We’ve had a lot of questions about emotions that come up during meditation. Meditation helps you release backlogs of stress and emotions you’ve been burying. At some point, these suppressed emotions and memories will come to the surface so they can be released. This often happens outside of meditation – suddenly you’ll feel weepy for no reason, or you may feel irritable, angry, agitated or jumpy… and it’s all good. It’s a part of the releasing process!
You may or may not be consciously aware of these emotions and memories. Some may have been lingering for a lifetime – a classmate’s cruel taunt, a mother’s harsh criticism, a failure you experienced, etc. – and these suppressed emotions have been working against you all this time.
So why do we experience negative emotions outside of meditation, for no apparent reason? It’s not the suppressed memory, actually, that’s making you feel this way – but rather your resistance to the memory. You just don’t want to dredge it up and re-live it – and I understand that!
But… if you don’t, they will not be healed.
Remember that right now, you are perfectly safe. No emotion, and no memory, can cause you harm. The emotions you feel can be released through a simple 90-second mindfulness exercise: when you feel the emotion come up, focus all of your attention on the experience of the emotion, and do not allow your mind to get involved in the trigger. As soon as you feel yourself calming down, you know that you’ve mastered this trick (if you got involved in the thoughts, you would just get more and more emotional).
When you feel a memory and emotion come up, try to observe them indifferently, with curiosity but no involvement – I know, it’s easier said than done, but try anyway. As you remember a painful episode, for example, you could bring your attention to what you are feeling (physically and emotionally). The next time that particular memory comes up, it will hold less of a sting. The time after that, it will be even more neutral.
Here’s a famous quote that will help you delve into the depths of your memories, to heal every pain that is locked away there.
Fear knocked on the door, courage answered and there was no one there.
Remember: focus on the emotion itself, not on the memory. You’ll feel the emotion dissipate after about 90 seconds and then you’ll realize, even when you remember an event, you don’t have to get sucked into the emotional vortex. Ride it out, and then you will be able to revisit the memory with less emotion.
In doing this, you also release the resistance you have to allowing these suppressed and unresolved memories to come up. You’ll see that after a few times of practicing mindfully experiencing the emotion attached to a memory, you won’t fear the emotion anymore and the memory will become less painful.