Downtime associated with being emotional can range from minor (and a little irritating like when you get upset while driving and it affects your mood for a few minutes) to debilitating (depression that can last for weeks or more). Meditation is the most effective and most natural way to curtail time spent in lousy moods.
The question was posed to me recently whether the idea is to adopt rational thinking as a way to discredit emotions. Absolutely not! Emotions have incredible value. If we discredit them and quickly seek out a rational solution, there is a risk of suppressing feelings that are important.
In reality, we explore and validate the emotions fully. This is done once we have relaxed and entered into the meditation state.
As a quick reminder, when seeking to meditate, take the necessary time to relax using deep breathing, a body relaxation technique (such as doing a body scan) and then a check in with the thoughts coming up. Be conscious in clearing away aspects of the day that might try to dominate your thoughts and thus your meditation session.
When you can feel your body settling into that pleasant, somewhat heavy feeling and your mind is less active, direct your focus to your feelings. We will walk through an example to show you the difference between discrediting emotions (not recommended) and thoroughly processing them.
Let’s consider someone who is distressed due to receiving bad news about her romantic relationship. A woman has learned that her boyfriend, who has been a little distant lately has suggested taking a break so they can see other people. This issue has come up before for her in a prior relationship and in the end, it led to a painful breakup.
If the woman chose the route of turning to rationalizing her feelings, she might decide that really there is no major threat. Her boyfriend said everything is fine but he wants to make sure he can commit long term so wants to date a few others before doing so.
In this approach, she agrees to his proposal and each time anxiety or fears surface, she turns to her rational explanation and convinces herself that things will be fine.
This is really a terrible approach in most instances for the simple reason that the feelings of anxiety, worry, dread etc have not been honored. Instead of considering that the feelings may contain an important message (ie. ‘something isn’t right here’), she has averted her attention by discrediting the emotions in favor of a rational explanation.
Yes, there is a chance that her relationship will return to the level of closeness she desires but I would say chances are slim. By discrediting the emotion, there is no exploration nor responsibility taken as to why her boyfriend is requesting the break. it is always a wise move to assume you have some responsibility in situations that are emotionally disruptive.
If someone sought me out for counseling with this predicament, my recommendation would be to meditate specifically on their feelings, to honor and validate their fears and notice where their mind tended to go.
Let’s say her meditation yielded the following feedback;
“Once I got settled in, I immediately felt panic. it was intense. I was brought back to when things fell apart with Alan 4 years ago. it was horrible. About 2 years into the relationship, he casually suggested a break in which we could see other people. I told him that was of no interest to me and he kind of agreed that it was the same for him. Yet in order that we know we were really right for each other, he thought it would be a good test.
“He assured me that a month or 2 would probably be all he needed and then we’d be back together and stronger than ever. I agreed but I had a bad feeling about it. I of course didn’t date anyone but he was quickly dating a girl. Three weeks later, he broke up with me with the explanation that he didn’t think we were right for each other. I was devastated.
“The possibility of this happening again is causing me to intense anxiety.”
Despite the apparent disruption, this is a vital part of processing emotions. Step 1 is to relax and let the emotions reveal their full intensity. Take ownership of the feelings. Even though the feelings are quite uncomfortable, owning them fully allows them to begin to subside.
Think of your emotions as having a message. If we receive the message, the emotions can begin to calm down. In our example, the message is “I’m panicking because I’m afraid my boyfriend might leave me just like what happened in my last relationship.”
By acknowledging the full force of the emotion, we can move on to step 2 which is receiving the message. And having received the message, we can then (and only then) shift to our reasoning mind.
Shifting to the reasoning mind is different than rationalizing away the emotion. A reasonable thought process in this kind of situation may sound like, “Ok, so why might my boyfriend want to initiate this kind of break? Is he unhappy? Is he attracted to someone else? Am I doing something that that is causing him to feel trapped or suffocated?”
Having owned the emotion means we can enter into this kind of thinking and not be consumed in the feelings. It does take practice because the more intense feelings will try to dominate the meditation and possibly suggest a very dark narrative.
When I say a dark narrative, I mean the temptation to project the worst possible outcome and thus ramp up the emotions even harder. This results in a super dark emotional state which can be even harder to emerge from.
Using meditation as a way to process the emotion will help you avoid those kinds of rabbit holes. True, the reality may be unpleasant. If some of her hunches are accurate, nothing is to be gained by ignoring the feelings. The best thing she can do is likely communicate her concerns and hope her boyfriend is willing to talk honestly about what he is feeling.
In this way, there is a chance they can mend things before too much damage is done. Of course it is possible that her boyfriend has his sights on someone else and is trying to craftily maneuver himself out of his current relationship in which case, there might not be much that she can do.
Meditation thus is not a fix-all process. It is a way to examine and contemplate the situations in your life in a mature and methodical way. Ignoring negative feelings and developing a convenient way to ‘rationalize them away’ can have disastrous results.
It is recommended that a person develop the habit of processing emotions. Think of food processing. We take raw elements and take them through a process that yields edible food. Processing emotions means taking the raw feelings and reaching mature and reasonable conclusions which fuel smart actions.
Learning to process emotions while in meditation takes practice especially if this is a brand new idea. Remember these steps;
- Honor the emotion and sit with it first and foremost.
- Validate and own the feelings to their fullest (ie. I’m definitely really angry right now!’
- Begin to explore when you started feeling as you do and what is the likely cause.
- Having identified the cause, move into a more reasonable mind set (granted, this takes practice as it can be tempting to become even more emotional at this point in the meditation)
- Begin to meditate upon mature and reasonable courses of action. Remember that just meditating is not going to resolve difficult situations but consciously examining things can lead to good ideas.
- Review your options and see how each of them feel.
- Make a decision as to what you will do and once your meditation is finished, act promptly if appropriate.