Working with Emotions…

by meditative - April 5th, 2016

In our formal meditation practice- as we sit in our ‘breathing space’, feeling the breath, feeling sensations in the body, we can be aware of different emotions as they arise in our direct observing experience. There might be the feeling of happiness or sadness; there might be the feeling of joy or anger. We might feel quite light or buoyant. We might feel heavy or despairing.

Whatever the emotional state, it can be opened into, noticed, acknowledged, and let go. The practice is to be aware of any arising emotional states without identifying with them- not taking them to be “I” or “self” or “mine”, but seeing them simply as a stream of experience arising out of conditions. With our own inner capacity for mindsight- this free attention & open awareness- we may see them lasting for some time, changing, disappearing in the form of sensations in the body; or particular thoughts or images associated with the emotion; or as a certain texture or coloration of the mind. Each emotion has its own particular ‘flavor’, the flavor of sadness or happiness or joy or love or anger. Our intention here is to openly and curiously explore all of these aspects to be this way or that way- to react this way or that way.

In working with emotion in our practice, it’s important to first recognize what it is. Here, it can be very helpful to use mental noting to bring forth clear recognition, this is happiness, this is sadness, this is loneliness, this is excitement, this is interest, this is boredom, etc. Clear recognition can be very helpful. If other thoughts arise and associate with this naming process, simply practice again and again to the simple ‘naming’ of them.

When an emotion arises strongly in our experience, it’s useful to notice the different aspects of it. Feel the specific sensations in the body as best you can. Is there heat? Is the body contracted? Is it open? Is it soft? Notice whether there are particular images or thoughts associated with the emotion, and notice the ‘mind flavor’ of the particular feeling. As best we can, it becomes deeply meaningful and revealing to try and open to the subtleties in the mind and body as each of these feelings arises.

At times we may not be able to clearly recognize what the emotion is. No need to agonize over the absence of revelation, we can simply open to the feeling with the general note of ‘feeling’ or ’emotion’ until what it is becomes clearer.

Once we recognize and acknowledge then we need to accept, if possible. Here, there is often a tendency to resist or deny certain emotions, particularly if they’re unpleasant. There are certain emotions that we don’t like to feel. These can be different for each of us. In our practice, it’s important to recognize what’s arising and be accepting of whatever it is. It is acceptance that conditions our capacity for non-identification with our emotional states, and this contemplative practice of repeatedly seeing & letting be… seeing & letting go. These states are simply phenomena of mind- arising out of conditions and then passing away. They are non-personal with no one behind the emotion to whom it is happening.

Working with our feeling states is a real effort early in our practice. We are habitually conditioned to personalize and identify with our emotions. Quite often, we become so enmeshed in their presence that we cannot discern ourselves to be anything more. Mind training and cultivating our own mindsight of open awareness and free attention to see things clearly- as they are– has real power to transform us- and to liberate us from the avoidance or attachment we often experience with our emotions.