Normally in conversation we use the word feelings and emotion as if they were the same. This weeks article looks at the distinction that can be made between emotions and feelings, and how this can be used in order to prevent difficult emotions arising from painful feelings. I think you will find it useful!
Many thanks to those of you who signed up fro and attended the first of the Integral Meditation Practice Six week course, it was great to meet and spend time with you last Wednesday, you can read details of this coming weeks class below.
Yours in the spirit of awakened feelings and emotions,
Stopping Painful Feelings Becoming Emotional Suffering
This is a continuation of the exploration of Insight Meditation that I began in last week’s article entitled “Insight Meditation – Improving Your Subjective Experience by Developing Your Objective Perspective” – Toby
The difference between feelings and emotions
One of the most useful distinctions in Buddhist insight meditation that I have found is the distinction between feelings and emotions. Broadly speaking feelings are simply the experience of that which is pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. By contrast emotions arise from a psychological process that involves thinking in a particular way about a feeling. Here are two simple examples:
- I see a person who has wronged me in the past, instinctively an unpleasant feelingarises. I then start to reflect on the harm that they have caused me and develop anger or resentment. This anger is the emotion, arising from the psychological process of paying attention to the harm done in combination with the initial unpleasant feelings.
- I am sick, giving rise to unpleasant feelings in my body. I start to think about how this sickness is ruining my only two weeks of holiday in the year and I start to develop the emotions of frustration, despair and sadness.
From these two examples we can start to see the basic distinction; pain is simply the feeling arising within the moment. Emotion is that which we experience when we combine a feeling with a psychological process of focusing on the feeling in a particular way.
With regard to painful feelings, quite often we compound the pain they cause us by focusing on them in a way that causes us to experience emotional suffering, as in the examples above. The key therefore in preventing painful feelings becoming full blown emotional suffering is to avoid thinking about them or focusing on them in such a way that negative emotions are caused to arise.
Some sources of painful feelings
The five sources of painful feelings below are a non-exhaustive list, but it gives an idea of the variety of different sources that can cause painful feelings within us. Any of them if focused on in the wrong way can cause negative emotions to arise:
- Physical pain arising from sickness or injury
- Pain or irritability arising from hormonal or other biological or energetic imbalances within the body
- From people who say or do harmful things to us or have done so in the past
- From psychological and/or existential anxiety, eg: Worried about not being good enough, fear of dying, fear of stepping out of comfort zone etc…
- From spiritual crisis; for example when the old elf or ego structures are collapsing in order for a new level of self sense to arise.
So, what to do?? An Insight Meditation Form for acknowledging and releasing negative feelings
Here is a brief insight meditation form that we can use to prevent difficult feelings turning into negative emotions:
Stage 1: Breathing in I am aware of my painful feelings,
Breathing out I acknowledge those feelings fully.
Stage 2: Breathing in I experience my tight grasping at those painful feelings,
Breathing out I relax my grasping at those feelings,
Stage 3: Breathing in I detach from those feelings,
Breathing out I extend compassion and understanding to those feelings.
In stage one as we breathe in we become consciously aware of any painful feelings we may be experiencing, as we breathe out we acknowledge them fully. Often we try and repress or deny negative feelings, which in turn allow them to build and transform into negative emotions. Here we are fully acknowledging what is there and giving them the attention they need in order to be addressed.
In stage two we observe how we are clinging to these painful feelings, grasping at them tightly. Then, as we breathe out we consciously release that tight grasping, energetically relaxing our body and mind.
In stage three we detach from those painful feelings, at the same time as extending a feeling of compassion and understanding toward them. We combine the objective experience of detachment with the positive emotional tonalities of compassion and understanding.
Suggestions for Daily Practice
The essential point in this article is that feelings can be distinguished from emotions, and we can prevent negative emotions from arising by avoiding focusing on painful feelings in the wrong way.
The brief meditation technique I describe above can be done as a two minute exercise oras an extended meditation, taking a few minutes to focus on each of the stages. It is a meditation that is worth doing sometimes even if we are not fully aware of any negative feelings inside us, as often it will bring to light negative feelings within us the need a bit of tender loving care, and spending a little time just breathing with them and paying them benevolent.
Of course if there are also practical things that we can do to alleviate the negative feelings, like taking medicine, or having a conversation to clear the air with our partner about a hurt we have then this should be done to!
© Toby Ouvry 2012, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website www.tobyouvry.com