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Cultivating Emotional Well-Being

Often, we are driven by emotion in ways we are not even aware of, especially in a time of crisis like we are in now. So, it’s important to spend some time checking in with our emotional experience. This can be done in a very direct way through meditation. By inviting your emotional life into your awareness, already you become the observer of the emotion, rather than being overwhelmed by it.  This skill can be practiced and refined and then translated into your daily life. But it starts on the cushion (or chair).

To practice this, find a way to sit that’s comfortable and at ease.  It’s always a good idea to do a quick inventory of the body.  Starting at the top of the scalp, relaxing the brow.  Relax the jaw.   Soften the shoulders.  Make sure your spine is upright but not rigid.  Feel your sit bones on the chair or cushion. Feel gravity holding you place.  Feel your legs, strong like roots of a tree.  And feel your feet on the floor.

Go ahead and make any final adjustments to your posture, and then the encouragement will be to hold the posture for the rest of the meditation without shifting too much. 

And when you’re ready, notice where you feel your breath the most in this moment. The rise and fall of the belly, or the chest. Or the air at the tip of the nostrils. It doesn’t matter where, just notice where it’s most obvious to you, and hold your attention there, like a magnifying glass or a laser pointer. And as you do, the mind will wander.  When you notice that you’ve been pulled into thinking, or sound, or sensations in the body, just return to the breath without judgement.

And now, allow your attention to also include whatever emotions might be present at this time. As you continue to breathe mindfully, just give whatever emotion is present a name. Don’t create a story about it, but instead just note it and then return to the breath. Rest in the space of awareness that allows feelings to come and go without judgement. Check in once every few breaths.  What feeling is present now? And just give it a name. Happy.  Sad.  Excited.  Calm.  Confused. Bored. And then return to the breath and wait for the next one and repeat the process.

Now, bring one of the emotions into your awareness. Hold it now with your attention. As you hold it, get curious about it. Does it stay the same? Is it changing? Does it get bigger? Or smaller? No problem. Either way. Rest in the space of awareness that allows feelings to grow stronger, and then weaker, and then pass away. Creating space for the next one. Not trying to change anything whatsoever, just acknowledging each passing emotion. Welcome each emotion with open arms, and continue to note, every few breaths, what emotion is present.

And now, turn inwards, towards the body. If you’re happy, how do you know you’re happy? If you’re sad, how do you know you’re sad? Can you locate it in the body? Does it have a temperature? A color? Does it come with certain images in the mind? Holding some attention on your breath, continue to name emotion as it arises. Get curious about it.  Hold it with the kind attention of mindfulness. And if turning towards it in this way is too difficult at this time, be honest with yourself and just return to the breath. That’s no problem. But try to hang out with the emotion first, before you do so.

And then shift your attention from the feelings back to the breath entirely. Allow the breath to fall into its natural rhythm. And slowly, as you’re ready, you can allow your eyes to open.

I suggest you incorporate this practice into your self care while you are home. I think you’ll find that it gives you clarity on what you are feeling, and also shows the mind that you can handle it, whatever it is. Then, when those emotions arise throughout your day, you won’t be overwhelmed by them because you sat with them on the cushion. This is how meditation has a direct effect on your daily life.

Practice well!

Dr. Zack Bein

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