Mastering the Emotional Storm Surge: Five Steps to Emotional Mindfulness
There are moments in everyone’s life when, no matter how mindful you are of your surroundings; no matter how determined you are to be rational; a passionate wave of emotion seems to sweep you away. Anger; fear; lust bitterness; the emotion itself is not important. What is disturbing is how it seems, against all reason and against all odds, to take over your entire existence until you live and breathe it; until your very vision is filled with the miasma of its presence; until nothing else in the world exists.
It is usually during this time; the time when reason has abandoned you; when clarity has hidden itself in the closet of your sanity refuses to come out; it is then that there are things that are said and done that you regret for the rest of your life.
Think about it. How many times have you said or done something in a fit of anger or a jealous rage that you would never have said or done in your right mind? How many people have you hurt with your words or actions? How many times have you sat there afterwards, shaking, wondering what on earth had possessed you to say or do something so hurtful? How many hours have you spent berating yourself for not being able to control yourself and your emotions? Have you ever wondered if there is a cure for this? If there is a way to make sure that you can learn to control your emotions and think before you lash out?
Interestingly enough, control isn’t the answer to your problem. Instead, it is the attempt to control your emotions that leads to these irrational outbreaks.
Does that sound ridiculous? I mean, come on, we’re taught from the time we’re small children to “control your temper,” to “think before you speak,” to remember that “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” By the time we’re teenagers we’ve been told so many times that we’re doing things wrong; saying things wrong that we sit there, stewing in our anger and hatred; pissed at the world and glowering at everyone around us because if we say what’s really on our minds we’ll get in SO much trouble.
By the time we’re adults we’ve got it down pat. We smile and nod and agree with our boss though we’d really like to be telling them off and assure our spouse that “no dear, everything’s okay” when we’re really annoyed with them for being so inconsiderate and soothe our children with “no baby, mommy doesn’t mind reading another story” when we’re really so tired of Dr. Seuss that if we hear about one more wocket we might snap.
But nothing’s changed. Not really.
Just because we’ve learned to control our emotions and wear a happy face doesn’t mean that the emotions aren’t there. And no amount of wishful thinking or repetitions of affirmations will change the fact that just under the surface of our pleasant façade there is a roiling cauldron of repressed emotions that is just waiting for the least provocation to burst through our tentative crust of rationality and spew emotional poison over everyone that happens to be in our path.
Does this mean that we should, as some people and even some therapists suggest, give a voice to our emotions or that we learn to “vent” them through various activities?
Well, as good as venting is (and it’s far better to vent your frustrations on your spouse by heading to the gym and taking it out on a punching bag than by waiting till you snap and hitting the person that you love) that is not the answer either, for you have really done nothing more than momentarily quench the fire that has erupted from beneath the surface. And as reasonable as ‘giving voice to our emotions’ sounds, telling someone you have a problem with them doesn’t fix the issue either. In fact, it transfers the blame from yourself – to the other person – because now that they know that you really don’t like certain things they do or say or the way that they act you expect that they will take the hint and change for your benefit. Luckily, there is a solution.
So What Is The Solution?
Would you believe me if I said mindfulness? And no, we’re not just talking about your everyday mindfulness here (though having a grip on everyday mindfulness can help).
When it comes to dealing with those emotions that overwhelm you; those inexplicable and uncontrollable emotions that rise up out of (seemingly) nowhere and take over your life; the answer is in learning to identify those things that trigger the emotions to begin with, those things that start the chain reaction that leads to your emotional outburst. This is where the concept of emotional mindfulness comes into play.
You see, it is not enough to simply be mindful of the world around you in order to live authentically. While being aware of the here and now is important, especially for stilling your mind long enough that you can hear your intuition; for giving you the clarity to be able to recognize the voice of your intuition; it isn’t until you’ve mastered emotional mindfulness and are able to recognize the trigger points of those emotional surges; to recognize them and acknowledge them and to choose not to react to them that you will truly start to see big changes in your life. Indeed, by following these five steps, you can be well on your way to mastering Emotional Mindfulness.
Five Steps to Mastering Emotional Mindfulness.
Step #1: Become aware of your surroundings. Like anything else, Mindfulness is a skill that has to be developed and, just as you have to learn how to walk before you can run, mastering emotional mindfulness requires that you have a grip on everyday mindfulness before you can apply what you have learned to finding the trigger point of those emotional surges that sometimes threaten to take over your world. In fact, the more aware you are of your surroundings – of what is going on around you – of how your body feels and is reacting to those things that are happening, the easier it will be to identify those trigger points.
Step #2: Keep an Outburst Journal. Does keeping a record of your outbursts seem macabre? Believe it or not, keeping an outburst journal can help tremendously when you are trying to discover just what it is that is setting you off. The first order of business is to keep this journal on you (or within close reach) at all times. I don’t care how ashamed you are of your outburst. I don’t care what you said or did, as soon as you’ve calmed down enough to realize what has happened, pull out your journal and start writing. Record everything. What was happening just before you lost it; who you were talking to; what you were watching; how your body was feeling; what was being said or done; everything. After a while I guarantee that you will start noticing trends; certain people or situations that invariably serve as catalysts to an emotional surge. Being aware of these will be invaluable as you move on to step #3.
Step #3: Pinpoint the Origin of the Emotion. This is a bit step and is probably where you are going to spend the most of your time as you working on mastering Emotional Mindfulness. Once you have identified those things that tend to serve as catalysts for your outbursts and emotional surges, the next step is to shift your mindfulness to the exact moment when the emotion you are experiencing surfaces. It is necessary that you be able to do this in order to move on to step #4.
Step #4: Isolation. While pinpointing the origin of the emotion is probably the hardest thing to actually accomplish, it is step this next bit that is going to take the most concentration, for in order to master emotional mindfulness you are going to have to learn to isolate the emotion that you are experiencing in order to keep it from erupting spontaneously. If you will, this step is very much like what happens in your body’s own immune system.
Your immune system consists of white blood cells that are the guardians of your bloodstream. These white blood cells have one duty and one duty only; to identify any foreign body or threat such as a virus or bacteria; and to eliminate it. In order to do this they surround the foreign body or cell and, in effect, swallow it whole. Once they have swallowed this threat, they then proceed to digest it using digestive enzymes, rendering it harmless. But the point is the threat has to be isolated before it can be rendered harmless.
So too, emotional mindfulness works very much like your white blood cells. If you can pinpoint the threat (the anger, jealousy, lust, frustration etc.) that you are feeling and isolate it; swallow it whole; you will be able to keep it from poisoning the rest of your mind. But in order to render it harmless, you are then going to have to immerse yourself completely in the emotion.
Step #5: Immersion. Just the white blood cells, in order to render the intruding emotion harmless you have to digest it, and in digesting it, it is going to momentarily become a part of you. This can be one of the most painful moments of Emotional Mindfulness, and is one reason that so few people can actually follow through on the mastery. They have no problem with the first four steps, but this last one is a step that many people just can’t face.
When a white blood cell swallows a virus or bacteria, there is a moment when the virus or bacteria is a part of the white blood cell, when the white blood cell is experiencing itself AS the virus or bacteria. This is a necessary part of the immune system and triggers the digestive enzymes that will then digest the threat and turn it into something useful. This is exactly what emotional mindfulness does when it immerses itself in the isolated emotion.
By experiencing the emotion completely (albeit in isolation from the rest of your mind) emotional mindfulness will, by opening itself up to the rawness of the emotion, make it understood – and render it harmless. Indeed, by this process you not only remove the threat to your psychological well-being, you also break it down into its most fundamental level, freeing up the energy that was tied up in the destructive emotion so that it can be used for something more constructive.
What This Means for You
Mastering Emotional Mindfulness is not an easy thing to do. In fact, it is probably one of the hardest tasks that you will ever undertake, so be patient with yourself and remember, Emotional Mindfulness does not mean that you are not going to feel the anger and pain; the fear and jealousy. If anything, you are going to experience them move intensely than ever before. The difference is, instead of these emotions taking over your life, you will be harnessing their energy for more constructive pursuits.
Indeed it may take months even years to master Emotional Mindfulness, but once you do the rewards are incredibly rich and you will find yourself living with a continual clarity of perception and peace of mind that you never imagined was possible.