We call our emotions feelings, yet sometimes – or even, usually – we do anything and everything to avoid feeling them. When is the last time you really allowed an emotion to flood your body and then stayed with it? If you felt sad, did you just allow that feeling to be with you, feel where it affected your body, whether it made you feel heavy in a particular place, or did you try to smother it by distracting yourself with television, reading or food – maybe two or all three of these at once? If you felt angry, did you just notice how it made you feel on the inside, or did you act it out, shouting, stamping your foot in impatience and frustration?
And did your actions, in the end, make you feel any better? Or did you, after an outburst or too much chocolate, just feel ashamed and wish you’d behaved differently? Our negative emotions – feelings – are such powerful sensations, that they tend to scare us and make us deny them as far as possible. But different emotions affect us in different ways – they may make us feel heavy, as in sadness, hot, as in anger, or paralysed with fear. When was the last time you managed to stay with those uncomfortable sensations, to truly experience them and watch them pass? However intense those feelings, they usually start to subside surprisingly quickly if they are allowed to.
Emotions are simply energy states in the body. Some, such as anger, are high energy states, whilst others, such as sadness, are very low energy states. Our clumsy attempts to deal with unwelcome emotions usually try to redress the energy balance – for example, when we act out our anger, we release some of our excess energy by shouting or slamming doors. When we feel sad, if we try to make ourselves feel better with stimulants such as chocolate or alcohol, we lift our energy levels, at least temporarily.
But the difference if we attempt to simply observe our emotional states can be so revealing. We can feel the emotion on a physical level, and truly experience the ancient wisdom which finds the seat of worry in the stomach, sadness and grief in the lungs, and anger in the liver. We feel the discomfort of the emotion, we stay with it, and let it go. In meditation, we simply observe each sensation as it arises, and learn to stay in the moment, regardless of whether we perceive that moment as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. We learn to create a space between our feelings and our actions, a lesson we can begin to apply in our daily lives.
The more we maintain and honour our meditation practice, the more present we manage to stay in our daily lives, and the less reactive we become. When we feel pushed by the circumstances of our lives, we find it harder and harder to maintain the space between our feelings and our actions, and the more we react, the more of a habit that reaction becomes. Our regular meditation practice can help us to keep that space, and help us be brave enough to feel our feelings – ‘good’ or ‘bad’.