Once we’ve gained some stability in working with our mind and with the thoughts and sensations that arise, we’ll notice that they can come and go rapidly, and that given some space and distance, they’ll disappear back into the landscape of the mind.
But, what about emotions? Strong emotions can feel like tidal waves, washing over us, knocking us from any sense of stability that we may have around our meditation practice.
I know that when I feel strong anger or fear, all of the meditation practice that I’ve ever done can be challenged, and one moment’s instant of strong emotions can leave me doubtful in its wake.
Emotions are the hard-wiring, feeling-based connection that we keep with the rest of the world. They’re what tells us when we need to flee or fight. They’re what we use to survive. That’s kind of why they’re there; they’re evolutionary. It’s our emotions that tell us that there’s danger, “Oh, saber tooth tiger…run!!”
The problem is, we no longer encounter saber-tooth tigers but our survival response is still hard at work, although in the present case, it’s more like, “Oh, fight with spouse (or partner)…run!” Or, “fight!” Or, whatever.
Do we want to extinguish our emotional responses? Can’t that leave us open to dangers and threats to our integrity?
The key points here are:
1) For most of us, actual threats to our body are very, very rare. Yet, we still go about our lives in ways that appear as though we are protecting our very lives when we encounter threats. These “threats” can be criticism of our work, judgement about our parenting, or even someone taking the parking spot that we thought was “ours.”
2) Even if our very life is in danger, our emotional response, without using logic and reasoning, can lead us into the very danger that we are hoping to avoid. In fact, presence of mind during an emergency can be learned through meditation, helping us to rid ourselves of reactive patterns which may be detrimental to the situation.
Okay, so how do we work with our emotions? Before we decide to jump into the deep end, it makes sense to practice in an environment where there are fewer “dangers” in the event that we can’t work with a particular emotion.
Try this: set aside some time to meditate. Begin working with your breath (please see the links below and other materials that are provided for learning how to work with the breath). Once you’re stable in being able to return to the breath, remember a time or incident when you’ve reacted with anger, fear, jealousy…pick one! Let this emotional state reside within your body for some time.
Let yourself get into the emotional state, remembering your thoughts, allowing your thoughts to arise, feeling how your body feels, but always remaining aware of your breath and returning to it as an anchor if the emotion takes you off into stories or overwhelm. Practice like this, in short periods, remembering to come back to your breath as soon as you find yourself distracted by the emotion.
If you find yourself overwhelmed with your choice of event or emotion, for goodness sake – drop it! This isn’t about subjecting yourself to difficult emotions; it’s about learning how to work with them. If you find that you’ve chosen something that’s too hard to work with, use a different one.
KEY POINT TO REMEMBER: Even the thoughts that arise when you’re experiencing a strong emotion can be material to work with!!
Once you’ve gained some confidence in being able to work with your emotions, see how well you can work with them when they arise in different situations. Even if you can’t control your emotions, even if you still respond in your habitual ways, see if you can remember that you’re in wrapped up in your emotions. The fact that you’re aware of your emotions is a great start!
For full scripts to working with the thoughts, senses and emotions, stay tuned for the new ebook, Working with the Four Distractions, coming out in the next few weeks. In the meantime, please feel free to download the ebook, Can Meditation Change the Way that You View Your World? It’s got lots of handy hints and tips to meditate and working with the mind.
For working with the breath, you can download: Riding the Breath With the Mind
As always, feel free to leave a comment on this site, or contact me directly if you have any questions or would like to see other topics presented.
In the next post we’ll address Challenge Number Four: Sleepiness!
This site has tons of tools for learning how to meditate and be compassionate.
I encourage you to look through the HUNDREDS of articles that I’ve written and especially check out my weekly meditation tips and other useful meditation materials provided for your health and well being. Please let me know if you’d like to discuss anything with me, have any questions or need clarification regarding anything that I’ve written about.
Other Great Meditation Resources and Information:
Please view the Related Stuff below for help getting started in your meditation practice! Also don’t forget to download my free e-book, Can Meditation Change the Way that You View Your World? and download the free e-book, How to Work with the Four Distractions to Meditation and get started learning how to deal with some of the major obstacles in meditation.