The third technique for neutralizing afflictive emotions is the most subtle and the trickiest. When we look closely at our emotions, we find that, like musical notes, they are made up of numerous elements, or harmonics. Anger rouses us to action and often allows us to overcome obstacles. It also contains aspects of clarity, focus, and effectiveness that are not harmful in and of themselves. Desire has an element of bliss that is distinct from attachment; pride, an element of self-confidence that can be firm without lapsing into arrogance; envy, a drive to act that cannot be confused with the unhealthy dissatisfaction it entails.
As difficult as it is to separate these various aspects, it is possible to recognize and use the positive facets of a thought generally considered to be negative. In effect, what gives an emotion its noxious quality is the way we identify with and cling to it. This triggers a chain reaction during which the initial spark of clarity and focus becomes anger and hostility. The skills we gain from meditation experience help us to intervene before the reaction is initiated.
Emotions are not inherently disturbing, though they seem so the moment we identify with and hold on to them. The pure consciousness of which we have spoken, and which is the source of all mental events, is neither good nor bad in and of itself. Thoughts become disturbing only once the process of “fixation” is set in motion, when we attach ourselves to the qualities we attribute to the object of the emotion and to the self that is feeling it.

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