December 28, 2016

The Power of Sitting with our Emotions: Tips for Meditation Practice.

Social media provides a perfect place to show how happy we are all the time.

Except this isn’t really true, is it?

Social media perpetuates an impossible goal: to feel happy and content all the time.

The Buddha found four noble truths about life. 

The first noble truth: life has suffering.

For someone who always looks so calm and cheerful in his statues, this seems like a pretty pessimistic statement.

However, it’s undeniable, we will come across suffering in our life—illness, death, loss. This is a fact.

No matter how much money we collect, no matter how much botox we have, no matter how much yoga or how much devotional singing we do, we will have times of struggle.

Many of today’s paths encourage a complete disengagement of all negative state of mind, replacing them with love, positivity and devotion at all times.

The irony is, when we don’t acknowledge the presence of so-called negative feelings we are just as bound to them and they completely overpower us.

Buddhism recognizes a need to be free from destructive emotions while realizing that freedom comes through nonjudgmental awareness of the emotions we seek freedom from.

By acknowledging our emotions we see how porous and fleeting they really are.

The second Noble Truth: the cause of suffering is due to our reactions—clinging or aversion.

The Buddha believes that we usually react in two ways to stimulus.

When a sensation is pleasant, we usually cling to it, hold onto it and want more, believing this nice feeling will bring us happiness, since pleasures help us take our minds off our issues.

The elated feeling we get when we receive a like on our Instagram photo or Facebook status or the sense of pleasure we feel when purchasing new things often comes with a price of addiction, which then increases our feeling of dissatisfaction further.

Please note, Buddhism doesn’t encourage the rejection of pleasurable experiences, just our attachment to them as sources of ultimate pleasure.

If a sensation feels uncomfortable we often push it away, as we can’t tolerate the discomfort.

For example, let’s say I experience the emotion of loneliness in my chest. This sensation is uneasy and unpleasant, and from a lifetime of aversion to these kinds of sensations I am moved to act. I run away from feeling this discomfort and pushing it down further, hoping it goes away.

To escape the unpleasant emotion, I open the fridge and take out a pot of ice cream. I eat the whole tub to repress the emotion. It leaves me feeling physically ill, possibly guilty and full of judgment—and guess what? The feeling of loneliness will return because it was never dealt with or acknowledged.

Even something as simple as boredom can create this reaction. When I have a sensation of restlessness in my body, it is too overwhelming for me to deal with so I check my phone. I repeat this habit day after day. After I have repeated this pattern a few times, it becomes engrained in my behavior so I don’t even know why I’m constantly checking my phone anymore.

This is the unfortunate mindless behavior we all partake in and create habitual patterns where we cling to nice feelings or suppress feelings of discomfort.

The third noble truth is the realization of our behaviors and the possibility to be free from them.

Finally, some optimism.

Pain is inescapable, but suffering is a state of mind.

Bringing awareness into our life helps us have a mind full of nowness.

This is so liberating.

This is a life-changing experience and best of all, we naturally do it all the time.

One of the most empowering pieces of information one can observe is the realization that no emotions neither good or bad but merely energy in motion that we can fully experience without necessarily acting on.

Too often we react immediately from an emotion, not realizing we have a choice whether to react or not. 

It is not cheating ourselves to experience an emotion and not act on it.

When we start to sit with our emotions we realize that they are much more porous than we imagined.

Loneliness may have seemed scary and rigid before, but it softens when we sit and shine our light of awareness on it. Paradoxically, this welcoming awareness is what helps release the emotion.

We think things need to change in order to feel okay, but letting go to how things are is a huge change inside us. Letting go of how everything should be helps us awaken to life’s possibilities.

The fourth noble truth consists of the eightfold path, which gives us the tools to walk the path of continuous openness. 

This eightfold path consists of wise view, wise intention, wise speech, wise thought, wise mindfulness, wise livelihood, wise concentration, wise effort and wise action.

There is an emphasis on  wise intention, wise effort and wise mindfulness as they are essential for the others to happen.

Wise view helps me see ones actions, to mindfully investigate them, loosen them and choose how I want to respond rather than reacting mindlessly to an emotion.

Wise effort helps us to see that this isn’t a simple or easy path. If we have walked the same path through a forest our whole lives, it is extremely difficult to go off the path and through the weeds and bushes the first few times. But after a while, it gets easier. This is the same with our behavior, and as we form new neural pathways our brain adapts and what once seemed difficult now becomes natural. We need diligent and sustained effort to overcome our habitual patterns. But by continued daily effort we start to see the profound effects on our behavior and therefore all the relationships in our lives.

Wise mindfulness helps us to examine and see the nature of everything as it really is.

Everything in nature comes and goes. As do our mental states and emotions. Wise mindfulness helps us have an awareness of change. Understanding the impermanence of each moment helps us build a precious intimacy with life. To know each emotion is a passing state means that all can be looked at and appreciated. To sit inside the wholeness of emotions such as anger or fear and not act on them is a fascinating and powerful experience.

Mindfulness of Emotions Meditation. (12 minutes.)

1) Find a quiet place to sit in a comfortable position.

2) Close your eyes, if this feels okay, and send your awareness to the entrance of the nostrils. Without controlling the breath, start to feel the breath naturally coming in and out. Not controlling, just feeling. When the mind wanders bring it back to the breath without judgment.

3) Start to notice how you feel.

Use these two categories to define most feelings:

Clinging: attachment to pleasant feelings, pleasant memories or fantasies.

Aversion: avoiding any part of the current experience, discomfort, restlessness.

Silently in the mind label what is present without judgment.(i.e.: “I feel discomfort,” and then come back to the breath.)

4) Continue to do this for the rest of the meditation. If the mind is wandering too much, stay with the breath until you feel more grounded and repeat.

5) After the meditation, sit for a few minutes with the eyes closed and check in with how you are feeling. What is your mood and has your mind slowed down at all?

Repeat this meditation every day for 12 minutes. I practice it at the end of every day before bed without exception.

Creating a habit is the hardest part. No matter what kind of day I’ve had, I still sit.

We tend to act mindlessly from our emotions. We react to anger or fear.

When we start this meditation we realize that:

Emotions aren’t as scary as we once thought. They are fleeting. As with everything in nature, they come and go.

We don’t have to act from them. We aren’t cheating ourselves to sit with an emotion.

When we allow and hold emotion we empower ourselves. We have a choice whether or not to act. This is a life-changing discovery—one I wish all of you experience.


Author: Luke Bache

Image: flickr/Lucy Maude Ellis

Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

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