Mindfulness and kind attention can bring us more deeply in touch with our breath and our body. In the same way we can extend this awareness to the emotions we have, to the feeling states that come. Our feeling states often run our lives. Justice William O’Douglas wrote: “At the supreme court level where I work, 90% of our decisions are made on an emotional basis – the other 10% is used to rationalise what we feel.” So its not just us, it works for everyone. It’s part of our humanity that feelings guide how we live.
Our days and our actions differ tremendously depending whether we are depressed or angry, fearful or excited, joyful or contend, or in love – everything gets flavored by it. Mindfulness, or the loving awareness, allows us to know what is being felt and to develop a wise and gracious relationship to our whole feeling life. This mindful awareness builds an inner capacity to be with a wider range of emotions – pleasant and unpleasant or neutral feelings and experience them with a balance rather than with reactivity or being caught in them. Neuroscience has shown that we expand, through these trainings, what is called a window of tolerance. Studies done at UCLA, UC Davis and others describe increased emotional balance and resilience that comes as you train and be able to be with the whole of our feeling life.
After sensing our capacity to be present and to acknowledge the feelings in the body, mind and heart with mindfulness and kindness, the next step that many people find helpful is the practice of naming or acknowledging the feelings. Since ancient times the Shamans have known that if you name the dragon it already give you power over it. In a similar way the practice of naming or acknowledging feelings gives you a certain perspective with which to observe, to know, to feel them without being quite as tangled in them. Perhaps we can say, oh, this is anger – this is rage – this is joy – this is longing. Vulnerability feels like this. Sadness feels like this. The soft naming gives a perspective. It’s as if you are bowing to the feeling as you acknowledge it with a kind of graciousness and at the same time there is a spirit of freedom with that bow.
When we sit down and quiet the mind, we do so not to stop the feelings nor to react to them, but to notice mindfully as they arise. This naming or acknowledging of the feelings or emotions gives you the tools or the perspective that can allow you to be really open to your feelings with wisdom and understanding so you can respond wisely to whatever circumstances and situations that you find yourself. The poet Hafiz writes: