3 Ways Mindfulness Can Help with Negative Emotions
“What’s wrong with me?” is a question most of us tend to ask when we experience negative emotions. When we ask ourselves this question, we are perceiving our negative emotions as something “bad” or “wrong.” This perception prevents us from using negative emotions in a positive way; in a way that serves our personal growth. Being negative about negative emotions is my definition of suffering.
The rise of negative emotions in ourselves can be compared to a traffic light turning red: it is a message to us that we need to stop. If we believe that a red light in traffic is something “bad,” it means that we don’t fully understand and appreciate its usefulness. Just imagine the chaos that would result if we were all to choose to ignore the red light’s simple message to us.
In the same way, positive emotions can be compared to a traffic light turning green: it is a message that we need to keep moving on. It would lead to disaster if, alternatively we were to hit the brakes whenever we saw the traffic light turn green.
Instead of shooting the messenger (our negative emotions), I suggest practicing the following three steps when experiencing negativity:
1. Awareness: Become mindful of the present moment.
The foundation of yoga is awareness. Whatever it is that we are doing, if we are not doing it with awareness it is not true yoga. Awareness, in the context of experiencing negative emotions, means observing that we are experiencing negativity without getting dragged along by it. Emotions are a powerful force that can sweep us away, and if the emotions we are experiencing are stronger than our current ability to return to the present moment, we can practice these three steps at a later time when the mind has become calmer. We practice mindfulness by bringing back the memory of the event that triggered our negative emotion. By practicing at a later time, we can start to train ourselves to be mindful when experiencing strong emotions.
2. Contemplation: Coming to an understanding of the source of our negative emotions.
Contemplation means engaging in a pleasant self-dialogue. When I say this, I literally mean that we will need to have a conversation with ourselves. In this dialogue, we will assume the role of somebody who is listening to a friend in need. We ask questions when we don’t understand that friend; we don’t assume the role of somebody who is ready to give advice and judgments.
There are two important questions we should ask ourselves in this dialogue, they are: “what is it that I really need?” and “how can I give myself what I really need?” When we ask these questions to ourselves, we need to remember that yoga is the practice of non-attachment. One meaning of “non-attachment” is to be independent of anything or anyone outside of us for our happiness and fulfillment. If, for example, we hear as an answer to the first question “I need my boss to show me some respect and acknowledge my work,” it means that we are dependent on our boss for “respect” and “acknowledgment.” Instead, try saying “I need respect and acknowledgment,” and then, in answer to the second question, ask yourself: “how can I give myself the respect and acknowledgment I need?” The answer to such a question will come from within.
3. Practice: Readjusting our mind, actions and speech to the insights gained in the previous steps.
Practice means following the insights that we have gained through our contemplation. Not following these insights is like having a cookbook but never actually cooking any recipe from it. The recipe book soon only becomes a burden.
These three steps have been, and still are, helping me to gain a deeper understanding of myself. It is my hope that they can do the same for you.
Experiencing Consciousness Through Mindfulness
Have you ever had a moment where you felt a heightened sense of awareness in which you could tune into your environment and people around you; allowing you to perceive things you wouldn’t normally? Or have you ever experienced becoming aware in a dream in which you were then able to start making decisions within the dream world (lucid dreaming)? What about a moment of love and compassion where you could actually feel what another person or animal was going through almost as if you were them?
These kinds of experiences offer us a glimpse into a profound way of being and perceiving reality that we each carry within, and that we can learn to use to bring about a more conscious, connected, and spiritual way of living that is literally just waiting for us to shift into whenever we choose.
Coming into the present moment
You may have noticed that a heightened sense of awareness is always accompanied by our perception coming fully into the present moment. It can feel a bit like switching on a light in a darkened room or focusing the lens of a camera—all of a sudden it’s like the world around us comes into view and clarity.
By coming into the awareness of the moment in whatever we’re doing, we perceive from our consciousness rather than the subconscious; which manifests as dreams and daydreams in which we lose perception of what’s happening around us and are drawn into the self-created images of our own thoughts and emotions. And because consciousness is the eternal, spiritual part of us, not only can we see physical stuff more clearly, but we can also perceive things that are non-physical too.
“…end the sleep which weighs heavily upon you. Depart from the forgetfulness which fills you with darkness… O soul, persistent one, be sober and shake off your drunkenness… Light the light within you.”
The Teachings of Silvanus from the ancient Gnostic Nag Hammadi Library, translated by Malcolm L. Peel and Jan Zandee
Taking control of the wheel
Although consciousness tends to get neglected—usually remaining submerged in a continuous stream of thoughts and daydreams, and forgotten amidst the concerns of everyday life—like a muscle, when we exercise it, it gets stronger and we can feel clearer, more “present,” and “truer” to who we are.
Coming into the present moment can feel like something we have to put down whatever we’re doing to experience, but being more conscious doesn’t mean we stop acting, thinking or feeling. Instead, like a driver taking control of the wheel, it means we are able to be more conscious of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, and therefore more discerning with those we choose to have.
Expanded Consciousness is the point we ultimately develop spiritually from, as it’s the eternal part of us—deeper than our intellect, knowledge of facts, or personal talents, it’s the part of us that journeys through eternity and that’s why in many spiritual traditions it is the focus of their disciplines and exercises.
“Intellectual knowledge exists in and of the brain. Because the brain is part of the body, which must one day expire, this collection of facts, however large and impressive, will expire as well. Insight, however, is a function of the spirit. Because your spirit follows you through cycle after cycle of life, death, and rebirth, you have the opportunity of cultivating insight in an ongoing fashion. Refined over time, insight becomes pure, constant, and unwavering. This is the beginning of immortality.”
Lao-Tzu in the Hua Hu Ching, translated by Brian Walker
Consciousness is something we can experience anywhere anytime. Here’s a little exercise that anyone can try, no matter what they are doing.
For example, if you’re reading as you are now, you can begin by just becoming aware of reading these words. Start then to become aware of your own breathing, and of your body sitting in the chair. Next, become aware of the various sounds you can hear around you. Look around and perceive the light and colours of the things you can see, any people, animals and interactions, the objects and sense of space. Just consciously perceive what’s around you without labeling. See if you can spend a few moments doing this.
Notice how thoughts start to appear. They could be about this article, or about what someone said. Just become aware of them. Observe the state you feel—perhaps a slight tension in your stomach, or a feeling of agitation. Notice how these feelings can cause you to move in a certain way, like jiggling your legs or clenching your muscles. Don’t become distracted by them, just perceive them.
Consciousness is that which is doing the perceiving—and can be directed both inwardly and outwardly. Notice that you can perceive without thinking—that you can perceive just by seeing.
Consciousness – beyond body and mind
Simply by trying this one exercise we can experience consciousness and observe how there is something within us that is beyond thoughts and feelings, and even beyond the mind. Going further, consciousness can even be experienced as being beyond the body in near-death and out-of-body experiences.
If you try this exercise a few more times, you will begin notice that there’s a permanent observer—one that is essentially always there, and always the same, whilst the different thoughts and feelings change from one moment to the next. If you recall a memory of when you were a child for example, you’ll feel that what was fundamentally having that experience then, is what is experiencing this moment now.
The potential to develop consciousness
Many different peoples throughout time discovered the inherent potential each of us has to develop our consciousness. They termed the outcome of this development enlightenment, awakening, self-realization, etc. Using their developed consciousness, they built sacred sites, created masterpieces of art and music, and explored the mysteries of life and the universe, all of which remain a timeless testament to human spiritual potential. We too have this potential, which is why spiritual truths remain timeless and just as relevant now as they were thousands of years ago.
Consciousness is what connects us all to the spiritual source, to each other, to all forms of life, to other planes of existence, and throughout time into eternity. Therefore by experiencing and developing it we can perceive, connect with, and partake in the greater spiritual reality and majesty of all that is—something truly wonderful to be alive for and to experience.