Mindfulness could be defined as focused, nonjudgmental attention. The benefits uncovered by research are impressive, so much so that mindfulness practices are now commonly taught in therapy for emotional soothing. Yet I’ve met more than one person for whom mindfulness techniques used to work and then ceased to be effective.
Why Does Mindfulness Sometimes Stop Working?
I’ve seen this happen when mindfulness becomes a method of avoidance. Newcomers to mindfulness are often surprised by the feeling of calmness they experience. Some people start to practice regularly. Yet for others, the soothing effect is so desirable, that at the first sign of negative emotions, they start to run to mindfulness to feel better.
This is where things start to turn.
What Happens When We Run From Discomfort?
If your emotions are so uncomfortable or frightening that you need to run from them, your mind is not fooled into believing you are completely peaceful. Your mind registers the fear. Each time you run, the fear grows. By running from emotions, you subconsciously feed beliefs such as:
- I can’t handle this
- Emotions are scary
- If I let myself feel, I’ll be overwhelmed
- It’s not safe to feel
- I’m weak
- I’m damaged
- I need to be saved from feeling this way
- I shouldn’t feel this
- I should be able to let this go
You cannot heal emotions that are kept hidden. They fester and poison from within. Rather than running from emotions, perhaps you let them consume you. This reaction feeds beliefs such as:
- I am a victim
- The world is cruel
- I will always be hurt
- I’m unlovable/worthless/powerless
Letting surface emotions consume us still hides the deeper hurt. There are only two choices: we can REACT TO the hurt or we can FEEL THROUGH the hurt. Acting them out or stuffing them down are both reactions. Both keep us from the vulnerability of truly being with our emotions.
Is There Another Way?
Emotional mindfulness allows us to go deeper. We learn how to get out of our reaction and sit with the true emotion using focused, nonjudgmental attention. When we do this, we honor our hurt and our humanity. We accept parts of us that we wanted to hide from. We allow feelings to come through clearly, to express what is needed and finally, to heal.
Sitting with the emotions mindfully takes practice, understanding, and some tolerance for discomfort. Practicing emotional mindfulness can create a deep sense of stability and ultimately change your emotional life.
If you wish to learn this process, I will be running a 2-hour emotional mindfulness workshop on May 5, 2019 at Unity Spiritual Center of Fort Wayne at 12:30pm. To learn on your own, a wise mindfulness or meditation teacher may be able to guide you. The book Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach describes emotional mindfulness with great depth and is a powerful resource.
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