awareness / how to / practice

This Sucks! Zen and the Art of Difficult Emotions

I’m the worst person alive!
Over a year ago, I made a vow to make amends for all my unskillful actions. This process involved doing a moral inventory.

It’s a technique I borrowed from 12-Step work. (In the spirit of full disclosure I’ve never done 12-step work and am not an authority on that process.)

I decided to make a list of every bad thing I’ve ever done. This is super hard. At times, I felt like I was the worst person alive.

Photo of Crying Kid

Tell me how I failed!
The first list I made was long, but I knew there was more. So each night before bed I would sit and say to myself,

“I want to live a life of integrity. I am willing to accept the mistakes I have made. If there is any action I have forgotten and I don’t feel good about, I invite it to come into my awareness.”

After I said this, I would sit in silence for a few minutes. Often something would bubble up to the surface. No matter what it was I greeted it with gratitude and wrote it down.

Make it hurt!
When we start to improve our lives, we open more space. This leads to a sense of freedom and joy. It also allows unfelt emotions to surface.

When these emotions surface, it can feel like we’re moving backwards. In truth it means you are really digging in to real transformation.

The challenge is to face these emotions without trying to fix them. Allow them to arise, feel them, and then be willing to let them go.

5 Steps For Creating Space for Difficult Emotions

1. Set aside time.
You need at least 10-15 minutes, but it’s better to give yourself some wiggle room.

I found that just before bed was the best time for me. It helped me process the day. It also meant I didn’t take these emotions to bed.

2. Find Somewhere to Be Alone
It’s hard to be with difficult emotions around others. They may try to consol or distract you. The point is to just be present with what’s arising. Nature is great, or your bedroom, but if all else fails the bathroom is a good standby.

3. Invite the Emotions to Come In
An invocation can be helpful. State your intention, your willingness to accept what comes, and then invite any hidden emotions to arise.

3. Feel Your Body
If emotions arise, try not to focus on the content. Instead, focus on how the emotions feel in your body. Notice any beliefs that arise especially any absolute statements.

If these emotions become intense try to stay with it, but if your mind starts spinning, focus on your breath or your feet to become grounded.

4. Write it down
Once you have watched the emotion arise, exist, and ebb, write it down. Name the emotions and any beliefs that came with them. This can be a few sentences or much more, it’s up to you.

This gets it out of your head and gives you perspective.

5. Gratitude and Release
Now thank whatever came up for arising. Thank your heart for being willing to feel these hard feelings. Thank yourself for being willing to do this work. Then ask yourself, your heart, and/or a higher power to help you let these feelings go.

Remind yourself that you will do this again soon and that anything else can wait until then.

6. Grounding
Working with difficult emotions can be agitating. Afterwards take ten breaths, do a short yoga routine, or maybe read something inspiring. If you are still reeling try doing something to get in your body: light house work, a more vigorous yoga routine, or a longer meditation.

This practice can be very powerful. It’s not about wallowing, it’s about giving space to the powerful forces inside of us. When we are willing to be with challenging feelings, we gain the courage to face challenges in every aspect of our lives.

Discussion Question: How do you work with difficult emotions?

Disclaimer: For some people this practice is not suggested. If you notice the consistent arising of thoughts involving self harm or suicidal ideation stop using this technique and consult a licensed counselor or therapist before continuing.

If you feel like you need to speak with someone right away call your local crisis line or call A Lifeline Crisis center at 1 800 723 TALK (8255)

Photo Credits

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One thought on “This Sucks! Zen and the Art of Difficult Emotions

  1. Pingback: Stop Moving Backwards – An Interview w Jaclyn Costello | Mind Fit Move

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