Do you feel stuck and unable to get beyond anxiety, depression and traumatic memories? Do you feel a victim of your emotions?

Intense emotions resulting from childhood trauma, personal loss or a recent traumatic experience have a tendency to become stuck in the deep recesses of the mind where they continue to ferment and generate recurring anxiety and patterns of negative thinking. These core emotions can have a severe impact on the quality of our lives and our relationships. Core complexes contain emotional energy that has become trapped and frozen in place, unable to change and resolve, internal generators of suffering. We may be plagued by guilt or regret or a feeling of great hurt and inner wounding that just won't go away. We become victims of our inner emotions and prisoners of our conditioned habitual reactivity. These patterns of inner suffering become established as habitual patterns of reactivity that affect our thinking, our inner beliefs and perceptions of the world. The world is seen as a hostile place and we feel overwhelmed, fatigued, negative and empty.

So, how do we go about changing this less than satisfactory state of existence? How do we break free from being a victim of our patterns of habitual emotional reactivity? How can we restore balance and heal the wounds that cut so deep?

I believe, as a practitioner of mindfulness-based psychotherapy, that all successful forms psychotherapy and spiritual practice are based on one fundamental principle, and this is the principle of engaged-presence. We must begin our journey of inner transformation by establishing a profound level of relationship with the inner suffering, hurt and wounded parts of our psyche, and this relationship should be based on genuine care, openness, and non-reactivity. All our activities must be channelled into this one end, to be able to sit down with our pain and care for it with the same level of attention and love that a mother gives to her baby. This is what we mean by engaged-presence, or mindfulness.

Mindfulness is an ancient practice, and central to all the teachings of the Buddha, in which we let go of doing and reacting, thinking and trying to fix things, and simply sit with each of our emotions with a mind that is open, caring and genuinely interested in the subtleties of an emotional complex. It is a central tenet in Mindfulness Psychotherapy that what keeps emotional suffering and anxiety alive is our inattention or un-mindfulness, also simply called ignorance. We suffer from our pain day in day out, but never really take the time to simply be with our pain, observing it, gently massaging it with the love of pure undivided attention.

There is a growing awareness of the prime importance of this quality of mindful-attention. Its not about analyzing the problem, not about trying to change negative beliefs, not about fixing things, but about creating a safe space around the suffering that gives it a chance to move, unfold and change in its own unique way, free from the interference of the ego-directed thinking mind. Trying to fix things externally can only be partially successful if done in isolation. We need to heal at the core, and this means allowing changes to arise from the intuitive level, a much more sensitive level than provided by the ego and thinking mind. After all, the problems of inner conflict and disharmony are largely a product of the ego trying to control emotional suffering through the ego-reactions of repression, diversion and avoidance. It is a far better practice to first establish a foundation of stillness and inner listening at a deeper and intuitive level, a foundation in the fertile ground of mindfulness and allow action, new beliefs and insights to arise from this solid foundation.

Everyone knows the importance of facing our emotions directly and getting in touch with our feelings. But what does this mean in practice, and how do we do it?

Every emotion can be seen as a mental object, something that arises in the mind and has a certain life of its own. We get a sense of the anxiety or depression or fear as being a part of our mind: an inner child, a judgemental parent, or simply as an object with a certain shape and color. Frequently these inner mental objects can be felt to reside in a particular part of the body - the heart, neck or stomach. Most seem to occur in a specific position in your inner visual screen, perhaps to the left or right, or in front of you.

Take the time to focus your mindfulness inwardly and see if you can get a sense of your emotional objects, whether anxiety, anger or guilt. Every inner part, every emotion has a certain aura, a felt-sense that surrounds it. Mindfulness helps us detect this, as well as detecting our habitual tendencies to react to the emotion or traumatic memory.

Another essential tenet of Mindfulness Meditation, and this is what you are doing when you focus mindfulness on an emotion, is to learn how to respond to these reactions, the fear of the emotion, the tendency to get lost in thinking, in self-judgement and inner dialogue. The critical point to understand is that these reactions can also be seen as mental objects, to be related to in exactly the same way - with mindfulness. One of the things that makes mindfulness quite special, and different from general attention or awareness, is that nothing is excluded when we are cultivating a relationship based on mindfulness. We make room for our emotional object as well as our reactions to that emotion; there’s plenty of space for all.

The consequence of establishing a mindfulness-based relationship with your inner emotional suffering is that it stops the cycle of reactivity and opens up a space, a therapeutic space, and it is in this space that emotional suffering begins to unfold and change. It’s rather like massaging the sore parts of the mind with mindfulness. Every time you touch suffering with mindfulness, it responds by healing. The more you massage it with mindfulness, the more it will heal.

Practice focusing on your pain and saying, “I see you. Welcome. I promise you that I am going to be with you and give you 100% of my attention.” Each moment of mindful-contact heals. It breathes warmth into those parts that are frozen. It softens those parts that have become contracted and contorted into tortured forms. It envelops suffering in the healing space of inner freedom and care that is the expression of genuine love.

Practice this way of relating to your anxiety, depression, grief or trauma a hundred times a day and see for yourself if this doesn’t have a beneficial healing effect. Quite different to our usual mechanical reactivity in which we run away from our pain, or the pain of others. Quite different to becoming lost in thinking. The purpose of mindfulness meditation on emotions is not to re-experience the emotion or traumatic memory, but learn how to experience them differently, as parts of yourself that require your attention and love. Love that you give through being there for your emotions, being present, being engaged with your suffering. That quality of being present is a movement in stillness, not words and thinking, but listening fully with a mind that cares and is open to every tiny movement. You learn to hold your emotion in the cradle of mindfulness.

If you tune in to your emotions in this way and listen, they will respond by releasing their iron-grip on you. If you learn to love your pain in this way, your pain will reward you by releasing trapped emotional energy, and make it free to re-assimilate back into the psyche where it can do good and breath life and vitality back into your being. It may seem strange, but in essence, if you give your emotional suffering space, it will respond by transforming and resolving in direct proportion. If you allow it to heal, it will heal. The only thing that stops our suffering from healing is our reactivity, our un-mindfulness and ignorance. This habit can be undone right now by learning to greet each emotion, each reaction, each thought and memory as an object to which we can relate with mindfulness, with full engaged-presence. Give it a try. Give your emotions a massage - the massage of mindfulness.

Besides face-to-face Mindfulness Psychotherapy sessions, Dr Peter Strong offers the ever-popular Online Psychotherapy and Counseling service, in which he teaches clients specific strategies for working with emotional stress through a combination of email correspondence and Skype sessions. Peter also offers teaching seminars for groups, and companies with an interest in stress management. If you want to learn Mindfulness Meditation, we can do that through email correspondence and Skype. Visit
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Author's Bio: 

Peter Strong, PhD is a scientist and Mindfulness Psychotherapist, based in Boulder, Colorado, who specializes in the study of mindfulness and its application in Mindfulness Psychotherapy. He uses Mindfulness-based Psychotherapy in combination with NLP to help individuals overcome the root causes of anxiety, depression, phobias, grief and post-traumatic stress (PTSD). He also teaches mindfulness techniques to couples to help them overcome habitual patterns of reactivity and interpersonal conflict.

Online Counseling is available via Skype.

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