Working with Difficult Emotions

Difficult emotions are complex occurrences that can be most simply understood as a combination of physical sensations and thought patterns.

When you mindfully tune in to your emotional experience, you can begin to break it down and separate yourself from its power.

Working with Difficult Emotions, by Caroline Jones:


About Caroline Jones:

Caroline Jones has been practising meditation for 20 years and teaching for the last four.  She is especially interested in exploring ways of bringing the Buddha’s teachings into the nitty gritty of our daily lives.  She has led retreats at Gaia House and elsewhere.  She has spent four three-month periods as resident teacher at Gaia House and is a member of the Gaia House teacher council.


So, good evening, everyone.

Not quite sure how to begin. (laughs)

Can I be with that? (laughs)

That’s what we keep saying, isn’t it? Say. All good talk. (laughs)

When I was first thinking about what to reflect on this evening with you, I was reminded of a non-residential three-day retreat in Finland a while ago, which took as it’s ___, which is another one, this wonderful list of wonderful qualities that we ___ to cultivate. Like patience, generosity, and ___ things.

And at some point, either during the retreat, or just before, I suddenly had this very strong sense of “but what about the other side?” (laughs) The shadows side, so a little bit that is part of the motivation or intention to touch a little bit, or to kind of in a way, not quite sure how this is going to unfold, but in that particular retreat, I had this ___ of ___ demons on big pieces of paper. Perhaps, this is a feature workshop, just works the website and see what’s up there.

And we will draw them in ___ and put them in the walls. Half of them in the room with us. Pay respect to them. And I noticed that, I do not, ___ that you, on what’s wrong, isn’t it? __.

Anyway, so this sense of a feel that we’ve been touching on and talking to you individually and in groups is what we find in practice, any practice, whether it’s this kind of Brahma Vihara practice, or any kind of practice, I think, where we find that the things that feel difficult and obstructive and hard to understand and seem to impede our progress on the path. And this happens, right?

And so, we’re in the round of the hindrances, the defilements, that wonderful medieval kind of world. Meaning, maybe different things—afflictive emotions is another, I call that one. You know, the kinds of emotions that you feel afflicted by. Perhaps, this ones that we don’t feel so afflicted by, but there are some that are very, you know, difficult for us to hold in.

So, it feels to me that—I don’t know if this is true for you, it’s something to see in your experiences that a lot of our suffering actually comes from our inability, our sense of disempowerment or confusion or lack of skill in meeting what is emotionally painful. Now, you want to look at my experience, it may be true for you. I can feel that, I can see that a lot of how experience become stressful is this sense of stress and struggle comes in. When I look at that really carefully, one of the key, you know, causes and condition, or cause or condition is this a sense of not really not being mindful, not knowing what is actually happening on an emotional level. And so I feel like this is what I want to try to touch on this talk is a little bit about how we can relate skillfully to the round of emotions. And understanding that this is part of the human realm and that it’s a source of great richness and a sense of what—it’s such a source of great richness and a sense of, it’s such a part of our humanity. It can help us to feel connected with others, so there’s something about—it’s a messy complexity, isn’t it? Because even something we might label as difficult, you know, it’s actually in certain conditions, it actually becomes a doorway to connection, or a condition for the arising of compassion, or like real place of insight, actually in revelation.

So yet again, we’re back to this sense of it’s not so much what’s happening. It’s how we relate to it that’s the skill that we’re honing or honing in developing in relationship to our inner and outer experience, you know, in all levels. And it feels to me like a lifetime, because conditions are continually changing, aren’t they? It’s just that you don’t quite know.

I had recently a very senior teacher. You know, one of you might want to label that person if you realize. Something like that. Mature practitioner, or something like that. You know, a very, very difficult time is when a person’s mother died, and there’s just with shock. You know, kind of oh— it’s—I didn’t know. So, you’ll never know. And that emotions can come very strongly. Also, you might be hearing a story about taking a ___. You know, he was giving a talk somewhere and, a big public talk, a lot of people, and somebody in the audience said something, I think this is I read in a book or heard in a talk or something. And the story was that he got up from his sit and left the whole, I’m really hoping that I can remember this accurately. Memory. I hope it’s right here. And then his attendant, or somebody who’s with me who’s coming outside. See if it’s okay. What’s happening? And he was just saying, I am so angry. ___. Wow.

I am now quite imagining what he might said. And he said, I had to come outside and breathe with my anger. So I was like, wow. And somewhere else, he wrote, you know, take your anger by the hand like a little brother. Why are you ___ that was so beautiful. And I imagine him taking his anger by the hand, taking him outside, to ___ fresh air before he came back in.

Also, I remember hearing somewhere, the Dalai Lama’s, another person, lot of us, really look up to him and revere. Apparently, for people like him, your voice just go ___ on them. That’s easy. ___ is on his face. And apparently, he has other ___ like he has such a young face and all the muscles of his face were all kind of really exercised, because he experience so many different emotions. I ___. I’m not inventing it.

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Find more exercises related to mindfulness based stress reduction here. 

About the author 

Sean Fargo

Sean Fargo is the Founder of Mindfulness Exercises, a former Buddhist monk of 2 years, a trainer for the mindfulness program born at Google, an Integral Coach from New Ventures West, and an international mindfulness teacher trainer. He can be reached at [email protected]

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