May 17, 2017

A Mindful way to Manage our Negative Emotions.

A while ago, I had a dream I was naked at my church.

That’s right: nude, in the buff, no clothes, birthday suit.

I was feeling ashamed, and also awkward, because these people I’ve known for years were trying to speak with me with no hint of concern on their face about my state of being—sans clothing.

The same disturbing sensation presented itself in the real world. I felt equally embarrassed at a recent traffic encounter. A woman had turned to see me talking with myself at a red light. I noticed that she noticed, and then I groaned. My face flushed and a warmth shrouded my upper body as I shrank back in my seat. Then, to try and save myself some embarrassment, I jumped into a pantomime routine—feigning speaking into my phone.

Of course, I’m not alone. Others have had similar experiences:

Like forgetting to turn off the lapel microphone prior to going to the bathroom, or being pulled over by the police and feeling like a criminal while everyone is staring at the red and blue lights. Ever slip on an escalator and skip off it, like it didn’t happen? Or blurt an unfiltered comment at a table of eight that stays afloat for days, weeks, or months—like a bad gas? Or, to further increase that fun, fuel that opinion with alcohol at the next work function, and watch as your career takes a nosedive?

It’s almost like driving through life with the breaks pressed; the fear associated with embarrassment has kept me from pursuing opportunities in my personal and professional life.

I’m extroverted and get charged by positive conversational volley, but embarrassment feels like a nuclear winter fallout—extremely lonely. The tendrils of disapproval, the stares and shuns—they bite like a chilled north wind. And then there’s the deep, dark, dead silence after an encounter, when there’s nothing else to say in the moment, but so much for me to ruminate over afterward. It’s a feeling that, for me, is ominous and oppressive.

My primary strategy of managing negative emotions was to avoid having them in the first place. This can be just as emotionally exhausting.

For example, in order to curb seeing those laser-beam stares when walking in late to a meeting, I would determine absolute travel times, check my email against my calendar several times obsessively, then drive five miles over the speed limit for good measure. Besides giving myself these set of redundant tasks, if the system fails and I’m late anyway, I’d still feel that quiet criticism nonetheless.

But, I’ve found a new way to deal with my feelings:

Not long ago, as a result of a break up, I applied and was accepted for a four-month apprenticeship with elephant journal. Primarily, I wanted to learn how to categorize and express feelings through writing, in order to heal.

One of the concepts suggested was that of mindful, slow journalism. I used this technique to write a personal protocol—simple admonitions on how to subjectively, objectively, and mindfully approach my feelings. To me, it’s primarily helpful to refer to when I’m faced with adverse situations.

1. Feel the feeling—I’m supposed to feel this feeling. These feelings, in one form or another, will be present for the rest of my life. No one is exempt from these feelings that arise from our human experience.

2. Stop being so hard on myself—It’s not helpful or productive, and it only drains my energy.

3. See all failure as an opportunity to engage in mindfulness—It’s important to my life, and any circumstance serves as an opportunity to practice it.

4. Relax, because some day I’m going to die—It’s a morbid thought. But, whether it’s from a bus at 44 or a heart attack at 84, we must understand that we won’t live forever. This allows me to view even the most dire feelings and situations with a lighter heart.

My dream serves as a reminder to me that, just as my church folks weren’t as astonished as I was about my “breezy situation,” people aren’t experiencing the same intensity of these feelings as I am. My feelings are my responsibility.

And having a personal protocol—a prescribed mindset, written out—reminds me that I have options.

I can still choose to react to situations by using my old, erratic patterns of thinking. Or, I can choose to stop momentarily, feel what I’m feeling, and use this pause to gain perspective.


Author: Jeremy Snowden
Image: Pierre Willemin/Flickr 
Editor: Catherine Monkman

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