It’s only when we try to eradicate our negative feelings that emotions become ‘a problem’ — fear, anxiety, sadness. We fear getting stuck and ask, how do we get rid of them? By trying to get rid of them we give them strength and power. This causes us suffering. Or we try to cling to positive feelings — joy, euphoria, pride. When we fight to hold on to them — we fear losing them, that again causes us suffering.
The mindfulness approach is to lean into those emotions we seek to avoid, but in a state of presence — conscious awareness. Observe, what thoughts you are attaching to those emotions, or whereabouts in your body are those feelings manifesting themselves? You can then send loving kindness to those areas, allow any pain or tension to soften. ‘Breathe’ into them… and observe any reaction or response. Notice any ‘stories’ emerging from the mind because of that discomfort.
In meditation you practice leaning into uncomfortable emotions and observe how they respond to acceptance, compassion and love.
Meditation for emotions
Start with an awareness of breathing, open awareness meditation
Begin by noticing your breath. You’re not trying to change it in any way, just allow it to be as it is. Sit for a minute or so observing the experience of breathing. Thoughts will arise as your mind begins to wander, but just allow them to come into your awareness and watch them pass. If you become distracted by your thoughts, with kindness and compassion, simply bring your attention back to your breath. Likewise, with sounds and body sensations (an ache, pain or itch), just observe the experience of hearing and feeling – without judgement or trying to screen them out. Again, if you begin to get distracted by ‘stories’ about the sounds or feelings – wishing they’d go away – just come back to awareness of breathing.
Bring to mind something or someone that triggers an uncomfortable emotion. That person could be family member, friend, neutral person or someone you don’t like. The trigger could be getting held up in traffic, the person you’re expecting turns up late or doesn’t show up. Practice with an emotion that provokes a mild to moderate irritation, not one that causes extreme distress.
Identify that emotion. Name it (fear, anger, anxiety, rage, boredom, frustration). Allow yourself to lean into it and observe your responses to that emotion. Whereabouts in your body are you feeling it? Tension in your neck, shoulders, jaw, hand clasping, fist clenching? Increased heart rate? Nausea, ‘butterflies’ or tightening in your stomach? Allow that response to ‘soften’; greet it with loving kindness and compassion; allow and accept it rather than resist or reject.
If you start to drift off into ‘thinking’ or get ‘hooked into stories’, bring your attention back to your breath… come back into conscious awareness.
Repeat and continue to explore your emotion again if you wish: lean in, notice, soften. Do this in your meditation practice and you will begin to increase your resilience over time. You’ll notice the emotion loses its grip on you.
End with awareness of breathing to bring the exercise to a close.