Expressing Emotions with Awareness
Feeling emotions and expressing emotions are two different things. Some of us get angry but don’t say anything about it. We just feel the anger. Others of us say something about it. Some of us do something about it.
My usual response to emotional situations is to hold back from expressing myself directly. This is a survival tactic I developed from being in a highly emotionally charged family and work environment.
There were so many people around me with emotional turmoil, it seemed harmful for me to blab about my own emotions.
This backfired, to say the least. I grew up with a lot of repressed feelings. I got through work situations with a “professional attitude” but had to let the feelings burn inside of me. In my mid-twenties I was a field of blackened tree stumps, a wasteland of a forest fire.
I learned from my mistakes, but it was too late for me to recover in the same environments in which I had died. The roots were charred, seeds were turned to dust. There was no springing of life where I was. So I left.
I traveled for four months to get out of the ashes of my life. I had cultivated enough positive mentality and nutritional practice to get myself healthy and moving again before I left. Travel freed me from the stagnant waters of anxiety and allowed me time and space to meditate, rediscover myself, and stretch out in a spiritual and physical sense.
I met new people, took part in new cultures, and grew in love. My wife and I, through the constant adventure of finding our way, expanded our hearts and built courage. We lived our dream of seeing, learning, sleeping, and waking in new worlds. And now even home is a new world.
Meditation was key to my awakening to my misery and grasping an optimistic view of myself. It helped me in several areas of life. Strength training, sleep, and fear were a few areas of growth through meditation. Recently, through meditation I reached a breakthrough in how I express emotions.
I noticed a difference in my awareness of emotions and expression after several days of meditation. My sessions were two times per day, 5-15 min each time. Nothing big.
However, when a recent emotional argument broke out between me and someone close, I noticed a difference inside. I expressed myself through my emotions, but I was fully aware of myself. I could hear myself talk, see what I was feeling, and feel what the other person was feeling. This was very unlike other times, where I would have gone blank in the head.
The awareness allowed me to process what was going on, during and after the argument. It also allowed me to start the forgiveness process. Since I was “there” while it was happening, I remembered how I felt, and why, and what triggered it all.
The reason this happened was that during meditation leading up to this day, I had been focusing on how I felt. As I breathed and came into a centered disposition, I let my feelings float up into my awareness. Whatever I felt, I let my mind rest on it. I breathed, identified the emotion, felt it plainly and deeply for what it was, and sometimes even visualized the root. Then I breathed again and let it go.
This built awareness of my emotions. It made me feel okay with what I was feeling. I used to get uncomfortable with the fact that I was emotional. It felt like a weakness. But this awareness practice was facing reality. I accepted myself as an emotional being.
I still felt upset after the argument, I still dealt with the residual emotions, and all of that. But I was in a place where I could build on the experience. Rather than wallowing in confusion, I learned about myself. I thought forward to the next time I would be in that sort of situation. And instead of feeling apprehensive, I felt excited. I wanted to grow!
I’m not saying I’m a saint and we should have a day for me because of this one incident. But I hit a definite pivot point in my emotional life. This is an area of discomfort for me. I’m not used to getting deep into my emotions, and evaluating them, let alone talking about them.
But I’ve been trying within that past few months to dig into this and grow. And I’m learning the importance of expressing versus simply feeling emotions. The key is awareness.
Studies on Meditation and Emotion Regulation and Mindfulness
Last week my family and I went to Half Moon Bay to get some seafood and soak in the wonders of the beach. We were exploring a little section of water near our favorite restaurant and found this giant kelp stalk. It was a good twenty or twenty five feet long. The base was as thick as my wrist, and it thinned out to about finger width at the tip. A perfect whip.
We played around with it a little, trying to get some whip action out of it. There’s a finesse to the handling that’s needed to get the perfect whiplash effect. After swinging forward, you have to pull back just at the right time, and the right amount, to have the tip snap forward and hit your target.
Stupid, I know. But fun.
So I practiced a bit with this giant sea whip until I got the hang of it. Pretty deadly. It cracked real hard at the sand when I did it right. Poor seaweed.
Anyway, there’s something to the art of whipping that translates to self mind control. I’ve been dealing with anger over an issue for the past few years. When something triggers it, I get furious and can’t seem to control my words and thoughts. It’s been destructive to me and the people I love.
In trying to control myself, I was keeping things contained. I found that I was only letting the pressure build inside. For years I let my anger build up. It would leak out here and there, in bursts of reactive words. But I kept myself from letting it out and expressing myself full force. This probably sounds familiar to you.
Then, recently, I was meditating for several days in a row. I didn’t really feel much different, but something interesting happened. During a casual conversation, someone said something that triggered my anger. And instead of trying to avoid myself, and hold it in, I faced the anger and expressed myself. Strongly. I felt like I was being harsh, but I also didn’t want to just let things slide.
Afterward, I felt sorry that I had burst out in anger. But something was different this time. Although I didn’t try to filter what I was saying, I was fully aware of it all. I was present. I saw myself and heard myself and the person I was talking to. I knew that I was here, and what I was feeling and saying were real.
This helped me to process what was going on. I had asked this person not to talk about things that offended me before, but more out of reaction. I wasn’t really present to the fact that this was really hurting me. So I didn’t let myself speak fully from my heart. I kept feeling that I should just keep my anger in, instead of being right in expressing it.
I talked with a friend recently. He was explaining that being fully present to ourselves as we act in emotion helps us to process it. And if it’s not right, not how we want to be, we will be much better able next time to control that action.
From this experience, I find the opposite to be true too. If I’m fully present to a correct action as I do it, especially when it’s something scary like expressing anger about something offensive, then I will feel more confident in doing so the next time.
The trick to doing this right is letting myself do. Letting myself talk, or act, without filtering or holding back. At the same time, being present to it. It’s like the whip. You’ve got to let the whole length of it extend, being yourself fully, when it matters. And through mindfulness and reflection you’re in that fine level of control. It will effectively create the snap.
I’m looking at these two things as the ingredients for successful, mindful behavior change. Consistent meditation is key. It’s what helps you to be there in the moment when you most need to be.
More living and experimenting to come.