How to meditate on emotion

How to meditate on emotions - people holding drawings of facial expressions
How to meditate on emotion

How do you deal with emotions that come up in mindful movement practice?

The real question is, “When emotions arise, how do you infuse that experience with awareness and equanimity?” Emotions can be highly charged, painful, and seductive. How then do you work with them?

First, let’s look more closely at what emotions actually are.

In one of the earliest Shinzen Young retreats I attended, he explained emotions in such a simple and clear way, I couldn’t believe I’d never heard it
before. It wasn’t in any of the many psychology classes I’d taken, and none of my excellent therapists had discussed this perspective.

Shinzen emphasized that emotions are composed of both thoughts and body sensations.

We use emotion as our object of meditation by observing the arising and passing away of the thoughts and body sensations that comprise
that emotion.

He offered a simple analogy.

Think of emotions as a ball of red and white yarn. From a distance, the ball looks pink. But that’s not a clear view, because most of us see emotions either from far away or so close up we can’t see anything. We push away unpleasant emotions, pull pleasant ones closer, or get swamped to the point of nearly drowning in both. We’re not seeing at all.

The mindset skills of intense concentration and equanimity learned in meditation change our perception. On closer examination, the body sensations are red yarn while the thoughts are white. The thoughts and body sensations get tangled so tightly that it creates the illusion of pink. Plus, the thoughts and body sensations feed off each other. We experience a body sensation, and that leads to a thought. We react to the thought, which leads to more body sensations, which then lead to more thoughts, and on and on in a vicious emotional cycle.

Calm, concentrated practice helps untangle and separate thoughts from body sensations. If we learn to follow the separate threads of body sensations and thoughts, we see each thread arise and pass away. Awareness of their individual processes, especially the fact that they pass, brings freedom.

When we learn to let go of the thoughts around a certain emotion and to experience only the bare physical sensation, the emotion will often quietly spend itself, stopping the emotional cycle.

Emotions can be grouped into several broad categories: happy, sad, mad, and afraid. Most emotions fit into more than one category at the same time.

Grief? Probably sad and mad. Anger? Clearly mad, but also might be sad and afraid. Joy? Happy, but could be tinged with sad if we miss someone who used to make us happy.

Note the flavor of the body sensations and unravel them from the accompanying thoughts to further unlock the grip of a negative emotional state.

I have included more than twenty “Your Turn” exercises in the book Make Every Move a Meditation.

This excerpt is from Make Every Move a Meditation by Nita Sweeney. Buy the paperback, ebook, or audiobook now at Amazon or Mango Publishing Group.