For this meditation, you choose an emotion—something that’s present for you and easy to access in your body.
We often get the impression that meditating means clearing the mind of all thoughts and feelings and sitting in some kind of blissful nothingness. I’ve heard that this can happen and I’ve tried some forms of meditation that have gotten me close-ish (for maybe a second) but blissful nothingness hasn’t been the place where I’ve gotten the most benefit from my meditation practice. For me, meditation is about spending time with my own internal world—precious time in an era of phones and gadgets constantly asking for our attention. I don’t try to push away my thoughts or feelings. I meditate like I’m having tea with my best friend—I want her to tell me everything.
I know there are many people out there might think this is lazy, incorrect, or maybe a stage before the real meditating begins, and that could be true, but I’m also a big believer in whatever works. My simple, lazy meditation makes me feel good and it makes my life better. If I don’t ever touch the bliss of nothingness, I think I’m going to be just fine.
That being said, there is one thing that makes my meditation a little different from simple daydreaming: the separation between my experience and my story about my experience. It’s a practice of spending time with myself so I can notice how I feel and what’s going on with me, what’s on the surface of body and mind and what’s sitting deeper.
I first learned to practice this with a simple Buddhist meditation technique that opened my eyes to the possibility of a meditation that could hold the whole of me, where it was okay for me to meditate with, rather than against, my feelings. While I don’t specifically do this technique every time I sit, it taught me the simple but essential work of creating space for whatever’s happening without getting caught in the story about what’s happening, and that I do try to practice daily.
For this meditation, you choose an emotion—something that’s present for you and easy to access in your body. Common choices are desire and anger, two emotions we tend to associate with suffering. We sit quietly and think of the story that generated the emotion to pull up the emotion. Then, we try our best to stay with the emotion in our bodies, and let the story about the meditation—the who, what, why, when where—fade into the background. Then we explore the emotion. Where do we feel it? Does it have a temperature, a texture, a colour? Does it move?
This is where things start to get really interesting. Sometimes the emotion slips away right away without the story. Sometimes the story slips back unbidden. That’s okay—we keep practising gently teasing them apart. When we can sit with our feelings without judgment, sometimes there are deeper emotions to discover there. This practice allows us to observe ourselves both as storytellers and as feeling beings. Rather than trying to avoid an uncomfortable internal experience, we go right into it and find out it’s not that bad in there. Emotions that felt so powerful a moment ago can slip through our fingers when we practice letting ourselves feel what we feel.
In this way, this technique taught me it was okay to sit with my thoughts or my emotions. The key to meditation, at least for me, isn’t quieting my mind. It’s finding ways to wake up my internal observer, stepping just to the side of the drama in my mind and watching it unfold with curiosity and compassion.