Week 4 Emotions Awakening to Our Emotional Life

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1 Week 4 Emotions Awakening to Our Emotional Life Emotions, from one perspective, are energy in motion in the body and mind. They are composites of physical sensations in the body and accompanying feelings and thoughts in the mind. Emotions are an important part of our being in that they give us information about our inner and outer experience that can help our cognitive mind understand and act more skillfully. Our modern culture places a lot of judgments and restrictions on the emotional life. Emotional maturity is often conventionally defined as being able to master one s emotions and often, on a deeper level, not to feel them. We have often been told not to feel a certain way and if we do, to not express it. The reality is that many of us live lives shut off from our emotions, yet at times are at their mercy. We can perceive our emotions as being out of control, like a violent tempest that leaves devastation in its wake. The prisons are full of people who acted out powerful emotion(s) and in a matter of moments committed an act that created years of suffering and anguish for themselves and others. Probably most of us can recall incidents from our lives where in a moment of rage or fear or grief, we said or did something that we have long since regretted. In our meditation practice working with emotions we aim for a balance that avoids the two extremes of suppressing emotions and being tossed around at their whim. This middle path seeks to feel the emotions fully, investigate them with mindfulness, and respond to the information they give us without reacting to them recklessly. Essential to this process is to turn toward the emotions, even if they are difficult and to explore how they manifest in the body. We use our foundation of mindfulness of the breath and body to experience the emotion on a deep somatic level. In the beginning, this can be difficult and even seem overwhelming. So it is important to start out small, continue to practice, and trust that in time it will be easier. In this process we use the anchor of the breath as a safe harbor. First we stabilize our mind and body by developing mindfulness of the breath. Then when an emotion presents itself, we intentionally shift the awareness from the breath to the emotion. We sense how and where the emotion manifests itself in the breath and what bodily sensations are associated with it. We investigate the body sensations in terms of what qualities are present (i.e. pressure, warmth, vibrations, tingling, etc.). If being mindful of the emotion becomes too intense, we can drop it and return to the sensations of breathing. Once we are stable and at ease again, we can return to the emotion or whatever else is arising in our experience. In this process of Sacramento Insight Meditation Course Week 4 - Emotions 3/7/17 pg. 1

2 shifting awareness between the breath, the body, and our mental experience, we are developing the skill of being present with whatever is arising in the moment. We are training the mind and body to be at ease with the present conditions and to open to the full range of our experience. This is in distinction to the common habit of contracting around and withdrawing from what is difficult or painful or to obsess about and to grasp at what is pleasing or desirable. During the process of mindfulness of emotions it is important to distinguish between the emotion and the story or thoughts that fuel the emotion. If we notice that we are not directly experiencing the emotion and its body sensations and have become lost in analyzing, judging, rehearsing, or reliving some experience, it is important to drop the thinking and return to the sensations of the emotion. If that is not possible then we can always drop the thinking and return our awareness to the breath. Like we practice with mindfulness of breathing, when we recognize that we have drifted off the object of our awareness, we gently and with kindness toward ourselves and the meditation process, return the awareness back to the breath. We do this over and over, recognizing the patterns and relaxing and releasing the tensions that come with discursive thinking. For some who have long suffered from their emotional life, have a history of trauma or abuse, or are emotionally numb or frozen, the practice of mindfulness of the emotions can be quite difficult at times. What is most important is to be kind to ourselves and to take it easy. Rather than forcing ourselves into being with certain emotions or judging our experience or ourselves for being a certain way, it is helpful to develop sensitivity towards the meditative process and to have appreciation towards ourselves for having the courage to embark upon this healing journey. We have to strike a balance between avoiding or pushing away the difficult and painful on the one hand or succumbing to or drowning in it. The process requires patience, gentleness, and kindness. We have been introducing the meditative practice of lovingkindness (metta in the ancient language of Pali) at the end of our evening sessions and will explore it in more depth during the daylong. Lovingkindness practice is particularly useful in working with the struggle that can develop from mindfulness practice. It is a direct antidote to the aversion that can arise from emotional awareness meditation. Sacramento Insight Meditation Course Week 4 - Emotions 3/7/17 pg. 2

3 Tool Box Week 4 Mindfulness of Emotions 1. Sitting meditation practice - This week we will practice with mindfulness of emotions. Practice sitting meditation for 20 to 30 minutes daily using the instructions below or the guided instructions from the MP3 file recorded in class. 2. Daily life practice - Develop mindfulness of the emotions several times throughout the day. Take time periodically to stop what you are doing and first connect with the sensations of the breath and/or body. Then after a few breaths, move the awareness to whatever emotion you are having. Notice what emotion is present and how it is experienced in the body and breath. If you have a lot of thoughts, commentary, or judgment about the emotion, note that and try to stay with the bodily sensations of the emotion. If you don t notice any emotion, just note this and without judgment stay with mindfulness of breathing or the body. Do it for a minute each time, three times a day. Use particular activities or a timer as a trigger to remember to practice mindfulness of emotions. Alternatively, you can try to catch yourself in the middle of an intense emotion and move the awareness to the body and breath. This can be challenging at first. Questions for reflection: 1. When you are mindful of an emotion, what do you notice? 2. Where and how do you experience the emotion in the body and breath? 3. Do you notice any patterns when you are aware of the body sensations of emotions? 4. Is it difficult or easy to stay with the sensory experience of the emotion and/or do you get easily lost in the story fueling the emotion? 5. Do you have any judgments about your emotions? 6. Do you notice that you prefer certain judgments over others? Sacramento Insight Meditation Course Week 4 - Emotions 3/7/17 pg. 3

4 You may fill out the practice homework sheets or record your impressions journal style. If you wish, you can send the assignment in by or hard copy in class. Sacramento Insight Meditation Course Week 4 - Emotions 3/7/17 pg. 4

5 Emotion Meditation Instructions Start the meditation period as you have done previously by stabilizing the awareness on the breath for several minutes (see the instructions for week 1). When you notice an emotion, intentionally turn your awareness toward the emotion. Notice where and what is felt in the body and breath. If there are thoughts associated with the emotion, try to drop them and keep the awareness with the sensory experience of the emotion. When the emotion fades or if it becomes too overwhelming, gently return your attention to the breath. When the mind is settled on the breath again, and the emotion returns or a new one arises, again move the attention to the emotion and its physical manifestations in your body. It can be helpful to use the gently mental noting process again. Example labels are: emotion or fear or joy or sadness or anger. Keep the labels simple and try to avoid labels that are judgmental, blaming, or overly analytical (i.e., good or bad or I should or I m so mad! or Why did she? ). If you don t feel any emotions, just note that as well and return to breathing sensations. In time and with practice, many meditators who at first don t notice their emotions re-awaken to them. End your meditation period with a few moments of mindfulness of breathing then open the awareness to the body as a whole. Before opening your eyes, reflect on the meditation session in terms of understanding and following the instructions. Be easy on yourself and resolve to bring mindfulness into your next activities. Sacramento Insight Meditation Course Week 4 - Emotions 3/7/17 pg. 5

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