Mindfulness Meditation Instruction, Part 2

"Peace comes into the heart like the morning sun spreading across the ocean. It is the ocean of compassion."
--Stephen Levine

In Part 1 of these instructions, I said that focusing on the breath is the default position.  When a body sensation arises that is strong enough to command your attention, that becomes the focus of attention until (or unless) it subsides.  Then your attention returns to the breath.

You will find your mind churning out endless thoughts.  Each time you notice that you are thinking instead of feeling the air moving in and out of your body, just return your attention to your breathing.

You may also find uncomfortable emotions surfacing when you are sitting with yourself in this way and not doing anything to dull them.  When this happens, you treat it the same way you do an uncomfortable physical sensation.

Go to where you feel the emotion in your body.  All emotions are felt in the body.  If you are unaware of this or can isolate the place where a particular emotion is residing, ask yourself this: ‘If there were any place in my body where I might be feeling this emotion, where would it be?’ 

If it seems like you feel the emotion all over your body, ask yourself, ‘if there is any place where I feel this emotion any more than any other place, where would that be?’  You might feel a little tension in your chest or stomach, or a lump in your throat, or butterflies in your gut.

When you get some sense of where the emotion is in your body, let your attention go there.  This is your current focus of meditation.

Treat the emotion exactly as you would an uncomfortable physical sensation.  Stay with it and watch it.  Allow it to be there.  Say to yourself, ‘It is okay for this emotion to be here.’  Develop some tolerance for a certain degree of discomfort.

See if you can develop a sense of curiosity about the emotion to see what it does and how it may change.  See it as just an emotion and not “you.”  You really are not your emotion.  It is simply an energy pattern that you are feeling at the moment and will eventually change.

Sometimes a very strong emotion may feel too painful to stay with longer than a few seconds.  The point of staying with it is not to harm yourself, but to eventually resolve the emotion.  You have to be able to tolerate feeling it in order to resolve it.

But, here are two suggestions in case it feels like more than you can stand.
First, put your hands on the part of your body where you feel the emotion and pretend your are pulling it out of your body and holding it in your hands.  You can actually make a pulling gesture when you do this.

Now, send love, compassion, or some kind of warm, soothing energy to the uncomfortable emotion in your hands.  Keep sending it until the emotional feels more tolerable.  It is always appropriate, during meditation or any other time, to extend compassion to yourself.

A different thing you can do (which is not actually part of Mindfulness Meditation but comes from a body-centered therapy called Somatic Experiencing) is to feel the painful emotion for about 5 to10 seconds or so, and then switch to the memory of a time when you felt safe and comfortable. 

Hold that memory and let yourself feel the positive emotions associated with it until you feel better.  Then go back to the uncomfortable emotion.

Go back and forth for awhile.  When you’re focusing on the painful feeling, you can remember that you’re going to feel a comfortable one very soon and that you only have to hold out for a matter of seconds. 

Sometimes going back and forth in this way will facilitate what is called a “release.”  When this happens, you may feel tingling somewhere in your body, you may yawn, you may have a little shiver, you may have some tears, or there may be some other physical sign of the release.  Some people have no physical reactions at all, which is also normal.

If you do have a release, take a few deep breaths to let the energy flow out, and drink extra plain, high-quality water for the rest of the day.  The next time you meditate, if the emotion comes up again and is painful again, repeat the process.  When it gets to where you can stay with it without alternating with a pleasant one, then do that.  Seek outside help if you need it.

With an emotion that is not as deep or painful comes up, just stay with the physical feeling of it and see what happens.  If it stays throughout your meditation, than it is the focus of attention for the whole meditation.  If it becomes less painful, then at that point, return to the physical sensation of breathing.