As we deepen in our capacity to be present in our lives, we can use our contemplative and centring practises such as yoga and meditation to understand our emotions. Through guiding courses for over 25 years, I have noticed students discover this to be the most profound aspect of meditation. Emotions are complex manifestations we all experience. When we get a handle on them and read their relevant messages, it is a revelation and life changing.
To turn towards emotional states, we need to let them be felt. This is exactly what we are scared of doing because emotional states can feel as if they will overwhelm and harm us. Through numerous scientific studies over the past twenty years, it has been discovered when we somatically sense emotions, it de-escalates their intensity and brings a cognitive resolution sooner.
When turning our attention towards emotional states, we are being asked to experience discomfort and unease with curiosity and intelligence. We are touching our « Hookedness », the ways we are reactive in unskillful ways. How this hooked pattern developed in us could be because of our culture, schooling, family dynamics, learning, habits and lack of knowledge. This being hooked is called Shenpa in the Tibetan buddhist traditions. When we acknowledge this hookedness or being stuck in over-reactivity, we are on the path of emotional intelligence. Try these next meditations and see how they help you connect with your emotional states.
Create a space to be fully present with your experience.
Whether you have 10 minutes or an hour, gift yourself a set amount of time to check-in and sense your body. Emotions always have a physiological response. So when we feel our bodies, we begin the connection to our emotions. Many times somatic scanning will de-escalate emotional storms.
Start by turning off your devices, computer and phone. Find a quiet place where you won’t be distracted or interrupted. Then, either sit or lay down. Get as comfortable as you can.
Next do a body scan. Observe how your body feels in the present moment. Kindly and patiently turn your awareness to the sensations of your body.
Notice where does your body touches the ground. Bring attention to where can you tangibly connect with your breath in your body? Does it feel at ease or tense? Agitated or calm? Is it short or long? Does it feel stuck somewhere in the body? Are there any muscles that are sore or tight? Bring kind curiosity to these sensations. These sensations are your body taking care of itself. As you stay with the sensations, notice the subtle changes or internal movements unfolding. This body scan can be your meditation for several sessions or over many years.
Next, simply breath.
Follow you breath in and out. To calm and lower your blood pressure, emphasize being aware of the exhalation.
If you are new to meditation, it will be normal for your mind to wander to thinking and reacting modes. You task in this meditation is to catch when you are in thinking mode as soon as possible. Name « thinking » gently so you do not make a big deal about it. Then, redirect your awareness to your breath again. It is normal to do this a hundred times in one practice session. We just have very active minds. You want to know this without criticizing this pattern.
When you can do the the simple Breath meditation for 5 minutes, then count your breath. As you breath in count 1, as you breath out count 1. Then as you breath in count 2, as you breath out count 2. Continue in this pattern until you reach 10. Is you loose count at anytime, restart at count 1. This concentration game will take time to master. But once you do, you will notice it is easier to collect your awareness, focus it on your breath and use the right amount of effort to reset your attention on your breath.
If you want to go further, have a conversation with your emotions that arise in your body.
Once you have created an intentional space to be with your body sensations, you can move onto the next stage of being with your emotions. After you do your body scan and feel how it calms you, take a few deep breaths and feel deeper into your body. When you feel ready, you can ask your body a few questions. This will take time and a leap of faith. Rest assured, your body will responds to your questions in curious ways.
You can ask, « Body, what wants my awareness now? », or « What emotions need my attention and kindness? », or « What do you, the body, need right now? » You can be creative in your inquiry. Then, give space to listen and feel what unfolds.
The response may be a sensation or feeling. It could also be a voice or an image. The language of the body can be subtle. It helps to be patient, kind and curious, like you would with a child. This can be challenging at the beginning, but with practice it becomes easier to listen inwards.
You may find it helpful is to keep a meditation dairy. Write down whatever your body shares and offers. Then read it back to yourself and receive the insight.
Receive the body’s response with compassion and loving kindness.
Notice if there are judgements or resistance in response to what the body is expressing. It is helpful to bring a quality of compassion, care and love to whatever is coming up. Being gentle towards the body and emotional state expressed through it, can help to ease the tension or resistance. Welcome the pain, pleasure or emotions as they are. With acceptance and compassion, they will be understood and released over time and inquiry. With increased understanding, the intelligence of how to respond to them will arise.
When feeling overwhelmed with emotions, it’s normal to want to temporarily escape them by doing things that might diminish the intensity. Be kind with yourself. Give yourself the permission to take a break from the emotional state. Sometimes it can be helpful to choose to do something else which brings lightness, laughter or perspective.
Yet, be on alert, if you are avoiding your emotions all the time. This can be a sign of emotional bypassing which is avoiding feelings which are uncomfortable. Whatever it is that you do to respond to the overwhelming feelings, you can reflect on how it is supporting you. Signs that you are making emotional progress is that you experience that you can be with your emotions and accompanying sensations for more and more time. Another sign of emotional intelligence is that you see that your emotions are momentary, impermanent and circumstantial. They only arise with specific causes and conditions. Yet, another sign of emotional intelligence is that you recognize that you are not alone in experiencing difficult emotional states.
Ask for help.
With difficult emotional states, it can feel as if we are in the middle of a tornado – spinning around and around in our thoughts, without knowing which way is up or down. Asking someone we trust for support can be a wise way to stop the spinning. Their presence, perspective, suggestions and love ground us. Their friendship opens us to the medicine of compassion.
I hope these practices help you work with your emotional states with kindness and intelligence. May you take the time each day to sit, breath, sense and attune.
If you want to attend my next guided Mindfulness Meditation course on January 8th, 2023, here is the course information. Click Presence and Action – a 6 week course on Mindfulness, Meditation and Working with our Reactive States.
In Metta, Allison Ulan