I am doing a type of meditation, currently, recommended by Pema Chödrön, a Buddhist nun. It is basically a variant of Shine/Shamatha/concentrative meditation. The object of this meditation is an emotion – a negative one, to be precise. The instructions point out that it is important to use the context of a recent unpleasant event merely to create the feeling and then let go of the memory again. Because meditation is about the emotion, not the memory or the event itself. Even if thoughts or images may come up, you are asked to acknowledge them, but not pursue them and return to the naked emotion. You are also supposed to set a timer to 20 minutes and focus on your breath for the first minutes.

I was struck by how hard this actually is. I have no idea how others are doing but will admit I had my struggles with this one. I found myself simply not capable to stay with the emotion and my mind looking for all sorts of ways to escape. At first, I couldn’t even recall the event properly, let alone get into the emotion bothering with all sorts of thoughts, like “What kind of cake am I going to bake now?” or “I’m going to vacuum the house today.” and “Hey, look at this funny pattern on the wooden floor”.

As soon as I managed to focus on the feeling more or less constantly for a couple of minutes, I started to wrap my mind around the unpleasant situation that created it in the first place and relived it countless times in my mind. I played through several variants of how I could have reacted better, what I would have preferred to say to teach my counterpart a lesson or convince him or her in order to make this awful feeling go away. The ridiculous thing about these mental efforts was that I was sitting alone in my room days after the unpleasant situation had passed and these thoughts wouldn’t make any difference. And above all, they had nothing to do with the emotion I was supposed to focus on either because they were nothing but thoughts.

As recommended I tried to help myself by observing how the emotion felt in my body. This is supposed to help you to take the focus away from thinking (because you can’t think your emotions, can you?). That actually worked rather ok. Heat in the head … burning in the temples … pressure in the chest … nausea … pounding pain in the forehead … pressure in the stomach … Pema Chödrön says that for most people, physical sensations are the closest they can get to sense emotions. I felt a bit like I was attending some sort of beginners’ course for sensing my own emotions. Can you believe this? But it’s true. And I started to realize that this was exactly what I was doing all the time as soon as a negative emotion occurs in my life. I suddenly felt a very very quiet sensation of “Ok, I am not letting you alone this time.” emerging from somewhere within and it made me feel a little better.

“The aim is to gain experience,” says Pema Chödrön. So there is nothing extraordinary to achieve or something. Nothing special is supposed to happen here either. “Ideally, at the end of the exercise, you will experience how a little more space has emerged around the feeling.” That’s all. A little more space around that horrible emotion. A little more space between the trigger and emotional reaction. So… my experience was: I can’t be with my negative emotions. At all. And there are countless weird things my mind creates to escape the situation.

By the end, right before the “Ping!” indicating that the timer was over, I noticed a bit of relaxation. Some kind of “All right then, …”

I am guessing that might have been my first approach to this space…