By Jessica Kuhnen, MSW, LCSW
They say if you are living in the past you are depressed, if you are living in the future you are anxious and if you are living in the present you are at peace. Mindfulness teaches us how to live in the present. That does not mean we ignore how the past shaped our present or be neglectful about how our current actions can impact our future. Rather it is taking time to gently observe and accept how we are feeling at the current moment. Key word there is to ACCEPT whatever emotion you are experiencing.
So many of my clients experience an unpleasant emotion and if that isn’t bad enough, they then beat themselves up for experiencing an emotion they really couldn’t stop from surfacing in the first place. Let me give you an example; your best friend purchases a brand new luxury car after getting married a month prior. Logically you are very happy for them but nonetheless as soon as you heard that news, like rapid fire your brain reflected on how your car is falling apart and how you are actually very lonely. Those thoughts, just as fast as they came, trigger a nasty emotion called jealousy. Instead of allowing yourself to gently explore, process and experience this emotion you repress it, push it deep down, tell yourself you are a horrible person and try not to look at those thoughts or emotions. But guess what? Those thoughts and emotions don’t go anywhere and instead they get louder and louder overtime. I like to think of emotions as your worrisome little brother knocking on your bedroom door. He keeps knocking and knocking until you finally let him in and once he’s there he really doesn’t want much, just to be acknowledged.
Contrary to what you might believe, jealousy is a very normal emotion that all of us experience. No reason to feel guilty about it or beat yourself up. I would encourage everyone to take time to sit with that or any emotion, process it, allow yourself to be jealous for a couple minutes and literally say in your head: It’s okay to be jealous. It’s natural. It’s human. Acknowledge that you have needs that aren’t being met and that it is difficult to see others who have those needs being met. Watch what relief you get.
Now what is not okay is for you to act on those emotions. It’s not okay to make a snide remark or minimize your friend’s accomplishment. Hopefully, once you have acknowledged and accepted your thoughts and emotions you will no longer feel the urge. Coming back to the analogy from my article last week; our emotions are like a stream, we can’t stop them but we can step out of the stream and observe it and not get swept away by them.
Thoughts and emotions happen so fast though, right? The real question is how do we slow the stream down enough to even know what we are feeling? Come back next week and we will talk a little bit more about how to even know what we are feeling.