Day 24 of 30: Challenging Emotions
All emotions may be messages about what is important to you, but not all emotions are equal in their sensations. Let’s face it – some emotions can be more challenging than others. By ‘challenging’ I mean:
- the sensations feel more uncomfortable to experience
- the urge to react to them feels more compelling
- it seems harder to let them go
For most people, the more challenging ones may include fear, anger, disappointment, and loneliness. Think back to your recent experiences of these emotions. Which ones are harder for you? Or are there other emotions that are also challenging to you too? One of the beautiful realizations about being human is that we are all similar, we are all made of the same stuff, but we are all unique too. Lovely!
Why sit and be with challenging emotions on purpose?!?
Your practice of sitting with emotional experiences is a foundation practice. It will help you in so many ways, including practicing:
- Pausing and noticing when emotional experiences arise – the sooner you notice their onset, the better, before they grow in their intensity to ‘get your attention’
- Welcoming emotions as messengers of messages about what is important to you
- Decoupling the feelings of urgency and compulsion from acting on them (in this practice, intentionally you do as little as possible, unless of course you choose to end the practice because it becomes more uncomfortable than you’re up for at the time)
- Learning about the felt senses of challenging emotions, and decoupling the sensations from your thoughts
I remember one of the first times I sat with fear in my meditation practice many years ago and a thought arose in my mind “I will surely die if I do not do something to stop these feelings.” I was shocked. I was certain that this thought was not a new part of my repertoire. It had been arising in my experiences of fear, even thought this time was the first time I was aware of it consciously.
When sensations and thoughts combine into one interweaving experience, with both fueling each other, your emotional experience feels much more overwhelming. When you focus attention only on the felt sense of fear, disappointment, or other forms of upset, you may be surprised at your experiences. Some reflections I have had when sitting with ‘challenging emotions’ have included:
- “This is not so bad.”
- “I can cope.”
- “The sensations are kind of interesting.”
- “I don’t have words to describe the complexity of these sensations.”
- “Being with these sensations is creating energy in me.”
Let’s give it a try. Before we do, a quick reminder that this practice is yours. With challenging emotions, please know that you are in control of your practice. Pause or stop whenever you wish. Or seek out a qualified teacher or mentor if you need additional support.
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 loneliness. Practicing with challenging emotions, it is important at first to select an experience in which the intensity of the emotion at the time was low to moderate. Selecting an experience in which you felt high intensity emotions at the time could stimulate more overwhelming emotions now than is productive for a practice. (You don’t start your first tennis lesson on center court with Roger Federer, right?!?)
- Once you have selected one recent experience of loneliness, set your timer and then practice calm focus meditation until you notice your concentration deepens.
- When you notice a shift into a more calm focused state, please direct your awareness to remembering the recent experience in which you felt loneliness. Imagine it in as much detail as possible until the feelings of loneliness arise in you now.
- As you notice the feelings of loneliness, first say “Hello” to them. Welcome them. Silently ask the feelings, “What do you have to tell me?”
- After greeting the loneliness, rest your attention on your bodily sensations for a few minutes. Savor them. 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? Do the sensations create a sense of energy or do they feel draining?
- After sitting with these feelings for a few minutes, please turn your attention to watching your thoughts. Please don’t give any one thought energy by pursuing it. A thought arises, notice it, and then let it go.
- After a few minutes observing your thoughts, the invitation is to direct your thoughts to self-compassion by following a sequence such as:
a) Saying to yourself silently “This is loneliness. I feel lonely now.”
b) Continue on silently “It is okay to feel lonely. It is a natural and normal part of being human.”
c) To get to the root of the loneliness without getting fixed on the particular circumstances of your scenario: “I understand why I am feeling embarrassment. Being known and experiencing companionship is important to me. Yes, I want to be in the presence of other people.”
d) Comfort yourself with something in the spirit of “It feels uncomfortable to feel lonely. Hang in there. These uncomfortable feelings will pass. Everyone feels lonely sometimes.” or whatever is true for you.
- As time permits, once you have completed the explorations above, return to resting your awareness on the felt sensations of your belly while breathing.
Loneliness is a unique one because of its message that you value the presence of other people. In this case, there’s no one else around. You are your companion. You are a warm loving presence.
Loneliness can be a feeling that compels action strongly: Picking up your phone to send a text. Picking up your phone to check email or social media. Calling friends and family. Is there another response to loneliness? What is your experience when you try self-compassion?
If you’d like, please offer what you learned about challenging emotions 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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