Facing Aversion

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Photo by Aaron Blanco Tejedor

Did you know that aversion is a form of attachment? This is because it also involves desire – the desire to turn away from or avoid something unwanted. Aversion is often experienced as annoyance, disliking, disgust, or even hatred. Aversion obscures reality by turning attention away from what is present, preventing us from truly understanding our experience.

Aversion can be useful when responded to appropriately. When recognized and acted upon skillfully, this feeling tone energizes and motivates us to act for the wellbeing of ourselves and others. It may also serve to unite us against a truly harmful force.

Yet aversion can also be quite seductive. When we flee from something we deem noxious, we experience temporary relief from escaping unpleasant feelings. When we fight against a perceived wrong or a common “enemy”, we may get a fleeting sense of righteousness or belonging. However, the longer term consequences of over-reacting to aversion is the elimination of a wide swath of experience from our awareness. How can we respond wisely when we aren’t attending to all the information?

The experience of aversion is most often unpleasant or unwanted. We judge something as bad and then we turn away from it or lash out at its perceived source. This requires a narrative made up of assumptions, expectations, predictions, beliefs, or memories that can be generated in a split second – the time it takes for neurons to release neurotransmitters in the brain. These reactions happen more quickly and automatically the more often we rehearse them.

What if we were able to instead take a moment to observe – to turn attention toward the feeling tone of unpleasant/unwanted and investigate it with curiosity? What body sensations, thoughts, emotions and urges to action accompany it? When we unpack it, we may find subtler layers of experience providing us with important data. Are there deeper beliefs or more vulnerable emotions that underly it? What happens when we allow aversion to be here without any need to react to it?

We can strengthen this ability to look before we leap by cultivating a beginner’s mind and a sense of curiosity about our experience. We can also practice applying antidotes to aversion including compassion, lovingkindness, joyful appreciation, and equanimity – all of which could be viewed as complimentary aspects of love.

Compassion is the acknowledgement of suffering and desire to eliminate it. Lovingkindness is a feeling of goodwill toward self and others – just a sincere wish for happiness for all beings. Joyful appreciation is rejoicing in happiness and its causes wherever they arise – to celebrate the success and good fortune of others. Equanimity is the ability to see things as they are with patience and understanding, without getting caught up in them.

There is no preference or discrimination inherent in any of these loving attitudes – they apply equally to all beings and situations. Cultivating these beneficial qualities through practice enables us to open to the entirety of experience, whether wanted or unwanted, so that we can see things as they truly are and respond with greater wisdom.

…the inherent happiness of love is not compromised by likes and dislikes, and thus, like the sun, it can shine on everything. – Sharon Salzberg, Facets of Metta

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