When I first started meditating, I thought the goal was to not feel anger, impatience, or deep sadness ever again. And at first, it seemed to kind of work. I became more present to beauty and joy in the moment, and being mindful made them more vivid. It was great.
But what also began to happen was that all of my emotions became brighter. Anxiety, insecurity, anger. . . all of those became more intense.
I thought I must be doing it wrong. Meditation is supposed to make you peaceful, right? I thought that if I meditated hard enough, often enough, and did it just right, I would be able to live in a happy place all the time. I wasn’t quite sure what to do with all of those other emotions.
Now I know, and I want to tell you, that what actually happens once you begin to notice your emotions, and you allow yourself to feel them as they are, is that they all become more vivid.
This is not a bad thing, though it might seem like it at first. If you’re in the habit of avoiding or smooshing down uncomfortable emotions, this part might be uncomfortable. (I still struggle with this at times, especially around the holidays, and when I’m not taking care of my physical body — when I stay up too late, or don’t eat well, it’s harder to practice being mindful.)
But I want you to know that what is happening is a good thing.
Meditation makes you more human, not less.
As a human, you get to experience all of these emotions. And while meditation does intensify them, it also gives you the ability to relate to them differently.
When you notice intense emotions arise — whether you enjoy it or not — consider this approach to meeting them: “My emotions have a message for me. What do they want me to know?”
All emotions can be allies. Some are more comfortable than others. Challenging emotions — like frustration, anger, grief — often have valuable information. It might be something like, “I’m frustrated. . . and hungry. I got caught in a project and forgot to eat lunch! Ok, time to do something about that.” The message is: care for your physical body.
Or it might be more tender, like, “I’m so terribly sad. . . My heart feels so much love for this person, and they are so important to me. It’s hard that they’re gone.” The message is: love. . . and savor this life in all of its impermanence.
So in one sense, meditation makes the road more bumpy because you become very aware of each emotion and sensation. You’re less numb.
But also, it smooths the ride because those bumps aren’t so troubling — because you also develop more skill in meeting them. Your cushion is your attitude of inner friendship. It is your curiosity and kindness, amidst all arising conditions.
The net result is you get to be MORE human. Not less. You feel MORE alive, more emotion — and also more brightness, more calm in the storm.
So the question isn’t how to avoid or not feel uncomfortable emotions. The real question is: How alive are you willing to be?