Honouring our emotions the mindful way
Mindfulness allows us to increase awareness of whatever is occurring in the present moment without thoughts such as judgement, over analysis, or self-doubt. The practice is about watching or witnessing our inner processes with our awareness. So when it comes to learning how to honour our emotions using mindfulness practice, it is all about learning to witness the raw emotion as it arises in our body, as well as witnessing the thoughts and urges attaches to those emotions.
The nature of emotion
When we witness emotion, it is important to differentiate between feelings, thought and actions. Our emotions are the actual feelings that arise in our body. They are sadness, anger, guilt, fear and happiness. There are a multitude of other emotions, however these are the core five feelings that most other emotion stems from. Emotions are not thoughts about our emotions, nor are they our behavioural reactions. This is a very important distinction, as when we practice mindfulness of our emotion, we are simply practicing witnessing the emotion itself. Yes, re-activity involves thoughts, feelings and actions, but for the purpose of getting to know emotion, it can be a great practice to witness the emotion itself, stay present with it and simply identify it.
Only when we are clear in our process of witnessing the emotions within our body and identifying the emotion, can we begin to understand what they are about. We may experience an awakening out of confusion as we gain clarity about which emotions are arising in response to different events. For example, I feel scared when I do not know what is going to happen. I feel angry when someone steals my property. I feel guilty when I hurt someone. I feel sad when I lose something important to me. I feel happy when things in my life are generally in balance. So this is a good place to start.
Adaptive versus reactive emotion
As we begin to become acquainted with our emotional processes we may come to notice that some emotions make intuitive sense and are in proportion to the events occurring around us. These are adaptive emotions. They are primary reactions to situations that give us information about ourselves in the world. Remember, this is simply the arising of the emotion itself and not our actions or thoughts about the event. The emotions are as simple as a child’s emotional response to the world. These emotions have an innate wisdom of their own.
We may also develop the awareness that some emotions are disproportional to events around us, and they may repetitively arise under similar circumstances in ways that are individual to ourselves. These are far more complex than adaptive emotions. These emotions are often telling us more about a psychological pattern which we have learnt as a child or from a trauma or a highly distressing event. As children we are generally conditioned to distort our emotional responses. These emotions are either intensified or suppressed due to messages we receive from significant people in our lives. We learn to suppress anger, or feel guilt in situations that are not our fault, or develop anxiety when we do not know why we are scared. In mindfulness when we witness our emotional reactions which result from psychological patterns, we treat them in similar ways as with adaptive emotions. We simply bring our conscious awareness into the emotion and remain present with the sensations in our body. As we do this, we may also become aware of memories, images or senses that tell us where these emotional reactions are really from and what they are about. In this way we gain valuable insight about our emotional selves and sometimes about what aspects of ourselves require healing.
So on one hand, there are adaptive emotions which directly emerge from a situation and tell us about how the situation impacts on us. On the other hand, there are emotional reactions from psychological patterns which tell us about current life events as well as our past conditioning, trauma and psychological wounding. As we practice regular mindfulness, we generally increase insight into our patterns as well as our adaptive responses to situations in the world.
The key is awareness. Our patterns may need healing, however we can do this through seeing them clearly with mindfulness and learning how to refrain from spontaneously reacting from emotional triggers. The journey of mindfulness supports our self-understanding with compassion. This results in honouring our emotional selves, as well as increases clarity and peace of mind.
“Embrace What Is” is an on-going relaxed group that will support your mindfulness practice and help you to integrate this practice into your everyday life.
Join us on Friday afternoons at 1pm for an hour of mindfulness based training and psycho-therapeutic insights.
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Conscious relationship is one of my passions because I love and honour love itself. While intimate relationship is only one type of relationship where love can be cultivated, it fascinates me because I believe there is so much potential in our intimate relationships, rather than misunderstanding, separation and heartbreak. My hope is that increased awareness of gender and relationship will lead to us healing ourselves and our hearts.
Learnings from my Personal Story
From a very early age I had a deep longing for love. My dad was a Vietnam veteran with PTSD and my mum was psychologically and emotionally shut down. So neither one of them were connected to love within themselves, their relationship or with their children. The only time the word love was even used in their household was when we were getting the strap … “I’m doing this because I love you!” So needless to say, my first introduction to so called love was abuse. There was a deep sense of “wrongness” for me as a child. I knew this was not love! And yet there was no affection, encouragement or half way positive messages about who I was or who I might become.
Perhaps what gave me the deepest sadness in my family of origin was that they were so emotionally shut down. Like androids, these people were not connected to themselves or each other. The aimless, depressed negativity drove me crazy! Later I was to know this as unconsciousness… deeply shutdown patterns that blocked them from the life force… blocked them from love! So my earliest desires to wake up, become conscious and embrace love originated from early childhood experiences.
Over the decades as an adult, I have accessed counselling, spiritual healing, kinesiology, body talk, holographic kinetics, and anything else I could get my hands on! Today I wake up feeling happy! There are times when challenging things happen in life, but my perceptions and beliefs are largely positive. Sometimes I witness my thoughts and their attached emotions, spiral into the old family patterns, but I see them for what they are… simply unconscious patterns that detract me from loving life.
So what does all this have to do with Conscious Relationship?
I learnt in a very real way the importance of healing myself before I can create a conscious, healing and loving intimate relationship. I cannot say I am fully healed… I know that is not true! But I am on my way!!! Becoming more aware of my unconscious patterns that are triggered in intimate relationship, I can take responsibility for my 50% of a relationship and learn from it. My dream for intimate relationships is where both people become consciously aware of their own psychological patterns and learn to create love rather than pain.
This involves understanding the differences between genders and honouring those differences. If women are generally emotionally based creatures while men are often physically based, then what can we learn from each other in regards to respecting each other? It is not so much about becoming like the other, but rather to understand what the other is about in how they approach life. The idea of opening to happiness through connection, honouring differences and complementing our partners in intimate relationships, is the cornerstone of conscious relationship. By observing and learning from our own reactions, we can learn to give better to our relationships. By learning how to communicate even when we speak different languages, we can create shared meaning and purpose in our relationships. By understanding and appreciating what the feminine and masculine give and HOW they give, we can increase gratitude and reduce resentment. This is essential if we are going to shift our intimate relationships from the average, shut down relationships that exist in the sludge of life.
How we connect to our intimate partner is a choice! If we struggle with resentment, criticism, guilt or condemnation towards our partner, then perhaps it is time to heal. First this process is in each individual self. Secondly, the relationship itself may need healing. Becoming conscious simply opens the door to healing and finding happiness in relationship. Conscious awareness is an on-going process that sometimes requires guidance through therapy, self-help avenues and other healing modalities. But it is worth it!!! For it is the difference between mastering ourselves and our relationships, and perpetuating the living hell of the unconscious relationships of the past. Without compassionate awareness towards ourselves, there cannot be love for another.
What are the important ingredients of Conscious Relationships in your experience?
In my last two blogs, I have looked at anger and fear. Today I am going to focus on the emotion ‘sadness’. Sadness is regularly labelled as “over emotional” and seen as a bad thing. We often try so hard to look happy and positive, and yet deep down in our hearts, tears are rolling down our cheeks. Sadness is often avoided or even supressed. If people have learnt it is weak to express their sadness, then they will often channel their hurt into anger. This never works! In the same way that crying when angry will not shift anger and will certainly not show you the truth behind the anger, being angry when it is appropriate to be sad will not shift the sadness. Inappropriate anger will keep you stuck in emotional pain unless you melt the ice, feel into your heart and cry.
The Gift of Sadness
I have read that crying is the door way to our soul! What a beautiful idea!!! I know when I allow myself to cry deeply, I feel relived afterwards and just want to sleep peacefully. I like feeling sadness around water.. .. .. When it’s raining, in the bath, near a river or the ocean. Water calms me and brings up the feeling of sadness so I can cry.
Like all emotion, sadness has body wisdom and a message for us to hear. Grief and sadness tell us something important. It tells us that we miss something or someone when they are gone. Without sadness, we would never know just how meaningful and important they were in our lives. So sadness teaches us to love and honor what and who we love.
Trudy’s Story: Inconsolable Sadness
Trudy had always strived to be happy while she dragged around an empty heart. She could not work put why she continuously felt a deep grief within her chest. She just put it out of her mind and kept smiling.
This worked fine, she thought, until the day when her last child left home. Adrienne was 19 years old and doing well in his life, and it was time for him to go to a university in another city. Trudy desperately tried to keep face in front of everyone else. But when she was by herself she just constantly cried. Trudy had no idea why she felt so deeply sad all the time until she found in an old friend who had been there too.
One Friday afternoon, Trudy sat in a coffee shop. She thought no-one she knew was around, so she put down her happy facade and became lost in her own thoughts.
“Trudy?” She heard a voice say and turned upwards to see tall woman standing before her. At first she could not place the face, but then it dawned on her.. .. .. Catherine, a teenage friend she had lost contact with years ago. “I was walking past and saw you. You look so sad!” Catherine stated.
As soon as Catherine’s words were said, tears started rolling down Trudy’s cheeks She tried to wipe them away and excuse herself but Catherine gently reassured her that it is OK, and that maybe she should talk about it. Reluctantly at first, Trudy started to talk. Trudy shared with her that Adrienne had left home and that she was crying all the time. Catherine nodded and smiled while stating “that happened to me too so I saw a counsellor. What I learnt was that the sadness was far bigger than my grief for my baby leaving home. I didn’t realise I was holding that much sadness for things that happened way back in my life! It was painful to talk about it at first but it was a relief in the end. I feel much better now!”
Trudy listened to her old friend Catherine. The synchronicity of seeing Catherine on that Friday afternoon was perfect. Both of them had childhoods where they were not allowed to express their sadness. Trudy learnt in counseling that while her mother was sick, she was not allowed to cry or else she told that she was being selfish and was worrying her mother unnecessarily. She further learnt that because she couldn’t cry and express her fears and sadness, that she had bottled it all down. As a child she was scared her mother was going to die, like Catherine’s mother had. While Trudy’s mother was sick for months, she eventually recovered and all was forgotten.. .. .. Or so she thought! From that experience, Trudy learnt to suppress her sadness for others. She further suppressed her feelings because she thought they were not legitimate because she had not actually lost her mother wile Catherine had.
Throughout counseling she also caught up with Catherine. They were able to speak with each other far more openly than they could in the past. Their friendship deepened as they learnt about themselves with each other. Bit by bit, Trudy’s sadness diminished and she began to feel joy at times for the first time she could remember.
Trudy’s story is a great example of how suppressed sadness can block our ability to feel joy. It is also a reminder that as we open to another with respect and love, how feeling our emotions that we once suppressed can deepen interpersonal connections.
Has there been a time of sadness that you have suppressed?
Have you tried to simply ‘move on’ from a sad experience well before you are ready? I would love to hear from you..
[Note. All stories used in this blog are fictional characters based on the wisdom I gain from working with clients. No character in this blog is an actual person or a client]