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In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, there’s a revelatory scene wherein the tragic hero learns that his father, the King of Denmark, was murdered by his own brother, Claudius. The monarch was asleep on a garden bench when his brother stealthily crept in and poured a ewer of poison into the King’s ear. This harrowing scene reminds me of the very stealthy and invidious way toxic emotions, once unleashed on the psyche, pollute and destroy our inner peace. The antidote, surprisingly, lies within. By taking responsibility for our own feelings, we avoid going under in a riptide of poisonous emotions.

I learned this the hard way. Recently, a beloved friend and, subsequently, a student of mine, suffered meltdowns in the same week; in both cases, I became caught in the direct line of fire and fell prey to the onslaught of negative emotions. My spirit was swept into a toxic undertow, the current whirling me into a rapidly descending maelstrom of negative thought. I manufactured an entire scenario, a list of ills both real and imagined. I chose to ignore them both. After all, I did not deserve such treatment.

In this column lay my salvation. How could I write a credible article on clearing toxic emotions while my recalcitrant ego busily demanded a redress of grievances?

Engaging meditation, prayer, sage, water, gemstones and salt, I cleared. Guidance came through in the form of dreams and signs. Everything pointed to one message: holding on was more destructive than letting go.

The ego still acted up in righteousness: “You can’t let people abuse you. They won’t respect you. Some are jealous of you and wish to harm you.” Every effort of my petulant ego to cause turbulence met with higher guidance. The Red Feather Man has so often reminded me that, despite the negative intentions of others, “nothing has power but what we give it.”

I learned that we must first recognize when we’re in the throes of ego-induced emotions, even as they arise — no easy feat. We want to lash out or hold a grudge against the person who has hurt us. Upon deeper inspection, though, we uncover the true culprit: it is the ego that feels slighted, recoiling within its salted wound. Often, the situation is compounded by overlays from past lives, augmenting our pain exponentially. The higher self, however, understands that no one makes us feel bad; no one causes our misery. The ideas that surface in the mind in reaction to the tide pool of feelings are subject to our control. We can react by simply identifying the feeling, without attachment. We can say, “pain,” “humiliation,” “anger,” and just let go.

Once we label the feeling, we defuse it. We take the wind out of its sails. Letting go is difficult, but the alternatives are worse. Certainly, we do not wish to harm ourselves or others. “But,” the ego insists, “there are toxic people in the world, and I need protection.” In time, we see that spiritual gains usually result from difficult situations. These present us with opportunities to realize that the true instigator is the mind, with its turbulent stirrings.

So there it is. I was neither victim nor casualty, except perhaps of an internal war waged within myself. I began to accept that the student who unleashed her anger upon me, and the friend who launched an unprovoked attack upon me, both afforded occasions for my further enlightenment.

In the midst of some peak human dramas, I had been blaming others for causing my negative emotions. Despite what is directed at me by others, I need not lose my own center or come undone. If I gaze out at the world through eyes of compassion, I will recognize the great suffering that must exist to cause people to behave in unpleasant ways. Instead of avoiding them, I embrace them.

Love is stronger than any other force in the Universe, Cedric has taught me more than once. It diminishes defensive feelings. It bonds us to others. It fills us with compassion. We have no judgments, so there is nothing and no one to reject. At that point, we can embrace everyone and everything.

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Janet Michele Red Feather
Janet Michele Red Feather, J.D., M.A., has taught literature and composition for 18 years at the university, state, tribal and community college levels. She is currently a tenured English Faculty member at Normandale Community College. Janet enjoys her role as Ceremonial Singer for Native American ceremonies, singing traditional songs in Mandan and Lakota. She made a career shift into teaching after serving nearly eight years as a defense litigator in California. Her life changed significantly after she traveled to North Dakota in 1993 to fast and pray for a way of life. She welcomes correspondence at JanetRedFeather77@gmail.com.

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