THE 6 LIFE SKILLS MEDITATION TEACHES BEST: PART 4 – EMOTIONAL BALANCE
Beyond relaxation or stress relief, why do so many people make meditation a part of their day? It’s not to become good at meditation, sitting on a cushion 20 minutes a day! Meditation is a way to become more self-aware, caring and wise, and to bring those strengths into your relationships, your work and your way of being in the world. In this six-part series, Meditation Teacher Ann Vrlak looks at the core life skills you can develop or strengthen through a meditation practice.
Who wouldn’t like more emotional balance?
To be more patient and caring with family and friends, or to be less anxious or angry about seemingly small things. I think we’d all like to be our “best self” more often, behaving in ways that bring us and our loved ones more well-being.
What does being emotionally balanced mean exactly?
I think it means two things:
- Your baseline level of stress is low, so you’re not easily upset by things.
- You have more access to your deepest, best self where all your intentions and values live. You’re more able to act from your innate wisdom.
Because, when you’re unbalanced and neither of these things are true for you, you’re most likely in self-protection mode. You instinctually know you don’t have the resources to cope with more challenges or upset. So, wanting to protect yourself makes sense.
So how does meditation help you to learn this life skill emotional balance?
In other articles in this series, I described three other meditation skills of Gaining Perspective, Self-compassion, and Becoming Skillful with Anxiety and Depression. Taken together these three skills are essentially a recipe for:
- treating yourself with both objectivity and compassion, and
- knowing how to respond to your own difficult emotions in a way that will create healing and well-being.
We’ve all grown-up believing certain things about ourselves and other people, and about how the world is. We accumulate many assumptions we don’t even question, and they affect what we do, think and feel.
If this sounds like you, discovering the ability to see some of those assumptions from a new perspective, to even consider that they may not be true, is a kind of opening in the clouds that you may have been living under for a very long time.
If you’re lucky, you start to tell the difference between things that are true, and things that may be distortions based on your past experience and wounding.
Meditation is a way to cultivate this kind of caring, fresh perspective on whatever you may be feeling, thinking or believing. And this gives you a taste of what emotional balance might look like in your life.
If you have an argument with your partner, for example, you may have a bit more perspective to see their point of view. You might not take something they say as a sign of deep betrayal–something you believe people will do– but more as a sign they are having a bad day.
Or when your teenager comes to you anxious about some peer pressure, you may be able to watch your own anxiety and fear for them, to take a breath and be the strong support and caring home base they need while they navigate all their challenges.
You can see your stress level as a glass of water. If the water is near the top, even a bit more is going to cause your stress level to overflow.
And the opposite is true. If your glass is almost empty, you’ll be able to handle more stress and challenges. You’ll respond with more awareness, objectivity and empathy to situations you encounter, rather than feeling overwhelmed by them.
To extend the water analogy a bit further, your glass isn’t empty when there’s no water present. You’ve made room for your best self that I was talking about earlier. You’re filled with your ability to be objective, to care for yourself and others, to act from your deepest intentions, values and unique gifts.
I included self-care meditative practices in the other articles in this series, and all will help with cultivating emotional balance.
Here’s another short practice you can do any time you’d like to feel more grounded in the face of a challenging emotion.
- Take a couple of deep breaths and really let go on the outbreath.
- Scan your body for any places that might be in “holding on” mode. It’s really common to tense your shoulders, or literally sit on the edge of your seat, if you’re distressed. Do your best to relax just a little in those areas.
- If you can, close your eyes, and locate the place where you feel the emotion most strongly. It might be in your solar plexus or your jaw or around your heart.
- If you want to tense up again or distract yourself, that’s really common too. If you can, try to stay with the physical sensations of your emotion just for a minute. Keep breathing and feel it.
- You might have a thought or emotion come up about it, but stay with the physical sensation. Is it tight or cold or fiery or pushing out? Be as specific as you can. Keep breathing.
- See if you can create a little space around this physical sensation. If the unpleasant sensation is in your solar plexus, gently explore the areas around it. Is there a place that actually feels relaxed and ok? Expand your attention to feel both the unpleasant and pleasant areas.
- Or, you can focus on the unpleasant area and let the sensation soften a bit around the edges. Emotions can often feel hard and dense. Try to feel the edges and soften a bit right there. Breathe.
- Keep doing this practice for as long as it feels helpful.
With this practice, you’re paying attention to the seat of your emotion: the physical sensations. You’re letting the story and the emotion itself take a back seat just for a moment. And physical sensations can shift, flow and pass much more easily without the burdens of story and emotion, leaving more peace in their wake.
Practice emptying your glass of stress every day and let it refill with clarity, compassion and wisdom. Every time you do, you will strengthen your self-confidence and emotional balance.