Day 20 of 30: The Messages of Emotions
I recall reading Craig Ferguson’s American By Choice in which he writes:
“…fear may be God’s way of saying ‘Pay attention, this could be fun.'”
How you orient towards an emotional experience can make all the difference. What, if anything, shifts when you notice an emotional experience and choose the orientation “Thank you! I got the message. Something may be happening to effect something that is important to me.”?
Note: That ‘something‘ that is happening could be either external or internal. For example, sometimes what is calling for attention is an item from your past experience or something you’re imagining for your future.
You can check this out for yourself to see how it fits with your experience: In some cultures today, people are taught that some emotions are ‘bad.’ Sadness, anger, jealousy and others. At the same time, we’re taught not to embrace the so-called ‘positive’ emotions either! “Don’t get too comfortable”, a caregiver might say to you or (more powerfully) model for you, “if you get too complacent, then you might forget to be vigilant for the bad things that might happen to you.”
An alternative approach for your consideration: What if the emotional experiences are neither good nor bad, emotions are calls for your attention?
Something may be important to you right now. I highlighted ‘may‘ because what initiates an emotional experience include a wide variety of evolutionarily-older systems that are vigilant for even crude matches to patterns. That’s one of the many reasons reasons why meditation is so valuable: When you notice an emotional experience arising, you can check it out: “Is there something happening that is important to me?” Occasionally, the answer may be “no.”
Other valuable skills developed during your intentional exploration of emotional experience during meditation include:
- Notice your emotional experience early, before it may become overwhelming, (in some cases) ‘hi-jacking’ the resources of your evaluation and choice
- Practice saying hello to your emotional experiences and welcoming them as messages
- Develop regulation of your bodily experiences of emotions by getting to know their felt-senses. When you get to know how they feel in your body and can distinguish those sensations from your thoughts about them, often an important shift happens
- Learn about your thought patterns that accompany respective emotions and their tendencies to inspire action, to deny or ignore that anything is happening, to blame others, et cetera
- Pause, to break the link between the emotion and your habitual reactions that no longer serve you, so you can choose how to respond instead
Let’s keep practicing …
The invitation to you is to do a little prep before your meditation practice today. If you’re up for it, think of a recent experience in which you felt frustration.
- Once you have selected one recent experience of frustration, set your timer and then practice calm focus meditation until you notice your concentration deepen.
- When you notice a shift into a more calm focused state, please direct your awareness to remembering the recent experience in which you felt frustration. Imagine it in as much detail as possible until the sensations of frustration arise in you now.
- As you notice the frustration, first say “Hello” to it. Welcome it. “What do you have to tell me?”
- After greeting the frustration, rest your attention on your bodily sensations for a few minutes. Where do you feel them in your body? What are the felt senses of these feelings? Do you notice any shift in the feelings over time as you pay attention to them?
- After sitting with these feelings for a few minutes, please turn your attention to your thoughts. I invite you to watch them. Please don’t give any one thought energy by pursuing it. A thought arises, notice it, and then let it go. Do you notice any patterns?
- After a few minutes observing your thoughts, the invitation is to direct your thoughts by asking yourself a few times: “What is this frustration trying to tell me? What is its important message?” Sit with that questions for a bit. The general message of frustration is about control, such as the form of “I feel frustration when I feel impeded to ____ .” Try filling in the blank specifically for this recent experience. Then one more time, only this time adding a reason. “I feel frustration when I feel impeded to ____ because I have a need for _______ .” (Example: “I feel frustration when I feel impeded to learn a new language because I have a need for growth.” Notice in this example that there is no blame or judgment about the situation. It just is the case that I observe my recent struggle to learn a language and frustration arises). If time permits, continue on repeating the question and answers to see if there is any more to be understood about the reasons for your experience of frustration and what is important to you.
Lots of words and steps above. Don’t worry too much if it today’s meditation did not unfold exactly as outlined above. If you found it challenging, I encourage you to make time to return to it a second time once you feel more comfortable with the steps above.
If you’d like, please offer what you learned about the experience of frustration and your relationship to it in today’s practice by sharing in the comments below. Please raise awareness of this content by sharing it using the social media icons adjacent to it. Please reach out to me if I can support you.
See you tomorrow!
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The Guest House by Rumi
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each as been sent
as a guide from beyond.