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How to Handle Difficult Emotions Part 2: Mindfulness

Updated: Feb 11, 2022

How to Handle Difficult Emotions Part 2: Mindfulness

A New Approach to Old Demons

Mindfulness is an ancient Buddhist practice which is very relevant for life today. Mindfulness is a very simple concept. It means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally. This increases awareness, clarity and acceptance of our present moment reality.

Mindfulness does not conflict with any beliefs or tradition, religious, cultural or scientific. It is simply a practical way to notice thoughts, physical sensations, sights, sounds, smells - anything we might not normally notice. The actual skills might be simple, but because it is so different to how our minds normally behave, it takes a lot of practice.

I might go out into the garden and as I look around, I think "that grass really needs cutting, and that vegetable patch looks very untidy". My young daughter, on the other hand, will call over excitedly, "Mummy, come look at this ant!" Mindfulness can simply be noticing what we don't normally notice, because our heads are too busy in the future or in the past - thinking about what we need to do, or going over what we have done.

Mindfulness might simply be described as choosing and learning to control our focus of attention.

Automatic Pilot

In a car, we can sometimes drive for miles on "automatic pilot", without really being aware of what we are doing. In the same way, we may not be really "present", moment-by-moment, for much of our lives: we can often be "miles away" without knowing it.

On automatic pilot, we are more likely to have our "buttons pressed": events around us and thoughts, feelings and sensations in the mind (of which we may be only dimly aware) can trigger old habits of thinking that are often unhelpful and may lead to worsening the mood.

By becoming more aware of our thoughts, feelings and body sensations, from moment to moment, we give ourselves the possibility of greater freedom and choice; we do not have to go into the same old "mental ruts" that may have caused problems in the past.

Emotional Pain

Some issues you may be confronting:

  • Emotional abuse

  • Physical abuse

  • Sexual abuse

  • Unable to form lasting or healthy relationships

  • Anxiety, phobias, nightmares

  • Childhood trauma

  • Depression

Mindfulness is a Way to Embrace Pain and Reducing Suffering, Restoring Harmony and Balance

Embracing pain is the antidote to suffering

This is counterintuitive. Instinctively, human beings react to pain by moving "away". We create buffers between ourselves and the experiences that cause discomfort.

The truth is, healing only occurs when we move authentically toward that which is hurting us, experiencing the truth of the pain, and learning to integrate this truth into our lives in a new way.

Once you stop protecting yourself, the loss, the abuse, the trauma - whatever the source of your pain is - becomes part of the fabric of your being. Because the pain is no longer separate from you, you are no longer compelled to react.

There is no such thing as pain in the past. If you have pain, no matter how long ago the experience, nor how deep, the result is a present pain. Either you are feeling pain now, or are suppressing it and acting out.

Let's say you were abused in some way as a child. Abuse is often committed by someone not all that different from yourself. That is why it is not uncommon to conclude, however mistakenly, that you are the reason for the abuse. This creates a terrible conflict within you, which results in suffering. Avoiding the pain only creates more patterns of avoidance, which show up in every aspect of your life. But if you go toward the pain and experience the breadth and depth of your discomfort, you shift your relationship to your reality.

Pain does not go away. But it will not cause you to suffer anymore. Your door will open to presence, authenticity, harmony and balance.

What is Harmony and Balance?

When you feel ordinary, when you have a sense of simple awareness, when you feel the need to be neither more nor less than who you are, when life appears to be coming from a state of grace, when anything is possible - then balance and harmony are fluctuating back and forth according to life's flow. This is how we are designed; this is the way life is really meant to be.

Some signs of unresolved anger:

  • Depression

  • Hostility

  • Reactivity

  • Obsessive need to please

  • Low self-esteem

  • Feeling the need to control, or feeling everything out of control

  • Feelings of hopelessness

  • Loss of interest in sex

Additional signs of fear:

  • Need to protect oneself

  • Backache, neck pain

  • Bodily discomfort

  • Social discomfort

Shedding Light on the Darkness Within

Anger, fear and sadness are common feelings. We all have them from time to time. We get distressed over them because we make judgements about them.

However, when we allow these feelings to come through life naturally and easily, they pass quickly, and we come back into harmony and balance. We feel more peaceful and creative.

Long-lasting anger, fear and sadness all tend to have their cause in hurt. The denial of hurt creates reactivity. In the case of anger, that reactivity is often in the form of blame. But blaming someone only causes more anger to rebound back at us - thus feeding our own anger.

People hold onto self-defeating feelings because they don't want to face the hurt, which is completely understandable. Sometimes it takes a long time to root out the disappointment, pain, and hidden fears that lie beneath behaviours that are holding you back.

However, if you are curious and interested in what's going on inside you and are willing to make the courageous decision to actually take a peek, you will overcome the cycle of anger, fear or sadness in which you feel entangled.

* Check back next week for part 3!

Artwork by Michael Parkes

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