In our big wide world, sadness, like all uncomfortable emotions, is seen as something that should be either got through as fast as possible or pushed away at all costs. To this end, people often go to extraordinary lengths to suppress ‘negative’ emotions such as anger, fear and grief while chasing the ‘positive’ ones of happiness and contentment. But this approach is fraught with perils and is actually the root cause of many people’s dissatisfaction with life. Life is beautiful, but painful too. You can’t have one without the other, although we desperately want it to be so.
We take this approach because we misunderstand the true nature of our emotions. They are seen as mere messages sent from the brain to the conscious mind. This leads to the mistaken belief that you can become blissfully happy by simply suppressing the bad and chasing the good. But emotions are not solid and pure entities. They are flexible entities that are both message and messenger sent from the deepest reaches of the psyche. When it comes to emotion, the medium really is the message. So in practice, if you try to suppress the message, then the dutiful messenger will keep on coming back to pester you until you have felt the emotion it is trying to convey. And each time you turn away the messenger, it will try a little harder to find another way of conveying its message.
Through the practice of yoga and meditation we can nurture the body and the mind, begin to recognise that wonderful mind of ours wondering in every direction, processing thoughts and creating stories that aren't necessarily real. This overwhelming experience is sometimes called the “monkey mind”—the perpetual, hyperactive (and often self-destructive) whirl of thoughts and feelings everyone undergoes.
So how can we learn to feel and accept all the emotions in that monkey mind?
🌿 W R I T E
When I have taught intimate workshops I often ask people to bring a notebook and pen. I have always loved writing and painting so expressing through this medium comes natural to me, often we find it hard to express ourselves verbally, or we are so good at it we create an unbalance by not knowing when to be quiet, and give ourselves time to reflect. One great way is journalling, writing it all down, personally, privately, without the need to share. Whatever pops in to your mind, write it down. Its almost as if we can start to categorise our priorities and notice the things that we have been wasting our energy on for months (ie: the stranger who didn't say thank you when you held the door for them!). Day by day we experience different situations, good, bad and unmemorable how we react to them will shape our constitution and mindset. Writing we can express and release things on our mind, whether they are overwhelming or menial. We can close the book, open it in a week and reflect on how we were feeling, or read the words straight away and suddenly have clarification or an answer for something we have been trying to focus on for weeks. Needle in a haystack? Writing gives us a connection to ourselves, without judgement and wont be hindered by other peoples opinions, just you and a pen, even if you begin to doodle its a really nice way of allowing the brain creativity and release. We don't always need a meaning or an answer for our experiences. Our physical postures in a yoga practice releases tension and pain that can be tangled up so deeply within the tissues, so giving the mind time to move, unravel and release is essential.
🌿 M E D I T A T E
Creating a meditation practice may get over looked because of the essence of time, I don't have time to do this and that, and sadly we wont even make the effort if we actually convince ourselves there are not enough hours in a day! Time is limitless, the clock doesn't stop at 00.00 its continues and the sun arrives the next morning, this beautiful rhythm of life. You don't need long if you have the right tools, as with everything in life, it takes practice. Meditation cultivates the space and gentleness that allow us intimacy with our experiences so that we can relate quite differently to our cascade of emotions and thoughts.
To help you build a meditation practice, a mindfulness practice or even through your journalling you can use these steps...
R — Recognise: It is impossible to deal with an emotion—to be resilient in the face of difficulty—unless we acknowledge that we’re experiencing it. So the first step is simply to notice what is coming up. Suppose you’ve had a conversation with a friend that leaves you feeling queasy or agitated. You don’t try to push away or ignore your discomfort. Instead, you look more closely. You might say to yourself, this feels like anger. Then this might be followed quickly by another thought: And I notice I am judging myself for being angry.
A — Acknowledge: The second step is an extension of the first—you accept the feeling and allow it to be there. Put another way, you give yourself permission to feel it. You remind yourself that you don’t have the power to successfully declare, “I shouldn’t have such hateful feelings about a friend,” or “I’ve got to be less sensitive.” Rather than trying to dismiss anger and self-judgment as “bad” or “wrong,” simply rename them as “painful.” This is the entry into self-compassion—you can see your thoughts and emotions arise and create space for them even if they are uncomfortable. You don’t take hold of your anger and fixate on it, nor do you treat it as an enemy to be suppressed. It can simply be..
I — Investigate: Now you begin to ask questions and explore your emotions with a sense of openness and curiosity. This feels quite different from when we are fuelled by obsessiveness or by a desire for answers or blame. When we’re caught up in a reaction, it’s easy to fixate on the trigger and say to ourselves, “I’m so mad because" rather than examining the emotion itself. There is so much freedom in allowing ourselves to cultivate curiosity and move closer to a feeling, rather than away from it. We might explore how the feeling manifests itself in our bodies and also look at what the feeling contains. Many strong emotions are actually intricate tapestries woven of various strands. Anger, for example, commonly includes moments of sadness, helplessness, and fear. As we get closer to it, an uncomfortable emotion becomes less opaque and solid. We focus less on labelling the discomfort and more on gaining insight. Again, we do not wallow, nor do we repress. Remember that progress doesn’t mean that the negative emotions don’t come up. It’s that instead of feeling hard as steel, they become gauzy, transparent, and available for investigation.
N — Non-identify: Consciously avoid being defined by (identified with) a particular feeling, even as we may engage with it. Feeling emotions with a particular person, a particular situation is very different from telling yourself, “I have no patience, time and energy” You permit yourself to see your own feelings, your own fear, your own emotions—whatever is there—and instead of spiralling down into judgment you can make a gentle observation, This opens the door to a compassionate relationship with yourself, which is the real foundation of a compassionate relationship with others.
We cannot force what thoughts and feelings arise in us. But we can recognise them as they are—sometimes recurring, sometimes frustrating, sometimes filled with fantasy, many times painful, always changing. By allowing ourselves this simple recognition, we begin to accept that we will never be able to control our experiences, but that we can transform our relationship to them. This changes everything.
Mindfulness practice isn’t meant to eliminate thinking but aims rather to help us know what we’re thinking when we’re thinking it, just as we want to know what we’re feeling when we’re feeling it.
Mindfulness allows us to watch our thoughts, see how one thought leads to the next, decide if we’re heading toward an unhealthy path, and if so, let go and change directions. It allows us to see that who we are is much more than a fearful or envious or angry thought. We can rest in the awareness of the thought, in the compassion we extend to ourselves if the thought makes us uncomfortable, and in the balance and good sense we summon as we decide whether and how to act on the thought.
Meditation is like going into an old attic room and turning on the light. In that light we see everything—the beautiful treasures we’re grateful to have unearthed; the dusty, neglected corners that inspire us to say, “I’d better clean that up”; the unfortunate relics of the past that we thought we had gotten rid of years ago. We acknowledge them all, with an open, spacious, and loving awareness.
It’s never too late to turn on the light. Your ability to break an unhealthy habit or turn off an old tape doesn’t depend on how long it’s been running; a shift in perspective doesn’t depend on how long you’ve held the old view. When you flip the switch in that attic, it doesn’t matter whether it’s been dark for 10 minutes, 10 years, or 10 decades. The light still illuminates the room and banishes the murkiness, letting you see things you couldn’t see before. It’s never too late to take a moment to look.