Dr. Tara Brach
Awakening through Difficult Emotions
On Sunday, September 10th, 2023, after meditation we shared a talk by meditation teacher, Tara Brach, where she explored the topic of Awakening through Difficult Emotions: The Poison is the Medicine.”

Many of us know the pain of getting stuck in fear, anxiety, anger, or shame. We often experience a deep sense of insecurity and un-groundedness. Tara taught us how we can navigate unpleasant emotions in a way that really serves our awakening and spiritual transformation.

In her talk, Tara explained that, through meditation, we learn to bring mindfulness and compassion to the difficult emotions that we often find ourselves getting stuck in. She taught us to “welcome all the guests” instead of seeing certain emotions as “bad wolves” that we need to starve and avoid. She turned it around, viewing those emotions in a positive light. She taught that all emotions actually came from the same source – they are life energies that are “life wanting to protect life.” For example, fear and anger are there to protect against danger and threats; guilt is there to try to improve us; and so forth. They are natural and universal. They may get twisted – like a water hose that is torqued – and cause pain as the emotions circulate around and around instead of flowing through. But the essence of them is “life loving life.” They are all there trying to help us, and trying to protect and promote life.

Why we feel so wrong when these emotions come up is because, when they arise, they can take over our whole being – the whole sense of who we are gets possessed or identified solely with the emotions, and we get smaller. But when we learn to recognize these emotions as simply “currents” that are moving through us, that they are there trying to help us, then we can shift our relation with these emotions, and the sense of our own being can become larger, transforming suffering.

The teacher reminded us that the word “demon” originally came from the Greek word “daimōn,” which means the spirit that influences our characters and is a pure, flowing life energy. It is not the negative connotation that we nowadays associate with the word “demon.”

To transform what we view as negative energy into a flowing energy, we need to recognize that the cure for pain is in the pain itself. “The wound is where the light comes through.” By learning to nourish the demon with wise attention, mindfulness, and compassion – the poison becomes the medicine, and the demon becomes the daimōn. To demonstrate this, she guided us in a short practice of the RAIN meditation during the talk – “Recognize, Allow, Investigate, and Nurture” – showing us how we can untwist the emotional energy by contacting it and directly experiencing it in our body. Then investigating what’s underlying it, and nurturing its healing. This practice takes courage to do, and is not a one-shot solution – the teacher encouraged us to keep working on it.

Finally, the teacher reminded us that just as this energy is not personal, our healing isn’t necessarily done alone either. When we are practicing with a difficult energy, remember that we are all working with these energies. The wounds that we have are shared by so many others. It’s universal and not personal. When we get caught in these demons, possessed by insecurity, by fear – we forget the vastness of our being, the mystery, and love. We lose perspectives. So we need each other to remind us that we are loved, accepted, not alone, and that we can trust in our goodness.

During group discussion, members shared their appreciation for the talk, especially the teaching about shifting our view of difficult emotions from being negative to being positive – that they are simply life loving and protecting life. They also shared their personal experiences in working with emotions, as well as the power of receiving comfort by others at times of distress including being comforted by their pets.

Scroll down to listen to Dr. Brach’s talk. Happy Learning!


From the Teachers: Awakening through Difficult Emotions

Dharma Video:

NOTE: We apologies for any advertisement you may see during video play. These ads are inserted into the videos by YouTube. Neither Tara Brach , nor Chicago Buddhist Meditation Group profits from these ads. Thank you for your understanding.

Awakening through Difficult Emotions: ‘The Poison is the Medicine’” by Tara Brach*

* Tara Brach, PhD, is the founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington. She’s practiced and taught meditation since 1973, with an emphasis on Vipassanā (mindfulness or insight) meditation. She also holds a doctorate degree in clinical psychology.

Tara’s teachings blend Western psychology and Eastern spiritual practices, mindful attention to our inner life, and compassionate engagement with our world. Her approach emphasizes compassion for oneself and others, mindful presence, and the direct realization and embodiment of natural, loving awareness.

She teaches classes, workshops, and retreats throughout the U.S. and Europe. Her podcast, downloaded 3 million times monthly in 200+ countries, speaks to themes of emotional healing and spiritual awakening through mindful, loving awareness, and compassion in action to alleviate suffering in our larger world. With Jack Kornfield, she leads the Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Certification Program and is a co-founder of Cloud Sangha.