By Jonathan Kaplan, Ph.D.
So, in this 3rd week of the Meditation Challenge, we're being asked to bring mindfulness to our emotions. This can be quite a joyful or aversive practice, depending on the feelings that we're experiencing. For example, if we're feeling happy, becoming aware of the lightness in our bodies, the pleasant thoughts, and the opening of our hearts can feel wonderful. Similarly, if we're feeling sad, we can attend to the sensations of heaviness, the depressing thoughts, and the hard-heartedness that might be present. The challenge, of course, is to allow ourselves to feel and notice these inner experiences without being hooked-by them. We simply continue to be present and aware.
Professionally, I encourage my patients to practice mindfulness relative to their unwanted feelings. It allows them to recognize and honor their emotional experiences, while reducing defensiveness and avoidance. Of course, it's not easy. Asking someone to "go into fear" is, naturally, scary. However, there is wisdom to be discovered. Many epiphanies are possible, such as "emotions come and go," "no feeling will kill me," or "this feeling is familiar." While such realizations might seem obvious intellectually, it is very different to have a "felt experience" of them. It makes them more real, and paradoxically less substantial. As we grasp the true nature of these emotional experiences, it becomes easier to let them go. Psychological researchers identify this process as "desensitization" or "habituation"--repeated exposure to an undesirable feeling allows us to grow accustomed it.
Tonight, I practiced Sharon's meditation on emotions, which is a nice entry point to the practice. Following her guidance, I simply allowed myself to notice my arising emotions, returning lightly to my breath as an anchoring point periodically. How is your meditation coming along?