Have you ever felt overwhelmed by sudden and strong emotions that seem to “take over”? Or are you aware of a constant coming and going of these powerful emotions? These emotions might be triggered by stressful situations at home or work, conflicts in close relationships, a sense of having too many commitments or a general underlying feeling of uncertainty that is present within your life.
You might not be fully aware of where these emotions arise from, or you might simply feel unable to process them when they do emerge. This sense of overwhelm stops us from being able to evaluate what is really going on within a given situation and does not allow us to choose how we respond to the emotions that appear.
Mind & Emotions
Our minds are particularly good at latching onto negative emotions, crafting internal narratives and ruminating over these. The stories that we tell ourselves sometimes include self-destructive or resentful thoughts, and repeating such stories only makes the emotions involved stronger and even more difficult to manage. This cycle is often a self-fulfilling prophecy where our emotions becomes traits, leading to more permanent states or ways of being.
Awareness of our Emotions
In Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth, he emphasises a crucial point about our ability to regulate our emotions, “rather than being your thoughts and emotions, be the awareness behind them.” Echkart Tolle highlights an important point - you are not your emotions, but rather you are a witnesses to those emotions. Recognising this can bring about an awareness which is necessary to separate yourself from your emotions and thereby reduce the power that they have over you. This awareness places you firmly in control of how you respond to particular emotions that present themselves. You can achieve this state of witnessing very easily through the language you use. For instance, instead of saying “I am angry”, try saying “I am aware that anger is arising in me”. Notice the difference?
Achieving emotional balance is not about suppressing or ignoring your emotions as you cannot force what you feel to go away. It is important to welcome your emotions, to surrender and accept their presence. Remember, emotions are healthy and they are a vital part of what makes us human – there is usually a reason why they are present and you might find that they can actually help you in some way.
By practicing mindful awareness you learn to cultivate acceptance behind your emotions or feelings - without them overwhelming you. Befriending an emotion in this way lowers the resistance you have to the emotion, which negates the power of that emotion over you.
Four Key Steps
There are four key steps involved in the process of achieving harmony with our emotions:
1) Be aware of the trigger.
2) Recognise what the emotion feels like within both the body and the mind.
3) Label the emotion as something you are aware of, “I am aware that…"
4) Choose how you respond to the emotion.
Tara Brach, a Buddhist psychotherapist and meditation teacher, discusses how individuals are one hundred percent responsible for their own experience. With practice, it is possible to learn how to recognise, with mindful awareness, the emotions arising in your body, as well as to choose how you want to react or respond to those emotions.
Meditation connects you more deeply with the subtleties of your body and your thoughts, so that you can recognise when something is arising before you feel overwhelmed by it. For example, when you feel frustrated, you might sense a kind of knot in your stomach or heart area. You might feel tension in your shoulders or a shortness of breath. By applying breathing techniques, you can recognise these sensations without necessarily having to react straight away.
Begin your mindfulness practice by paying particular attention to your breathing. Focus on making the exhalation slightly longer. Bring your breath back to a natural pace. This calms your sympathetic nervous system and allows you to achieve a relaxed state. Within this centred space, concentrate on an emotion that you are currently experiencing and ask yourself what might have triggered it. In your mindful state, recognise that you are not your emotions, but rather you are simply experiencing them. As the observer of your emotions, you can choose how you respond to them.
Emotional Balance & Harmony
Everyone can benefit from practicing mindful awareness throughout the day and applying it to their daily activities. Try listening to the following guided meditation which is focused on finding greater emotional balance and harmony. It will guide you to recognise yourself as the observer of your emotions allowing you to create greater space between your true self and the experience of your thoughts and emotional reactions.