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How to take advantage of your negative emotions and make peace with them
Emotions play a big part in our lives. Whether we are aware or not, they influence everything: our thoughts and feelings, our attitudes, and decisions, our moods, and mental states, etc. Often, they make or break our days.
In everyday life, we tend to classify our emotions.
Anything that makes us feel great like satisfaction, gratitude, joy, amusement, hope, excitement, love, relief, awe, enjoyment, enthusiasm, confidence, eagerness, etc., we call them positive emotions.
On the flip side, anything that makes us feel not so great like fear, worry, grief, sorrow, hatred, anger, sadness, angst, stress, and anxiety, depression, panic, disgust, jealousy, envy, hopelessness, shame, frustration, etc., we call them negative emotions.
Because of their nature of making us feel negative, and the potentiality to ruin our days, unaware, we often develop some hatred towards them. We want to get rid of them. This aversion traps us in an endless loop of negativity.
But, are they our enemies?
Why do negative emotions exist in the first place?
Today, I’m going to show you how to take advantage of your negative emotions and make peace with them.
Understand negative emotions
The human brain is wired for survival. Over millennia, our mind is conditioned and configured in such a way to increase the odds of our survival.
And, guess what? Emotions are a key part of this mechanism.
To explain this, let me give you some examples:
- Fear is an alarm that triggers us alert of the dangers ahead.
- Anxiety and worry remind us that something needs to be prepared.
- Envy can be the fuel that motivates us to improve ourselves.
- Shame is our cue to make necessary corrections.
- Anger gives us the energy to fight our enemies or to face our problems.
- Disgust is there to help us to be careful so that we can reject anything that might be harmful to us.
- Sadness helps us to connect and empathize with those we love.
- Frustration is an indicator for us to be flexible and act creatively.
See, there are beneficial messages behind those “negative” emotions.
And, if the actions we take in response to those negative emotions result in success, a feeling of satisfaction will follow.
That satisfaction is a form of positive emotions that help us memorize the experience and the lesson learned.
Conversely, if the actions we take in response to those negative emotions lead to failure, a feeling of disappointment will follow.
That disappointment is a form of negative emotions that also help us memorize the experience and the lesson learned.
Those two lessons give us the idea of how to deal with similar situations in the future and what to avoid. In other words, they help us survive.
Put simply, all the emotions, positive or negative, are essential to our success, to our survival.
Therefore, don’t hate negative emotions!
Want to get rid of them? Don’t!
Instead, be smart, take advantage of them.
Other than that, negative emotions are also often the result of pessimistic thoughts.
The question is how we can take advantage of our negative emotions and make peace with them since they can be overwhelming to a point they consume us and ruin our days, fill our minds with negativity, and trap us in it.
Be mindful of negative emotions
Want to take advantage of your negative emotions? Be mindful of them!
Sounds simple? Yes, it does indeed.
Mindfulness conditions our mind to be receptive and therefore, enables us to extract the messages behind negative emotions.
Mindfulness makes us aware of our emotions. It gives us clarity to see through our emotions and comprehend them.
But, if it is so simple, why do those negative emotions keep controlling us? Why do they dictate our state of mind?
It is because mindfulness is not strong enough.
And, developing mindfulness is not so simple. Perhaps, you’ve been trying to be mindful using many techniques unsuccessfully. Or, you think the results are far from consistent.
The best way to develop mindfulness is through meditation.
In dealing with negative emotions, I’ve tried many other techniques: positive thinking, pattern-breaking and reframing, journaling, visualization, incantation, self-hypnosis, self-motivation, seminars, you name it.
They all worked to some point.
But, I find meditation the best because not only it is VERY EFFECTIVE, it also brings many other unexpected real life-transforming benefits.
Because of its satisfying results, I highly recommend meditation as a way to cultivate mindfulness.
Although meditation is not the easiest practice on earth, it’s not some rocket science either.
To practice mindfulness meditation, what you need is patience and persistence.
Now, the next question is how to practice mindfulness meditation to strengthen awareness of negative emotions?
How to do mindfulness meditation
First, what is mindfulness meditation?
When talking about meditation, what people often have in mind is sitting cross-legged on a cushion, motionless.
Though not wrong, that’s only partly true. Sitting is just one of the meditation postures we can practice in. The other postures are walking, standing, lying down, and daily activity. Yes, you can meditate while you’re doing your daily activities.
Meditation is the practice of maintaining awareness in the present, being mindful of our mind and body by paying attention to anything that’s happening and that’s stopped happening in the six sense doors (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind) continuously, from moment to moment, with the right attitude.
Awareness is the essence of meditation.
In meditation, we train our mind to be mindful in any situation continuously.
And, what we train to be mindful of is our mind and body. They are the meditation objects.
So, in meditation, meditation objects are anything to be aware of, what we pay attention to.
Emotions are part of the mind.
Emotions are intense feelings triggered and configured by our thoughts, memories or perceptions, or a combination of them.
So, in this context, what we call negative emotions are meditation objects.
The right attitude means we see objects as nature, natural processes. We don’t take possession of them.
Because objects are nature, natural processes, we don’t love or hate them.
Therefore, to mindfulness, there are no positive or negative emotions. They are just emotions that consist of thoughts, feelings, and memories as their components.
Our mind tends to classify and label things. We label positive for anything we like or love and negative for anything we dislike or hate.
This tendency makes us forget that what we call negative emotions are part of natural processes essential to our survival.
And, in the process, we become unaware, we take possession of them. We think they’re unique to us.
So, when we’re angry, we see it as my anger. In meditation, this is NOT the right attitude.
In mindfulness meditation, when we’re experiencing anger, we just acknowledge that anger is happening, not my anger. We see anger as a natural process.
Anger or any other negative emotions are meditation objects.
They will come and go. They arise, run its course, and cease. That is the nature of all objects when being observed with the right attitude.
So, what should we do when anger is happening?
Just be aware of it. Acknowledge it and let it be.
When it’s ceasing, just be aware of it. Acknowledge that anger is ceasing and let it be.
As with any objects, we neither reject them nor hold on to them.
As awareness gets stronger, the faster the object will run its course.
“Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”The Buddha
- The Joy of Living: Unlocking the Secret and Science of Happiness
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Has given a simple illustration regarding the right attitude using panic attacks as an example:
- Don’t position the panic (negative emotions) as your boss or they will dictate you.
- Don’t position the panic (negative emotions) as your enemies or they will get stronger.
You might want to check his other works.
That’s how we do mindfulness meditation with negative emotions as meditation objects.
Now, I know what you’re thinking.
“It’s easier said than done,” you might say.
Emotional weights vary significantly from emotion to emotion. Sometimes, they can be so overwhelming that we lose our awareness.
They can take up all our mental energy to a point we feel being drowned. We cannot maintain mindfulness.
This is where we need to take a step back to build up our foundation, our awareness muscle.
We do this by using a neutral meditation object.
What I mean by neutral is an object that doesn’t bring any intense emotional weight. An object that is natural and doesn’t trigger love or hate.
Many options are available but, I find the breath to be the best for many reasons.
That’s why I recommend the breath as a meditation object to build our foundation of mindfulness.
Be mindful of your breath to build awareness
There are many good reasons why so many meditation techniques focus on the breath.
As a meditation object, breath has some advantageous qualities.
Breath is readily available. You don’t need to buy it or find it. It’s always with you.
Breath is neutral. Meaning, usually it doesn’t carry any significant emotional weight, making it an ideal object for initial practice.
Breath rarely triggers any intense emotion like love or hate that can potentially cause mood swings.
Breath is natural. Meaning, breathing is a natural process. You don’t need to conceptualize or visualize it.
Because it’s a natural process, breath is dynamic, making it suitable not only for developing focus but also for cultivating mindfulness.
Breath also gives us options to where and how we pay our attention.
We can pay attention to the nostrils or upper lip to feel the touching sensation of the air flowing in and out or the rising and falling of the abdomen.
We can also feel the temperature of the air.
If we want to go further, it includes the air entering our lungs, our body absorbing it, the resulting body internal energy flow, etc.
As we go deeper into our meditation, our mind and body become calmer, and our breath becomes slower. The sensations will change from obvious to subtle, to barely noticeable.
This dynamic can accommodate practices ranging from beginner to advanced, making breath a very versatile meditation object.
Apart from the reasons above, meditation can also benefit overall health by utilizing certain breathing techniques.
Now, how do we start?
Start by finding a quiet comfortable place with minimum distractions.
Although you can be mindful of your breath in any posture or even while you’re doing any activities, for initial practice, it’s best to start with the sitting posture.
If you’re used to sitting cross-legged in that famous lotus or half-lotus position, great! But, you don’t have to. Just sit comfortably. You can use a chair. But, remember to keep your spine upright in a relaxed and natural way and don’t lean back.
Rest your hands on your thighs, palms facing downward or upward or on top of each other, in front of your abdomen, whichever you feel most comfortable.
With a proper sitting posture, you can practice longer and prevent drowsiness at the same time. That’s why it’s important to keep your back naturally straight.
Eyes? Close or half-closed. At this early stage, it’s important to minimize distractions. At later stages, when mindfulness has grown strong enough, practicing with eyes open won’t be a problem.
Take your time to adjust your posture to find the most relaxed and comfortable position.
Now, breathe normally, no need to control or regulate your breath.
Try to maintain mindfulness of the breathing process. You can direct your attention to the nostrils or upper lip, feeling the touching sensation of the air flowing in and out. Or, as an alternative, you can pay attention to the rising and falling movements of your abdomen.
Do it in a relaxed way. Avoid focusing too hard. You need to conserve your energy.
Duration? Start small and increase it gradually over time. You can start with five minutes and increase it by one minute every two or three days until you reach twenty minutes.
Although you might have heard that many practitioners meditate for thirty minutes, one hour, or even more per sitting, I’d advise to not focus too much on the duration. The regularity of the practice is much more important.
I recommend practice at least twice daily, once in the morning, once in the evening.
Whenever you find yourself wanders away into thoughts, feelings, memories, etc., gently bring your attention back to your breath.
After a few weeks, you will feel that mindfulness is getting stronger.
How do you know?
You know when your mind wanders less. It can stay with the objects longer. And, it’s becoming more stable.
These are some proven and easy hacks to maintain mindfulness, stay focused, and avoid mind-wandering during meditation.
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You might find many useful and practical tips in the above posts.
Now that mindfulness is getting stronger, you can use it to observe negative emotions.
You’ll be able to acknowledge as they arise, run their courses, and pass away.
You’ll remember not to hold on them.
They can no longer consume you.
Because you’re being mindful of them, you can see through them and extract the messages.
In turn, you’ll be able to take the necessary actions in response.
Now, you know how to take advantage of your negative emotions and make peace with them.
For a more detailed step-by-step on how to do mindfulness meditation, feel free to grab my free guide here.
Mindfulness is a delicate mental faculty we cannot develop by force. We can only cultivate mindfulness by maintaining its continuity.
That means mindfulness needs to be maintained in all of our daily activities continuously, at all times, not only during our sitting meditation.
The mindfulness meditation technique is quite simple and straightforward.
But, remember to have the right attitude in meditation. See meditation objects as natural processes, remember to not identify yourself with them. Don’t hate or reject objects, but also don’t love or cling to them.
Remember, negative emotions are neither your boss nor your enemies.
The question is why quite a lot of people still think that meditation is nonsense and a waste of time? Why do they fail to reap the benefits?
A lot of scientific studies have shown that even a brief properly-done mindfulness meditation session yields measurable positive results.
The answer lies in the consistency and regularity of the practice. Meaning, you need to habituate it, make it part of your lifestyle.
Speaking of meditation styles and techniques, there are tons on offer out there, based on different traditions. Many of them are valid. The differences are for accommodating different needs due to people’s diversity in personalities, characters, cultural backgrounds, upbringing, etc.
You’ll need to experiment a bit to find the right meditation approach that suits you the best.
If there are vipassana retreats conducted in or near your area, I’d advise you to attend one.
They are usually ten days in duration. So, you’ll need to free up your schedule.
If that’s not convenient for you, consider taking a meditation online course. It will certainly help you to have the regularity and consistency needed to build a practicing habit that facilitates transformation.
This is the one I highly recommend.
It includes many styles and techniques based on many different traditions with step-by-step guides. So, you’ll have plenty of rooms to experiment to find the one that works best for you.
And, the teacher is an accomplished meditation master that will guide you through each step and answer your questions.
Using a suitable approach and following a set schedule will help a lot in building consistency and regularity.
Adopting a meditative lifestyle has transformed my life. I’m sure it will transform yours as well.
Being able to be mindful of negative emotions, take advantage of them, and make peace with them is only a small part of the rewards meditation can bring you.
Nowadays, more and more people practice meditation for practical reasons.
Lastly, since meditation is a lifetime journey, let’s enjoy every moment of it.
My best wishes.
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