Day 20 Meditation
Working with emotions in our meditation practice sharpens our ability to recognize a feeling just as it begins, not fifteen consequential actions later. We can then go on to develop a more balanced relationship with it—neither letting it overwhelm us so we lash out rashly, nor ignoring it because we’re afraid or ashamed of it.
Life is like an ever-shifting kaleidoscope; a slight change, and all patterns and configurations alter.
Meditation is never one thing; you’ll experience moments of peace, moments of sadness, moments of joy, moments of anger, moments of sleepiness. The terrain changes constantly, but we tend to solidify it around the negative: “this painful experience is going to last the rest of my life.” The tendency to fixate on the negative is something we can approach mindfully; we can notice it, name it, observe it, test it, and dispel it, using the skills we learn in practice.
Question & Answer
Q: I can’t seem to shake this uncomfortable notion that things are never going to get better, so I either give up and fall asleep in meditation or get so wound up that I just want to run away. How can I use meditation without having it make things worse?
A: You already see the add-ons: you had a crummy feeling and projected it into the future, judged yourself for it, and felt ashamed and afraid. That is a tremendous insight. The more aware you can be in that way, the more you can see that the crummy feeling is a construct, and that it’s already in the process of changing—it’s not fixed and permanent. When you watch that process in your meditation practice, even though what you’re looking at feels bad, it’s ultimately very liberating.
I would suggest doing a walking meditation rather than sitting right now, because part of what you’re describing is a low energy state. Walking would help pick up and channel your energy. But even if you choose to sit, investigating your “tormented” state will pick up your energy. Investigating it doesn’t mean asking “Where did this come from, and is it biological?” but rather, “What is this feeling? What’s happening?” Just watching the feeling as it unfolds in your session is the first step in beginning to move through it. Mindfulness teaches us that “the best way out is always through,” as Robert Frost wrote. See if you can expand the moment of awareness to include everything that’s happening, even if you don’t know where it’s going to lead. It may not seem so right now, but you need to trust that this kind of compassionate observation eventually leads to new understanding.
Welcome back. Today we will explore meditating on changing emotions. Please sit comfortably, with either your eyes closed or slightly open. However you feel most at ease. Bring up a joyous feeling, perhaps a memory, a plan, an encounter, and feel the emotion within that. A sense of delight, gratitude, wonder. See where you feel it in your body. What does it feel like? How is it changing? Can you experience it fully in the present moment without leaning forward into the future? I’ve gotta get some more. I can’t let it go away. If you see those kinds of reactions in your mind, settle back. Come back into your body. Feel the different sensations being born of that emotion in this moment.
Bring up a difficult emotion, let’s say it’s anger. In the same way, feel it in your body. The circumstances, the provocation, the plans for revenge, don’t really matter. In this meditation we’re focused on the feeling itself. So apart from the story, what does anger feel like in your body? What does it feel like as a mood? It’s not just one thing. It may be moments of sadness, moments of fear, moments of frustration, moments of helplessness. Just watch them arise and pass away to make up this emotion we call anger. Notice that neither the joyful state nor the angry state is permanent, unchanging. They’re molten, changing, evanescent.
You may find your attention going back to a story. First I’m going to do this, then I’m going to do that. If you can recognize that, just let go of it. Come back to your direct experience in the moment. What am I feeling right now? What does it feel like? What’s happening? What’s its nature? And when you feel ready, you can open your eyes. Even after you’ve finished the formal session of meditation see if you can bring some of the skillful investigation into your experiences throughout the day.