Just as the acclaimed Pixar movie Inside Out demonstrated, all emotions are not only necessary and part of the human experience, but they each show up in our lives at different times. It is very common to want to disregard or ignore “negative” emotions, such as anger, sadness, depression or anxiety, as undesirable and therefore something that we just push aside and ignore. But just as when we sweep all the proverbial junk under the rug, discounting or denying these difficult emotions doesn’t actually make them go away; eventually as that pile under the rug builds, we are bound to one day trip over it, making it impossible to ignore it forever. The same is true with emotions. Practicing how to not run away from painful emotional experiences allows for the opportunity for integrated health, wellness and overall balance in our lives.
Mark Bertin, an author at Mindful magazine and a developmental pediatrician, states, “being skillful with our emotions isn’t just about recognizing when we feel happy, angry, or sad. Awareness means noticing all of our emotions, and then making active choices about whether we need to take action or whether it’s best to leave things alone.” The more we learn how to turn towards, rather than away, from our emotional experiences, the more informed our responses can be in how to deal with them. And added bonus: we learn a lot about ourselves in the process.
Mindfulness is a practice that allows us to gain insight into our brains and bodies and therefore develop a new, and hopefully more integrated, relationship with whatever is arising. By practicing greater awareness and paying attention to what is happening in the present moment, rather than reacting or running from what we deem negative or undesirable, it is then that we are able to see it for what it is, allowing it to have less control over us. Paradoxically, often what holds us to difficult emotions is the lack of desire to deal with it. But with mindfulness, when we allow space for it to exist, and practice relating to our emotional experiences with self-compassion and loving-kindness, we can learn that we find new tools and strengths to get through difficult times.
Zendal Segal, one of the founders of Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy, explains that by simply noticing, labeling, naming and allowing the emotion to exist, does not mean that you like it, are resigned to feeling that way forever, or that you are passively dealing with it. In fact, quite the opposite; it takes great strength and commitment to bring more intentional attention to how we are feeling and develop a new, less reactive, relationship to our emotional experiences. When we do this, we break the automatic and habitual patterns of seeing ourselves as being stuck in a negative space or mindset forever. Through acceptance and “letting it be” we also recognize the fleeting nature of all emotions. This is why you often hear of a mediation teacher describe the thoughts in our minds to be like clouds passing overhead – when we can relate to our emotions or thoughts as the ever-changing clouds, we hold less of a grip onto them as a permanent state.
Through the cultivation of mindfulness, you can practice allowing the unpleasant experiences to exist, knowing that in the end you will still be okay. By being in the present moment and creating this friendliness to ourselves and our experiences, helps bring about greater courage, strength and ability to be with whatever is arising.
Living in the now brings not only relief and peace, but also brings courage, strength, and the willingness to be with ourselves. Additionally, when we fail to pay attention to emotion, it often alters the way we view the world. In other words, our perceptions of others are often skewed by our emotional states; the benefit of mindfulness is that when we notice our emotional states with less resistance we are able to see our emotions, and therefore people or situations around us, more clearly.
And now, you can cultivate a mindfulness practice right here in Danville! The Bay Area Mindfulness and Therapy Center is officially open, and will be offering many small classes, workshops and individual therapy. Check out www.mindfulnessandtherapycenter.com for more info.