Last year I asked The Flourish Project participants what their biggest issues were and dealing with difficult emotions was high up on the list. I asked them last week what some of these emotions are and they hit me with this list.
Fear of mediocrity, inadequacy, imperfection.
What makes these emotions difficult or challenging is that they cause us distress, and they have a tendency to take over our space so that there is less room for more pleasurable emotions like joy and happiness.
There are many ways to deal with emotions and I’m not here to tell you that this is the only way. It’s one way that might work for you all of the time, some of the time or none of the time. So, if you feel inclined read on!
I’m writing this today, because this month we have been working on establishing a daily practice of letting go.
This practice is a way that you could let go of emotions that you are holding on to. Remember that letting go is not a single act, but a daily practice, so it might take some time and patience.
It’s always good to nip things in the bud, so if you can try and catch yourself getting riled or distressed.
I always encourage people to sit with their emotions, giving them adequate air time. If we push them away or deny them they generally come back to bite us in some way!
We are not our emotions or our thoughts. Both emotions and thoughts are fleeting, temporary, to use the Buddhist word, impermanent. So why attach a whole lot of meaning to them?
Being mindful of our emotions is about noticing them when they come up in a non-judgemental way. An example might be the guilt we feel when we drop our children off at child care. It can be really useful to notice the emotion and name it, to even greet it, “Hi Guilt”. Watch it visit and then watch it leave. Imagine it’s an acquaintance walking past your house. The trick is to not invite them in to stay for the weekend.
Make some gentle inquiries about the emotion.
What is the expectation (thought) behind this emotion? Is it realistic? Is it fair? Am I being kind to myself? Others?
Do we expect perfection? Do we expect ourselves to always do the right thing? Is there a perfectly right thing to do in any given circumstance?
Have we made an issue in our own mind bigger than it really is? What are the facts? Are we mind reading and imagining other people’s motives and thoughts?
Is it a situation of such injustice and inequity that you need to change?
Do not criticise yourself in this process. If you do notice yourself criticising, gently let yourself notice that too.
If your thoughts and emotions are really dominating you, then another thing you can do is to focus on how these are manifesting in your body. Ultimately our emotions land in our body, our tight shoulders and neck, the knot in our stomach, the pain in our jaw so working with our body can help us to work through our emotions.
Take your attention into your body.
Go somewhere quiet if you can.
You may like to do a body scan, taking your attention to your feet and working gradually up through your body. The way to approach this is with calm curiosity. Imagine you are looking at an unusual artefact that you have never seen or felt before. Take that level of curiosity into your investigations of your body.
Where do you feel your emotion?
What does it feel like? Is it hot? Cold? Hard? Soft?
Once you become really familiar with how your body is feeling,
take your attention to your breath.
Notice your breath in the same way you took notice of your body.
How does it feel? Is it long, short, fast, slow, hot, cold, shaky, smooth? How does it feel at your nostrils or mouth? How does the rise and fall of your chest with your breath feel?
Next, see if you can –
use your breath to release any tension in your body.
Relax the part of your body effected by the emotion with your exhalation breath.
Do this for as long as you need to.
With practice, we can get to know our emotions really well and we can watch them walk past our house more readily. We can get to know where they land in our body so we can focus on that area as soon as their presence is felt. We can catch them early, before we are in a rage or feeling really low.
If you are interested in reading more on this topic I highly recommend The Mindful Way through Depression, by Williams, Teasdale, Segal and Kabat-Zinn. It’s relevant to all challenging emotions, not just depression and goes into this topic in great depth. It also includes practical exercises and a mindfulness meditation CD. The other book, or series of books I highly recommend is the Buddhism for Mothers series by Sarah Napthali. These books touch on mindfulness are also a great introduction to Buddhist philosophy and practice.
I hope this post was helpful. I’d love it if you’d leave me a comment and let me know what you are struggling with. Alternatively, send me an email.
Have an awesome week.