Can Mindfulness Transform Feelings?

practicing mindfulness

When you mention mindfulness, many people immediately imagine Buddhist monks, sitting in the lotus position meditating.  If you are unaware of how mindfulness can be incorporated into many aspects of life, it can seem impractical in the midst of the pressures, demands and hassles that most people encounter every day.

However, practicing mindfulness-- defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn as the process of paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally-- can have a significant impact on our functioning.  It can improve your ability to focus, as well as your ability to manage intense or painful emotions.

Often people spend much of their time at the mercy of their emotions.  They feel rejected and spiral into loneliness and despair or they feel slighted and become stuck in thoughts of anger and retaliation.  If you often feel trapped in negative emotions and would like to transform them, try the following mindfulness exercise.  This is an exercise that typically would require some previous mindfulness practice.

  1. Sit quietly and bring your attention towards your feelings.  Notice the emotion that you’re stuck in and name it.  For example, you might say to yourself I’m feeling angry or enraged or afraid.
  2. Don’t try to push your emotion away.  Welcome your emotion.  You might want to imagine it as a traveler that has come to your door.  In your mind, say hello and ask your emotion how it is doing.
  3. It might seem counterintuitive to sit with and welcome an emotion that you’re trying to rid yourself of.  But the act of mindfully attending to your emotion helps you to create some distance.  It allows you to be with your emotion without reacting to it.
  4. In his book, Peace is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh recommends that you next calm your emotion.  You can do this by doing a breathing exercise.  As you breathe, imagine yourself caring for your emotion as you would a child.  Attend to it and say to yourself “breathing out, I calm my anger” (or whatever emotion you’re experiencing).
  5. When you feel calm, focus on letting your feeling go.  You might change what you’re saying to yourself to “breathing out I let my anger (or other feeling) go.”
  6. Finally, you must return to attending to your feeling to determine its cause.  When you’re able to determine and respond calmly and effectively to the source of the emotion, you will no longer be stuck in it.

Have you tried this exercise or an exercise like it?  How did it work for you?  Have you been able to transform habitual negative emotions with mindfulness?

I would be interested in your reaction to this exercise in the comments section.p>

Photo by Mike Baird, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.

8 Replies to “Can Mindfulness Transform Feelings?”

  1. It worked as soon as you reminded me to do it so this was a nice post 4 me to find as someone familiar with the practice.Nice one thanx.

  2. Yes! Mindfulness practice has been a key for me in dealing with negative emotions and worry. This is a great article & one I’ll be sharing often.

  3. I have been practicing mindfulness for a few months now and it greatly helps me to manage my bipolar over exaggerated emotions (along with meds).It takes some getting used to though, at least it did for me.

  4. It helped to get some distance from my negative emotions, but I also created some distance from my positive emotions. I ended by watching an emotional show separated from myself. Not a good feeling.I feel much better since stopping the practice.

  5. Christy,

    If you read this – then as you read this – please remember that you requested it – are you really interested in other’s comments?

    Spurious thoughts experienced while reading article on mindfulness follow:

    Self induced disassociation, as in Dissociative Experience?

    Dialectical? – as a neologism or as in the sense of the classical conflict model, (e.g. process of Thesis, Anti-Thesis, Synthesis)?

    One possible replacement for Cultural Traditions based upon Eastern Meditation, and Western Contemplation? Mt. Carmel was portrayed by St. John of the Cross as an austere, cold, and blindingly bright place where all the mind can do is wait – ah yes silence without the loss of consciousness.

    This notion of mindfulness also serves to conjure up the notions of Volition,(e.g. free will), and Operant Conditioning.

    Ah, our Illusions do preoccupy us so!

  6. Mindfulness is one of the basic techniques taught in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. DBT was originally developed for dealing with Borderline Personality Disorder. It has since been found to work well with just about any other personality disorder, to help focus. I use it to deal with my depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

    It’s not magic, it’s not hocus-pocus, folks: it just works!

  7. I spent so many years stuffing emotions down, I had to learn mindfulness in order to even recognize what was what. It’s been tremendously useful for better living, especially learning to discern between anger and sadness.

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