Contrary to the current “happiness” trend, true joy is grounded in our ability to be with the natural ebb and flow of life. This means both inner and outer unfoldings such as life circumstances, losses, and currents of uncomfortable emotions. Being human on this earth means experiencing pain and loss at times, and it’s our capacity for being present to this pain that dictates our level of functioning and ability to experience meaningful living. Modern neuroscience has proven that our minds are like velcro to negative experiences and like teflon to positive ones. Evolutionarily, this negativity bias was helpful for our ancestors to anticipate threat looming around the corner, like the lion coming over the Serengeti. However, our brain’s alarm systems perpetually misfire, perceiving life-threatening situations in everyday life ~ such as job stress, a conflict with your partner or s traffic jam. In these everyday life situations, the old part of our brain, also called our reptilian brain, sends our nervous system into fight or flight mode. Without awareness of our thoughts and emotions, we begin to automatically take these daily life stressors as much bigger threats than they are. So what’s the solution to managing uncomfortable emotions? Mindfulness.
Mindfulness is paying intimate attention to the present moment, intentionally and without judgment. Mindfulness is not a constant state of being, but rather, an aspirational way of walking through life. We can intend to live mindfully, and through this intention, we create more presence both internally and externally. When we’re aware of the ever-shifting inner landscape of thoughts and emotions, we can observe these experiences without giving them undue power. Emotions create an internal GPS system to guide our external lives. Moreover, the more aware we are of our emotions, the more intentional we can become when responding to our lives consciously. In other words, emotional awareness births wisdom and guidance to help us come into alignment with our most real, most authentic selves. However, it takes courage and commitment to acknowledge and move through uncomfortable emotions. HERE’S HOW:
1) Release Judgment
We spend hours a day judging situations, people and experiences as either “good” or “bad,” placing them in defined boxes. Our minds are wired to create judgment and, after all, our judgmental minds are responsible for the survival of the human species. We experience about 60-80 thousand thoughts a day, and about 70% of those thoughts are negative in content. However, as we’ve established, we no longer need to predict threat by perceiving something or someone as “bad” to survive. Using our capacity for awareness, we can begin to monitor our thoughts to shift away from the default modes of judgment. As a mindfulness-based psychotherapist, I often guide my clients into taking a judgment detox, where they become aware of the frequent thoughts and narratives that flow through their minds, cleansing themselves of entrenched judgment. When you wake up in the morning, before you get on your phone or jump into work mode, say to yourself “I will judge nothing today. I will honor every emotion with dignity as I continue my Path of Awakening.” Remember, mindfulness is not about not having any judgmental thoughts ~ that’s unrealistic for the ordinary human mind ~ but it’s about becoming aware of your thoughts so you can shift and change them consciously.
2) Practice Non-Preference
When it comes to emotions, who doesn’t want to feel joyful all the time? As humans, we’re designed to cling to pleasure and to avoid pain. The higher functioning parts of us possess the ability to strengthen our resilience so we can host and process painful life experiences. Our expectations for life help to create the lens through which we perceive life, thus, creating our reality. Think about it. If we let go of wanting to be happy all of the time, we open spaciousness to experience the vast spectrum of human emotions. When it comes to emotions, I invite you to practice non-preference. This begins with setting your intention. In the morning, get still and silent while you say to yourself “today, I let go of my emotional preferences. I’ll greet every emotion that comes in as a friendly visitor.” You’ll soon see that an open, accepting mind of non-preference breeds profound peace.
Clients who are beginning their mindfulness journey often ask, “Why do I need to meditate? What are the primary benefits?” Well, we meditate because of self-awareness and presence birth wakefulness ~ a deep, inner capacity to embrace the beauty of moment-to-moment living no matter what is unfolding. Formal sitting mindfulness meditation allows our whole life to be a living, breathing, moving meditation where each ray of sunlight and a moment of human connection is a gift. When it comes to managing the painful or uncomfortable emotions in our lives, our meditation practice is like that wise old teacher that reminds us that each challenge is in service of our personal growth. Without presence, we often get trapped in the trance of ego-driven living, as we clamor to numb anything uncomfortable while we fuel our illusion of happiness with material items and busyness.
Personally, meditation has become a way of journeying back home to myself ~ a place where I meet myself in the light of truth. For me, the fact is living in alignment with love for humanity and compassion for humanity’s suffering. We all have our version of living in truth. Our courage and commitment to mindfully being present to uncomfortable emotions without pushing them away is the most significant predictor of living a meaningful life of deep joy.