When I feel upset or worried I remind myself that I must not look elsewhere (a glass of wine, food, other people) to free and soothe myself. On the contrary, I should observe what is happening inside me. What is this emotion that inhibits me? Which way is it pushing me? This may seem simple, but of course, it isn’t. Our emotions are as inescapable as our thoughts. In other words, they don’t appear as subjective phenomena but as obvious facts – indisputable reality. So I shouldn’t try either to change what I feel or to console or calm myself. I must just be present to it. I must breathe properly and not try to do anything other than focus on my breathing and observe what’s happening inside me.
We can use mindfulness to focus on ourselves as well as the world around us.
Mindfulness is different from relaxation because it runs counter to our natural tendency to retain what is pleasant and reject what is unpleasant. In mindfulness, we notice negative and painful feelings and simply allow them to be there. Instead of trying to get rid of unhappiness and worry, we start by accepting their presence.
Allowing sadness or worry to be there means observing how we feel, but not necessarily believing what sadness is telling us, “I’m not worthy, life isn’t worth living”.
People who are anxious or depressed don’t like being told to start by allowing their feelings to be there because they are used to always trying to do the opposite. They find it frightening and fear becoming overwhelmed. They hope that getting a prescription from the doctor will take their pain away. This isn’t what happens.
Think of your negative emotions as being like animals or people you want to calm down. The more we try to drive them away, lock them up, sedate them, or tie them down the more they fight back and can hurt us.
Likewise, if pain is chased away or sedated it just returns another time.
So it’s better if we make space around our emotions and allow them to just be. This also allows us to observe them. Ask yourself ‘how do they make me feel? What thoughts do they lead to?’ This way, we are not inside the emotion, but noticing and experiencing it so that we are less dominated by it. Sometimes this in itself is enough to calm us and enable us to decide what to do.
The habit of calm, curious introspection begins in moments of calm and rest.
Observe your feelings several times a day, between doing other things. Instead of rushing from one thing to the next and feeling stressed, take time to feel what is happening inside yourself, and gently connect more with your emotional state.
“I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teaching my blood whispers to me.” Hermann Hesse.