MINDFULNESS—SPACE for UNPLEASANTNESS
"I shouldn't feel this way,” during bouts of uncomfortable emotions, we try to convince ourselves the emotion is wrong. There is something wrong—that’s the purpose of emotions. Our body is signaling that it’s losing homeostatic balance. There is change that needs a response. A better understanding of this feeling, recognizing, and behaving process helps us more appropriately respond to emotions in a way that leads to achieving long-term intentions.
The lives we live, the choices we make, and the people whom we spend precious time with influences feelings. These all create a rich source of input—some good and some not so good. Our body reacts to favorable conditions with pleasant emotions and unfavorable conditions with unpleasant emotions. Our pasts, experiences, and beliefs along with hardwired biological programming interact to form an evaluation of experience. We have a measure of control over the experiences—a skilled approach enhances future pleasant feelings. For example, when we are employed, managing money, and budgeting expenses, the stress of paying the monthly bills is mitigated. When we skillfully interact, limit destructive relationships, and develop intimacy, relationship anxieties subside. Present moment choices create more future harmony or more chaos, depending on our perceptiveness and discipline in the present; but even the best choices don’t completely eliminate pain—we will still experience loss, failure and disappointments.
We notice powerful emotions—both positive and negative. A strong emotion signals a need for action; something in the environment needs attention. Our tendency to oversimplify often reduces uncomfortable feelings as simply bad and to be avoided at all costs. But unpleasant emotions are essential for survival. The pain of a burn instinctively motivates pulling our hand out of the fire. We instinctively try to resolve discomfort. We consciously—or unconsciously—survey the scene and make adjustments. If the discomfort is internally generated but falsely projected on an outside case, the discomfort maybe temporarily suspended by the mind game but the underlying cause continues to exist. We routinely create stories, place blame, and deny experience to sooth the discomforting, internally generated emotions.
We are at war against our own feelings—as if the feelings are subject to personal will-power. Discrediting, ignoring or denying biological responses is not healthy. Forcefully attempting to eliminate emotions disconnects the conscious mind from the feeling-states of the body. Even when denied, our body continues to experiences the stressful emotions.
We react emotionally to experience. We can’t change that. If we interpret an experience—consciously or not—as threatening, we have negative emotional reactions—heart rate increases, oxygen in take increases, digestion slows, and glucose is released into the blood stream. We are prepared to respond. Emotions aren’t the enemy. Emotions prepare the body to engage experience—either seize opportunities or avoid threats. Consciousness—which includes recognizing feeling states—is an evolutionary anomaly. Outside the human brain only a few other species even marginally enjoy the same blessings and curses of consciousness. This awareness properly used broadens our understanding of the distinct biological complexity of living creatures—especially ourselves.
We not only feel but are aware we are feeling.
Awareness of bodily reactions—emotions—allows for deeper exploring of connections between the self and the environment. Consciousness isn’t perfect. We misinterpret emotions. Misguided interpretations can intensify or soften the original discomforting emotion. Our thoughts generate secondary emotions; sometimes complicating the true causes of the original reaction.
We can feel anger over feeling sad. We can feel guilty for feeling angry. We can feel sad because we feel sad. The first emotion triggered by experience followed by a second emotion generated from the conscious recognition of the first. If in the past, we experienced debilitating depression, the smallest feeling of sadness signals another episode of debilitating depression. Thus the first emotion triggers greater more powerful emotions. When an emotion becomes the threat, we automatically respond to it the same way we do to any other threat—by freezing, fighting or fleeing.
Entrapping cycles of feeling and thinking can be interrupted by Mindfulness. Mindfully examining personal emotions lessons the impact of secondary emotions. Instead of being at war with the original emotion, we become an interested participant. We carefully and skeptically exam the emotion for causes and implement effective resolutions. Fighting against the emotion itself is frustrating, leaving us discouraged and feeling helpless.
Mindfulness is a skill. It requires practice and patience. Mindfulness of emotions expands our emotional intelligence. It lies at the heart of social connectedness and intimacy.
Attending to unpleasant feelings by giving them space diminishes fear of the emotion. Discomforting emotions will continue to visit us—no matter how healthy our choices; but the discomfort will pass. In the meantime, we can continue to make choices and engage in activities that nurture mental well-being and improves the future. When feelings determine how we act, life spirals out of control, creates chaos, and generates more of the feelings we desperately would prefer to avoid.