I grew up in a family that didn’t express anger. My parents would have a monster fight, not by hurling words at each other, but by dramatic nonverbal communication. My dad would leave all of the kitchen cabinets open and the milk on the countertop to let my mom know just how pissed off he was. The energy in the house would vibrate with all of the things left unsaid.
Not surprisingly, as an adult, whenever I feel anger, I try to rationalize, justify, or even talk myself out of why I feel it. I feel bad. I shouldn’t be mad. It’s not their fault. They were just trying their best. My husband calls it my excuse machine. I call it compassion.
But am I really being compassionate to myself when I don’t allow an authentic feeling in? I don’t do that with other, more positive emotions like feeling curious or calm, delighted or dazzled. I allow myself to really feel these more socially acceptable emotions, feeling them thoroughly and allowing them to flow right through me.
Recently, I learned about the Doing Mind versus the Being Mind from the book, Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Mark Williams and Danny Penman.
The Doing Mind is the part of the mind that likes to solve problems. In everyday life, the mind is excellent at looking for gaps or problems to solve. For instance, when we are located at point A, say at our house and we’re starving. We want to be at point B, at the beach eating fish tacos. The mind creates a gap between point A and point B. We are here (hungry) and we want to be there (fish tacos).
When the mind recognizes a gap, it immediately jumps into Doing Mind, or problem-solving mode. It begins to work to solve the problem and reduce the gap between the two points. It asks for directions, drives down the road, dials the phone, or speaks to someone that can serve the needs. The mind works to narrow the gap until we have arrived at the destination, bare feet in the sand, belly round and full of tacos. More often than not, we are rewarded for using our Doing Mind, gold star for problem-solving!
When this becomes problematic is when the mind attempts to problem solve an emotion. For example, when I’m feeling angry, my mind labels this emotion Point A. When I talk myself out of feeling anger because I want to feel happy instead, then the state of happiness becomes point B on my mind map. By wanting to feel an emotion that I’m not currently feeling, I have created a gap. When the mind sees a gap, what does it do? It goes into Doing Mode and attempts to solve the problem.
The mind moves from point A to point B, trying to figure out why I feel angry, unearthing all sorts of reasons why the anger could exist. Is it because of something my partner said? Am I mad because of my job? Am I depressed? Am I a terrible person? Is it because of that event that happened when I was little?
It creates a spiral of suffering by continuing to dredge up all of the possible causes of my mad-ness. Suddenly, I don’t have a solution to my anger, all I have is a cornucopia of reasons to be mad. And, is the problem of anger solved? No way. I usually feel worse.
That’s because emotions are not problems to be solved. Emotions are meant to be felt.
When dealing with an emotion, especially one that we consider “bad” or unwanted, it is best to switch the mind from Doing mode to Being mode. Instead of wanting to feel an emotion other than the one we are feeling, just be with the first emotion.
How do we be with an emotion?
This is where meditation comes in handy. It can be easier to practice with positive or more neutral emotions, such as peace, joy, mellow, satisfied, etc…
First, notice the emotion. Say to the self, I feel calm, or I am aware of the feeling of calm.
Where do I feel it in the body? I feel the calm in my chest.
Does it have a texture, a color, a sound? It feels light and fluttery like a purple butterfly.
Welcome it in by accepting the emotion. I welcome in the calm.
For more difficult emotions, notice if the mind is telling us that we shouldn’t feel this way, that we should be feeling a different way. Repeat reassurances like, it’s ok that I feel angry right now.
Feeling a feeling for 90 seconds can release it.
Emotions are energy. Once we feel the feeling, it may soften its grip naturally. Or we may have to ask it to let go or transform it.
Emotions come in, we feel them, emotions leave. It is easier to feel positive emotions because when we feel happy (point A) usually we don’t create point B. We typically don’t say to ourselves, why am I so joyful? I really should be fearful right now. We are less likely to create the gap with positive emotions. As a result, they tend not to hang around as long as negative ones.
Negative emotions tend to cling. Probably because we’re refusing to feel them. So the next time an emotion bubbles up, try to avoid circling down the why am I gloomy? drain. Instead, feel the gloom, allow the gloom, sit with the gloom. This takes practice.
We can practice with all of the feels. When we’re happy, really revel in happiness. When we’re feeling sad, allow for sadness. Hopefully, we’ll begin to notice the flow of emotions in and out and not get stuck in the gap.
Sarah Kostin is a Mindfulness Coach, Yoga Teacher, Children’s Librarian, and Writer. Sarah is pursuing a Professional Coaching Certification which focuses on mindfulness, wellness, and somatic (body) awareness. As a coach, Sarah listens generously with compassion and acceptance in order to help clients learn to love themselves and move forward into their full purpose with grace and joy. You can reach Sarah on her website sarahkostin.com.
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