In my approach to meditation – 7 Questions, 7 Mantras, the point of the first question, “What am I feeling?” is to focus your attention on what you are experiencing in the present moment.
The corresponding mantra, “Feel your breath” is a reminder to ground yourself by first focussing on your own breathing. By attending to each breath, you can render what is usually automatic conscious and deliberate. This is analogous to the greater task of attending to the emotional experiences that are normally automatic and rendering them under more conscious control.
Without awareness, we can be carried away with our emotions. Adults as well as children can react with words and actions that in retrospect appear rash and foolish. Strong feelings, particularly anger, can narrow our thinking and prompt us to act with considerably less intelligence than we really possess.
An angry toddler acts like a baby; an angry teen like an 8-year-old; and an angry man like a child. Emotions need to be acknowledged before they can be mastered.
A wise parent knows that time outs are essential when dealing with tantrums yet they are not enough. A child’s overwhelming emotion – anger, sadness, anxiety – needs to be acknowledged and understood. When we listen to our children and show that we understand how they feel, their level of emotion will often dissipate to a manageable level.
Likewise in adults, every strong emotion must be acknowledged and brought out into the light – at least for our own private viewing. If we don’t recognize our underlying feelings, they will ultimately bubble to the surface, sometimes exploding in rage or tears.
This doesn’t mean we must allow our angry feelings to be expressed in aggression. We can choose what we will do with our positive and negative feelings.
Through the process of sublimation we can transform negative feelings into something positive. Our anger with injustice can motivate us to help others who have been harmed. Our grief with the loss of loved ones can move us to dedicate our actions to their memory.
I have found it helpful when confronted with my own strong emotions to take a step back and view them and my situation from a different perspective. What would be the view for someone on the other side? How might I feel about this a year from now or 10 years from now? Will this all make a difference in the future?
Our feelings can arise from our physical state – our state of rest or of health, our cognitive state – how we interpret our world, our situation, or our existential state – how we see ourselves and our existence.