Mindfulness tools for dealing with emotions
As a younger woman I was challenged to be with emotions in a healthy way. I vasillated between not feeling any emotion – either positive or negative – residing mostly in my mind; and finding myself drowning in stormy sea of difficult emotions, reactive and at the whim of my emotions.
We are either overly identified with emotions, both positive and negative, allowing them to rule us and our perception of relationships and life itself; or we tend to disconnect from our emotional life, and subconsciously shut down our feeling experience. We often see this in the business world where mental strength is king and emotions are perceived of as having little value in decision making, communication and even strength of character. But closing off from feelings is a limited strategy, there is a cost to denying this natural part of your character. You cant suppress just the painful feelings, your system isn’t wired that way, it’s the same heart that feels both pleasurable and painful emotions.
However there is a healthy middle ground where we are not falling victim to our emotions, nor are we stuck in suppressing the emotional self. This is about connecting to the “observer”, the part of you that is able to notice emotions, just as we notice clouds in the sky, and experience them for what they are – energy arising in the body – which may give information about unmet needs, what’s occuring below the surface of the conscious thinking mind, or changing states within the body’s physiology, or even the nervous system response to repetitive thinking patterns.
Emotions are a powerful social signal, that in many people stimulate reactivity, but through mindfulness practice we learn to rest in the “observer” and begin to notice emotions, receive the information they offer, and then respond (rather than react). In this way the rational thinking mind and the emotional self work together. We call this “making friends with feelings” or disidentification, and it is a natural by product of mindfulness practice as well as being a skill you can cultivate.
Emotions/feelings are impermanent, they rise and they fall away. Human experience without emotion is dull and lifeless, yet we must not make emotions the master of us. Making friends with feelings is a powerful approach that can shift you from being a victim of your emotional life, to being captain of the ship, with all parts of the psyche working together.