Out of the storm, into the sunIllustration for Varsity by Lisha Zhong

It is inevitable that throughout our lives we are faced with difficult emotions. At Cambridge, the intensity of term time can exasperate feelings of anxiety, stress and worry, as well as feelings such as sadness, anger, loss and loneliness. Through the mindfulness practices I have talked about in this column series, we can work to deal with negative emotions.

The first step is to become aware of what you are feeling and to accept, without judgement, that this feeling is within you. It is important to not try and fight difficult emotions or push them away, as they can lie within us unresolved and only by bringing our awareness to them can we accept them and gradually let them pass. We look and become aware of what we are feeling. Try and become aware of where you feel the emotion in your body – do you feel tight in your chest, is it in your stomach, your head? Becoming aware of where we feel the emotion can help us when we want to let go. By observing and accepting the emotion we can label and identify it – without judgement.

“Good emotions and bad emotions pass, they are not forever”

If you feel overwhelmed by difficult emotions, focusing on the breath, as it flows in and out can ground you in the present moment. You are loved and you are safe. The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, uses the example of difficult emotions being like a storm and we are a tree. The tree may be battered by the storm but it’s roots (which are our mindfulness practice and our inner self) are strong and can keep us from being swept away in the storm. The storm too will pass as all things pass. Another way of looking at it is that difficult emotions are like clouds in the sky, they arise but then drift away, they too will pass. By becoming aware of our emotions, and how they are temporary and not part of who we truly are, we can accept them and not judge ourselves for experiencing them.

The next step is to be gentle to ourselves, through loving kindness and compassion. We give ourselves loving kindness and are gentle to ourselves – we are not critical of ourselves if we have become anxious over a deadline, we accept it, identify the emotion as anxiety, recognise that it is not permanent, and then begin to love ourselves completely. We investigate why we are anxious and bringing ourselves back to the present moment can remind us that in the present moment we have the ability to deal with so much more than we think we can.

Mindfully approaching difficult emotions is not about trying to avoid these emotions, but to meet them and accept them for what they are, and through meditation and loving kindness, to remind ourselves of who we are. We can bring ourselves out of time-based thoughts by focusing on the breath, which brings us back to our bodies and the present moment. From here we can accept and watch emotions and not become consumed by them. If you realise through your awareness that you have become consumed – that’s okay. We let go of the judgement and offer ourselves loving kindness, we are gentle with ourselves and remind ourselves that this too shall pass.


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Mountain View

Take a moment to be kind to yourself

Another practice for cultivating awareness and allowing us to access the inner peace and love we all carry deep down inside of us is gratitude. When we are feeling overwhelmed, focus on your breath, how it flows in and out of your body, become aware of the rhythm, and then list five things you are grateful for. It can be as simple as the sun or the rain that day, your friends, your cup of tea you have just made – anything however small. This will not only bring your awareness back to the present, but it will also cultivate gratitude within you, at the amazing reality of being able to be alive, in this very moment. It is a slow process, but each kind word we say to ourselves, each breath we take that brings us into awareness can help us in realising the impermanence of emotions. Good emotions and bad emotions pass, they are not forever – and through awareness we are reminded that the only constant is change, and that needn’t be scary; change can be a beautiful thing. And in the moment when we feel most overwhelmed, giving ourselves love reminds us that this too will pass and we will emerge out of the storm into the sun once again.

I hope this series has been able to offer some useful ideas, concepts and practices that will allow you to find some peace in this hectic world we live in. If you’d like to learn more, do check out my YouTube channel TalkingCalm for videos on mindfulness.

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