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How to Handle Difficult Emotions During Your Meditation Practice

Raman Mittal: Co-Founder of Idanim
by Raman Mittal
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How to Handle Difficult Emotions During Your Meditation Practice

Ever wondered why strong emotions pop up and how to handle them during your meditation practice? Well, it's not unusual to experience strong and difficult emotions. All of us experience some unpleasant emotions on certain days of our practice.

According to Eckhart Tolle, the author of “The Power of Now,” emotions and feelings are the manifestations of thoughts in our bodies. They are our body’s reactions to our thoughts. Negative thoughts feed negative emotions, and negative emotions reinforce negative thoughts creating a vicious circle. Personally, I find it easier to identify a feeling or emotion in the body than to recognize a thought in the mind because feelings and emotions have tangible physical manifestations.

Just as our mind keeps producing so many thoughts throughout the day and night, we keep experiencing corresponding feelings and emotions within our bodies. At times these emotions are subtle like an undercurrent of unease, boredom, and restlessness, and sometimes these emotions are quite strong and unpleasant like anger, fear, guilt, anxiety, etc. These strong emotions get triggered when we encounter individuals, situations, or events that had triggered the same emotion before.

In other words, these emotions form a recurring pattern often with higher intensity. While they may hide for some time they linger in our subconsciousness. When these emotions appear, we don’t feel in control. We feel a loss of control as we have been possessed by those emotions. Whatever we say or do during this time comes from a reactive state. Strong emotions propel our thinking mind, and we find ourselves in the midst of a tsunami of incessant thoughts and emotions.

Our natural tendency (at least for many of us) for dealing with difficult, unpleasant and strong emotions is to either suppress them or ignore them. We just don’t want to see them, face them, and experience them when they appear in our meditation practice or otherwise.

Why do we sometimes experience difficult emotions during our meditation practice?

No matter how hard we try to suppress or ignore our feelings, they will sooner or later come to the surface during our meditation practice. The other way to say it is that we got connected to our inner pain that was already there within us.

Any feeling that is incomplete/unexpressed/unheard will keep coming back again until they find a way out. It is not bad. It is a part of your cleaning/healing process. Many teachers give an analogy of an untidy corner of your room that has not been cleaned for years that you have been ignoring for years. You will surely see a lot of dirt when you clean that corner after a long time. Meditation will heal whatever remains incomplete with you. Please trust the process.

What to do when you experience difficult emotions during your meditation practice?

  • It did not happen because of meditation: First of all, we must know that unpleasant emotion/s was already there in us. It is not because of the meditation that it appeared. Meditation only brought them to the surface. In fact, they have always been there in our inner space. We get to see them clearly when we sit for our meditation practice. It is for the first time that we direct our attention inward to our inner world and get in touch with these painful feelings residing inside us. Perhaps you've observed that after engaging in an argument with someone, you may not feel at ease with that person until you've had the opportunity to express yourself or address the emotional pain caused by the disagreement.

  • Acknowledge their existence: Now you may argue that why look at these unpleasant feelings in the first place. You would agree that ignoring or suppressing these emotions may not have helped you. Acknowledging these emotions is the first step toward freedom. Up until now, they have been running your life. When you acknowledge their existence then you can do something about it.

  • Allowing them to be: The next step is to allow them to be. Don’t shun them away. Much like being present for a friend in times of need, extend that same presence to yourself. Shower your complete attention (kind, loving and non-judgemental attention) towards this painful feeling and experience. Its intensity and unpleasantness may increase when you put your attention on it. Please don’t run. Please don’t suppress. Please don’t ignore it. Keep showering your attention, feeling the unpleasantness and intensity of that emotion. It is OK to cry if you feel like crying. Please know that this is the hardest part for many people to allow unpleasantness to be.

  • Name the emotion: It helps a lot if you can identify and name these emotions whether they are anger, shame, fear, guilt, anxiety, stress, worry, grief, sadness, greed, or envy. It is OK if you don’t find the exact words. Identifying a shade is also good enough. Don’t spend too much energy finding the exact shade of your emotion.

  • Listen to the story: What caused this emotion that you identified above? There is often a story behind each emotion. Listen to the story with your kind and non-judgemenal attention. No need to rationalize your story. Just listen to it with your full attention. Where in your body do you feel that emotion? When you intently look at them, they should bring in some past memories. Whether somebody did not treat you fairly, there may be some guilt of childhood mistake, you may be wronged by somebody, there is some fear, anger from childhood trauma or incident, you felt humiliated, insecure,unloved, you felt not being cared or respected for, you felt not good/strong/healthy/intelligent/capable enough, you felt unfortunate. Whatever the story, listen to it with your full attention without judging it as logical or illogical, right or wrong.

  • Allow it to heal: The space, silence and peace inside us have infinite potential to heal any pain. The last and most important step is to just sit in silence for a few minutes. Once you acknowledge and allow these difficult/strong/unpleasant emotion to be with your fullest attention, this process transmutes pain into deep peace. You will certainly feel light and better after the meditation.

  • Action: You may be inspired to take some action after your meditation practice - it could be speaking to somebody, or taking any other action. This action is not a reaction of this emotion. The action coming up from this place of wisdom will further help you melt the emotion and free you from its clutches.

Now a few more pointers:

  • It may happen that you sit for your meditation practice with some other anchor like breath, body, sounds or something else but you get overwhelming emotions. If that happens, drop all other anchors and bring your attention to your feelings and emotions following the above mentioned steps.

  • In all likelihood, you should feel lighter after this practice of acknowledging your emotions, allowing them to be and allowing a deeper space within you to heal them. At the same time, you may not feel completely empty and light. If that happens, you may be required to practice a few times till you feel light and joyful. You may be inspired to take an action and this may be the last step for your freedom.

Will you not get triggered anymore?

Not really. Two things will happen.

  • You will get out of the place of reactivity, shedding weight and tension associated with triggering incidents. Even if confronted by an unwelcome situation, event, or person, you will find it much easier to regain composure.

  • As you progress, you'll notice a substantial reduction in the frequency and intensity of your triggers. The same set of situations, events, or individuals that once provoked strong reactions will have a diminished impact on your emotional state.

There are a few specific meditations for managing difficult and strong emotions on Idanim. They may be following a slightly different technique. You can practice any of them in the times of need.

Idanim, a mindful meditation app designed to help people initiate and deepen their meditation, mindfulness, and spiritual practices. We aim to guide individuals towards inner peace, joy, and emotional well-being.

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With over 200 years of combined mindfulness expertise, we ensure you receive the best guidance. We also host 'LIVE sessions,' featuring globally renowned teachers, including monks, for Masterclasses and daily mindfulness practices. These sessions provide a unique opportunity for you to interact directly with experts and learn from their profound wisdom. Join us on a journey towards increased productivity, lowered stress levels, and a more peaceful mind.

So if you are looking to begin your mindfulness and meditation journey, download Idanim on App Store and Play Store today.