Joseph Goldstein – Insight Hour – Ep. 27 – Transforming Afflictive Emotions

Afflictive Emotions

This week, on Insight Hour, Joseph discusses the Buddha’s lesson of the Luminous Mind and how it is obscured by our afflictive emotions.


How is it that the natural clarity the mind can become so easily clouded? Joseph goes deep in exploring the three steps essential to overcoming these afflictive emotions in which we all get caught up.


Show Notes


Luminous Mind (opening) – One of the essential teachings of the Buddha is his lesson on the nature of mind.


“Luminous, monks, is the mind. And it is defiled by incoming defilements.”

– The Buddha


When we hear a sound, it is very simple; it is just the knowing of the sound. In the simplicity of just knowing, there is no problem. This aspect of consciousness is what is called the Luminous Mind, luminous here meaning the knowing capacity.

The nature of this aspect of mind, in and of itself, is open clear and unobstructed, it simply knows.

What is it that obscures this nature of clarity that the mind possesses? When we look carefully at our experience, we see that what obscures this clarity and causes suffering is the onset of the defilement the Buddha references.

In the Pali language, this defilement is known as Kleshas, which means unwholesome states of mind. One term we use for these states is afflictive emotions, the emotions that cause suffering. Our challenge is learning how to be with these emotions in a skillful way, in a way that transforms them into freedom.


“When you look at the mind you see nothing, look through it, and you see the world.”


Awareness (6:20) – The first and fundamental step in working with these emotions is recognizing and acknowledging them when they arise. For many of us, the recognition may be there, but we may be in the habit of being overwhelmed by these emotions.

There are many ways to train ourselves to become mindful and connect more mindfully when these emotions arise. One way of tuning in is by becoming more aware of our bodily sensations. These sensations do not always reflect the current emotion. If these sensations are enduring, this may be a signal for us to take an introspective look and see what is there.

Another way of tuning into our emotions is to be aware of the smaller signals. When we are not in the easy flow of our lives, these are signs that something needs attention. Be it an obsession or general malaise, something requires attention. It may be unacknowledged fear or anxiety, but there is usually something there.

Sometimes we do not recognize these emotions that are present because we are misperceiving them. When we are caught in something, it is important to check our own perception.


Acceptance (23:45) – The second fundamental step in working with emotions is to mindfully accept the emotions. In this context, acceptance means the full acknowledgment that these afflictive emotions are present.

How do we really know if we are accepting or not? In your life, if you are struggling with something, that conflict means that something is going on that we are not accepting.

You might find yourself struggling through meditation, for instance. Instead of just getting caught up, and identifying with being the struggler, let it be a signal to take a look at what is going on that you are not open to. This sense of struggle is kind of a gift to us. It is telling us to look at what we are not accepting.

You may not be accepting an afflictive emotion because it is uncomfortable or painful. However, we must train ourselves to sit with this discomfort, as we do with our bodies. Our practice is to realize that it is much simpler and freeing to be able to feel the unpleasant mind states.


Wisdom Mind (32:50) – One aspect of the wisdom mind that is gained from recognition and acceptance is the discerning the skillful from unskillful and the wholesome from unwholesome. The Buddha gave a huge emphasis to refining this discernment. It is something that brings an ethical dimension to everything in our lives.


“Anger, with its poisoned root and honeyed tip.”

– the Buddha


Identity (50:40) – The final step in working with afflictive emotions is the most challenging, and liberating. It is learning how to be with and to feel all of these different emotions and not identify with them. Not to be taking these feelings as “I” or “mine.”

What does identification with an emotion mean? It is being lost and caught up in these emotions. There is a huge difference in the experience of “I am happy” or ” I am sad” and the thought of” there is happiness, ” or there is sadness.” Getting caught up in identification like this is an incredible habit to break.


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Photo via Blazing Light