Have you ever noticed how isolated you can feel when you’re afraid. Or sad? Or angry? And how you can feel connected to the world when you’re joyous or loving?
Emotions colour your perception. If we would plot perception on a linear scale, from closed and isolated to open and connected, emotions such as fear, anxiety, sadness and anger would logically end up on the isolated end of the spectrum. While joy and love would edge to the connected end.
We could call the isolated emotions “negative” and the connected ones “positive”. Not because there is anything inherently good or evil about them; they just have differing effects on your perception and that’s why we give them a label.
Of course, there are more emotions than just these five. Jealousy, shame, depression, melancholy, abundance, extacy, etcetera. For the sake of this discussion, perhaps we can agree that many of these emotions can be seen as combinations of the five already mentioned ones. Jealousy, for instance, can been viewed as a combination of anger and anxiety, directed at a specific person. Shame is the same combination, directed at yourself. Some therapists describe depression as “rage turned inwards”. While melancholy can be seen as a specific type of sadness. Et cetera.
For most people, the experience of isolation is not a pleasant thing. We tend to view isolation as a necessary evil. In general, we’d rather feel connected to the people around us, than isolated from them. Yet, it can happen that you just don’t know any better. That your perception of isolation continues for so long that the memory of true connection with others has been all but forgotten. To the point that connection does not play a significant role in your daily life. Isolation has become your normal experience. Practicing mindfulness can bring you back in touch with the experience of connection.
“Oh right, that’s how it felt to be really connected!” Often there is an immediate judgement. Perhaps you condemn the circumstances that have led to the loss of this connection with others. It can also happen that you blame yourself for allowing it to happen. In the end, neither reaction is particularly helpful, as they themselves foster a sense of isolation. Judging flows from a (slightly) negative emotion, such as anger, regret or sadness.
Mindfulness training teaches you that everything you experience should be left as you find it. This goes for the judging and the emotions that underlie it, too. Just regard them – as you regard everything – with kindness and acceptance. Often, it’s just a matter of letting a fire burn out, while you remain present with a loving and accepting attitude.
Emotions can burn hot and fast. Watching small children can be an object lesson. When they get angry, they get REALLY angry for a short while. After a few minutes(!), usually things are back to normal. They have not yet found a way to push their emotions away, to defer them or to hide them from others. Adults HAVE learned those ways and consequently suffer from their emotions far longer than necessary. When pushed out, deferred or hidden from the world, emotions go “underground” and remain active in the recesses of an adult’s mind, influencing the way we view the world. Mostly, without our knowledge or consent. Perhaps adults could take a cue from watching children.
In mindfulness practices you mean to be as present as possible to whatever manifests to your consciousness. In terms of emotions, the thing to do is to be like a child again. Allow the emotions to surface. But do so without buying into the intensity and getting swept away by the content of the emotion. You just accept the presence of the emotion, because it is here right now. You notice what bodily sensations are there, without accentuating or disregarding them. Without adding to them. Notice what kind of thoughts accompany the experience of the emotion, without getting swept away by the thoughts or even “believing in them”.
By allowing your emotions to process in this way, you give them the space to convey their message to you. What message? Could be anything really, but you can trust that it is something that is salient to you. Anger could communicate an anxiety to lose something that is dear, or it could be generated by an unmet expectation.
Consider that you are the king of the realm of YOU. Messengers come and messengers go. Most of them have administrative things to convey and you can leave those messages to your administrative staff. Some messages deserve to be heard and will not easily be passed off to some low-paid staffer. Your job, as king, is to be in charge of the defense of the realm, foreign affairs, domestic affairs and of the treasury. Disregard your negative emotions, and you risk disregarding vital messages that concern these important duties.
By developing mindfulness and applying it in this way, you allow the important messengers to have their audiences. You don’t follow their advice willy-nilly. Rather, you take the information that they present you with and use it to better understand yourself and the world around you. Just stay present with the raging sensations and concomitant thoughts. Accept whatever presents itself to you. The message will become clear, sooner or later.
This is a way of processing emotions using mindfulness. Once this has happened, you might find that your mind returns to a more “positive” state of being, featuring an experience of relief, joy, peace, emotion or love. You may experience a greater connection with yourself and the world around you. This experience generally trumps the experience of isolation.