"Emotional literacy, perhaps the most important skill for growing into a happy and successful adult, is the ability to regulate and understand emotions. Children who can regulate their emotions are better at soothing themselves when they are upset, which means that they experience negative emotions for a shorter period of time. In addition, "emotionally literate children understand and relate to people better, form stronger friendships and do better in school" - Christine Carter PhD is a sociologist and happiness expert at UC Berkeley’s Science Center.
Mindfulness is a current hot topic as it offers a simple, practical (and often free way) of managing our emotions and finding some internal peace and calm, in an increasingly stressful and fast-paced world that actually works.
Mindfulness and I did not fall in love at first sight. Mindfulness was in my field for a long time before I tried it, and I tried it many times (and attempted to read a number of books on mindfulness) before I found anything of personal value. However what had struck me at the time was the quality of the people that I met who practiced mindfulness. Often they were fellow colleagues or professors , who appeared to have this quality of peace, lightness and joy of countenance. Was it the effect of long-term mindfulness or something else? "I really should try it," I told myself. The trouble was every time I tried to practice mindfulness I found myself profoundly bored.
Boredom is one of the most uncomfortable feelings for me. I know from the rare moments I have forced myself, or been forced to "be with" my boredom that it is connected to an inner sense of self deficiency and the belief that if I am bored then I am lacking in resourcefulness and creativity. "Only the bored are boring," I was told as a child, "Do something." So I did.
For a long time, it took a great deal for me not to do anything. To sit and be with myself and my feelings was incredibly hard but I have found that if I can break through the superficial fear and boredom—like cracking a thick layer of ice—it feels so good. I can stop running on my hamster wheel and touch my inner depths and this sweet, dark, peace that trickles out when I let myself be, simply noticing my experience. Luckily, I now notice pretty quickly my manic part surface as I watch myself being "productive." I know from experience that this is not productive even if it appears so.
Rushing is an old habit of mine. In my primary school reports teachers repeatedly said, "Alexandra rushes her work, she needs to slow down!" As a child I was told not to rush all the time, in the street, on projects, in class… I wanted to get this thing done so I could do something else. But this became such a pervasive habit that I wasn’t enjoying anything. I was doing, doing, doing and rushing through all of it, just to get onto the next thing. This is a stressful way to live.
I have spent a decade practicing the ancient healing techniques of yoga, tai chi, meditation and other disciplines that focus on the breath. These have helped me slowly unravel my habit of rushing. Rushing is a coping mechanism a defense against feeling. For me it was a defense against feeling anxiety.
The Most Anti-intuitive Approach Is the One that Works
This approach is to acknowledge the feeling that is there and meet it. Like you would a guest that leaves you feeling uncomfortable. Be polite, look them in the eye and say hello. You don’t have to chat for long but acknowledge their existence and watch what they stir up in you. Try it for a few seconds. You don’t have to like it, it’s only for a few seconds. This approach takes a good amount of courage and some inner resources. Being with the anxiety or unwanted feeling is the only thing that I’ve found truly effective. Sure, you can try (and we often do) to suppress or control it with food, herbal remedies, medication, drugs, and/or alcohol but they don’t help for long and then the feeling returns often stronger than before, only now you have another layer to deal with and this comes with a host of its own problems.
You could think of mindfulness & meditation like pulling out the plug on a bath of constantly running water. If you don’t pull the plug out, the water will overflow. Mindfulness and meditation is one effective way of doing this. Yet we have a great deal of fear and resistance about exploring our inner world and being with ourselves for even a few moments. It took me a long time to realize that I wouldn’t die if I actually felt and the world wouldn’t end if my heart broke. So how do we cope with the realities as sensitive, intuitive beings? How do we become more open to loving each other rather than creating more layers and shells that disconnect us from ourselves and others? We take a deep breath and feel what we don’t want to.