Making Friends with Your Emotions

This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honourably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight. The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing and invite them in. Be grateful for whatever comes because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

The Guest House by Rumi

Rumi was talking about emotions in this poem. He is suggesting we welcome our emotions in like an unexpected guest, because each has been sent as a guide.

What we usually do is try to fight against our strong emotions, suppress them or get totally tangled up in them. None of these are going to be helpful. The more we fight against the emotion, the stronger it becomes. Acting this way, we will eventually make the emotion into our enemy. But emotions are not our enemies, they are our teachers. They don’t just suddenly appear for no reason. They come to inform us that something is happening, and we need to deal with it.

There are two types of emotions: connective and protective. Connective emotions are compassion, gratitude, happiness, contentment and so on. Protective emotions are usually the ones we fight against and they are anger, frustration, jealousy, pride, etc.

When we are in the grips of a protective emotion, we need to stop what we are doing and ‘welcome and entertain them,’ as Rumi put it. This means we need to investigate why the emotion has arisen and what it is trying to teach us. We can do this by following the ‘Six-Steps to Making Friends with Your Emotions.’

Firstly, we must calm ourselves down. When the protective emotion is strong it can activate our threat system and we could very easily go into the fight or flight mode. To prevent that, we need to do a mindfulness practice, such as becoming aware of our breath. This will bring us back to the present moment, calm us down and help us focus. A great practice to do is Rhythmic Breathing.

As you inhale, count to 4, hold for the count of 2 and then exhale for the count of 4. Keep doing this for some time to get a nice rhythm going. Then, inhale and count to 5, hold for the count of 2 and then exhale for the count of 5. Again, get a nice rhythm going. Finally, inhale and count to 6, hold for the count of 2 and then exhale for the count of 6, and get a good rhythm going. Do this for 2 or 3 minutes, or until you feel calm, focused, and present in the moment.

Secondly, we need to acknowledge we have the emotion. We can do this by labelling it. So, name it to tame it. By doing this the emotion will already start to lose its power. 

The third step is to accept that the emotion is there. This is a very important step because if we don’t accept the emotion, we could end up suppressing it or trying to ignore it. When we accept the emotion is there, it is important to not identify with it.

If we say, “I am angry,’ or ‘I am sad,’ we give ourselves very little room to work with the emotion. We are telling ourselves that we are the anger/sadness or whatever emotion we are experiencing. What we need to say is, ‘At this moment there is anger.’ This separates us from the emotion and gives us space to be able to work with the emotion. Remember, an emotion is a process in the brain and so, comes to go. By identifying with it, we stop it from going.

Step four is to investigate why the emotion has arisen. We can do this by asking ourselves the following questions:

  • Why has this emotion appeared?
  • What is it trying to teach me?

We need to answer these questions as honestly as we can. While answering the first question don’t blame others for the emotion arising. Playing the blame game is never helpful. Look at the emotion with a curious mind, as though we have never seen this type of emotion before. The emotion may be painful, so ensure you observe with a sense of kindness and compassion for yourself.

Once we have answered these questions, we can move on to step five. Now we know why the emotion is here and what it is trying to teach us, we can ask ourselves this:

  • What do I need to do to learn the lesson and let the emotion go?

If it is sadness, maybe we need to speak to someone. If it is anger, maybe we need to get some fresh air. If it is loneliness, maybe we need to meet up with a friend. Whatever it is, think of a plan that will help you let the emotion go.

The sixth, and final, step is to put the plan into action.

Throughout the whole of this process, ensure you are being kind and supportive towards yourself. Emotions can be painful and overwhelming, but by following these six simple steps you can learn from the emotion, put it behind you and move on.

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play. You can also visit my website.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

Dealing with Isolation

So many of us are having to work from home or self-isolate and we are starting to get overwhelmed by it all. That is no surprise because being confined in our homes for days on end can have a detrimental effect on our mental health. We start to over think and focus on the negative and forget the blessings. If you have an obsessive nature or are prone to anxiety attacks, this time can be particularly difficult for you. So, what can we do? Here are a few things you may like to try.

Keep to your routines

It may be tempting to stay in bed longer, go to sleep later, not wash and get dressed or eat at wrong times. All these things will eventually lead to a feeling of desperation, despair and it could even lead to depression. Try to stick to your normal routines where eating and sleeping are concerned. In other words, try to do what you usually do, but without going outside. It would be helpful to create a plan for each day and try to stick to it. As human beings, we crave a little structure – so coming up with a plan for each day will help pass the time and give you a sense of control.

Don’t overdo your devices

Doing a digital detox and limiting the amount of time spent on your phone or laptop can help reduce anxiety and prevent you from feeling negative.

I understand that stopping using your phone completely isn’t very practical, so set yourself time limits. Make a commitment each morning to only use your phone at certain times and for a set duration. Maybe, 30 minutes in the morning, again in the afternoon and then in the evening.

It is true to say that social media can be a great way to keep in contact with friends and family during self-isolation, but we must keep in mind that overuse is known to have a detrimental effect on mental wellbeing.

News overload

There is such a thing as being too well informed. News overload can cause a lot of anxiety and stress. As with social media, you should limit your exposure to it. Rolling news only unsettles us. So, limit your news updates to mornings and evenings.

Start a hobby

There may be something you have wanted to start doing for a long time. Now is the perfect time to start. You could learn cooking, painting, sewing, writing or podcasting. It will not only keep your mind occupied; it will also teach you how to be mindful. When we are focusing on something it prevents our minds from wandering off to dark places.

Do daily exercise

It is a well-known factthat exercising releases all-important endorphins which boosts our mood. There is no need to set up a home gym. You could do Tabata, Pilates or Zumba – there are many good videos on YouTube that will help you with this.    

Get some fresh air

You may be in isolation, but it doesn’t mean you have to shut out fresh air. If you have a private garden, then go outside each day. If you have a balcony, go and sit on that. If all you have is a window, then open it wide and go and sit next to it. Just feeling the sun on your face and breathing in fresh air will boost your mood and help you shake off mental health issues.

Time to meditate and be mindful  

Meditation and mindfulness are great ways to banish feelings of anxiety or restlessness. When we allow our thoughts to control us, they can take us into some deep, dark places, especially when we are having to isolate. So, meditation and mindfulness help us to take back control of our minds.

One reason to meditate is to stop the endless chitter chatter in your head, and to find the stillness and silence that lurks within. It will help you let go of those destructive thoughts that lead to anxiety and panic. In this guided meditation called ‘Allowing Your Thoughts to Flow,’ you will learn to see thoughts as just thoughts and so you don’t need to blindly follow everyone.

Mindfulness practices will also bring your mind back under your control through bringing awareness to whatever you are doing. The quickest and most simple way to bring yourself into the present moment is to watch your breath or your five senses. All you need to do is stop whatever you are doing, close your eyes and focus on your breath. Just become aware of it flowing in and out of your body. There is no need to judge or change the rhythm of your breath, just observe it. You could also focus on what you can see, hear, smell, taste and touch. Again, do not judge, just observe. So, look around you at five things of different colour, touch four different textures, listen to three different sounds, become aware of two different smells and see if you can taste one thing in your mouth,  

Both these practices will bring you into the present moment and help you to stop fixating on the past or the future.  

All of these points may sound quite simple, but even the smallest of changes to your daily life can bring about substantial results when it comes to our mental health.

During this time of isolation, I am conducting live mindful meditation practices on The Buddhism Guide Facebook page, so go to their page and check out the timings. If we can’t connect personally, at least we can do it virtually.   

Please stay safe, stay healthy and stay informed.  

You can read more blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos and practice guided meditations on the Buddhism Guide app. Available from the Apple Store and Google Play.

If you would like to become a supporter of Buddhism Guides work, such as podcasts, blogs, videos and guided meditation practices, please visit here. You can support for as little as $2 a month.

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