goodness, compassion and virtue.”
Geshe Tenzin Namdak: “We have a potential of the mind, which Father Laurence mentioned is like icon nature, but then there is obscuration, the ‘clouds’ that obscure that nature. So we need to first find acceptance of the problem, without getting involved in it (as a neutral observer), which will lead to acceptance and the ability to observe instead of engaging with destructive emotions. Then we can start to have an intention for change and repattern our mind accordingly – we then have a freedom before any emotional ‘hijack’ sets in.”