There was a moment when we lost our temper and got angry at someone. Negative feelings took control of our actions and let things spin out of control. There was also a moment when we chose to suppress our emotions, said nothing, did nothing, pretended like everything was ok. These two scenarios are so common that at some point we stopped noticing how we follow either of them in our daily life. What can we do about it? The answer to this question comes in the form of a five-step process to help us pacify negative emotions from the book Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by a renowned Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh.
Sometimes we find ourselves in a difficult long-term situation that can’t be changed right away. The only thing we can do is to endure and take small steps towards positive change. But that doesn’t protect us from waves of negative thoughts and feelings that we’ll experience along the way.
Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us that the first step in dealing with negative emotions is to recognize them. We should anticipate the tide by observing the feeling arising in us and acknowledging that at this moment we’re angry, sad, resentful, anxious. Seeing that we’re in the grip of a negative feeling is a powerful first step in the healing process.
The first step in dealing with feelings is to recognize each feeling as it arises. The agent that does this is mindfulness. In the case of fear, for example, you bring out your mindfulness, look at your fear, and recognize it as fear. You know that fear springs from yourself and that mindfulness also springs from yourself. They are both in you, not fighting, but one taking care of the other.
Once we see the tide of negative emotions, the next step is not to turn away from it, but face it directly. We might be frightened at first. The habitual response is either to let the feeling control us or try to suppress it. Both are harmful to our well-being. When we muster the courage to face the feeling directly, we’ll realize that it’s only the feeling. It’s not who we are in our essence.
It is best not to say, “Go away, Fear. I don’t like you. You are not me.” It is much more effective to say, “Hello, Fear. How are you today?” Then you can invite the two aspects of yourself, mindfulness and fear, to shake hands as friends and become one. Doing this may seem frightening, but because you know that you are more than just your fear, you need not be afraid. As long as mindfulness is there, it can chaperone your fear. … Although your mindfulness may not be very powerful in the beginning, if you nourish it, it will become stronger.
Once we’ve merged with the feeling, be comfortable with it. Don’t let resistance take over and break the healing chain. This is a perfect opportunity to practice mindful breathing. As we breathe in and out, we calm our minds and bodies. We may also notice our feelings taking refuge in the body and manifesting as tension in the chest, pounding sensation in the head, clenching fists, and so on. As we notice this tension, we gently calm it with the power of awareness.
You calm your feeling just by being with it, like a mother tenderly holding her crying baby. Feeling his mother’s tenderness, the baby will calm down and stop crying. The mother is your mindfulness, born from the depth of your consciousness, and it will tend the feeling of pain. A mother holding her baby is one with her baby.
Now that we’re concentrated, calm, and able to see our negative feeling, it’s time to let them go. But how exactly can we do that? This step might be difficult if we haven’t been practicing meditation for a long time or just started our journey. When we let the feeling be, we let it go. There is no resistance in us, only clear seeing, understanding, and even compassion for ourselves and our feelings.
You feel at ease, even in the midst of fear, and you know that your fear will not grow into something that will overwhelm you. When you know that you are capable of taking care of your fear, it is already reduced to the minimum, becoming softer and not so unpleasant.
By letting negative feelings be and releasing them, we gain the ability to look deeply into what caused them. We will discover that the root of negative feelings and unhappiness lies in our perceptions and certain beliefs that are deeply rooted in our subconsciousness. We need to ask why are we holding on to those beliefs and perceptions. Do we really need to control everything? The answer will reveal itself to us once we’re ready.
This is a process similar to psychotherapy. Together with the patient, a therapist looks at the nature of the pain. Often, the therapist can uncover causes of suffering that stem from the way the patient looks at things, the beliefs he holds about himself, his culture, and the world. … The same is true when we use mindfulness to transform our feelings. After recognizing the feeling, becoming one with it, calming it down, and releasing it, we can look deeply into its causes, which are often based on inaccurate perceptions. As soon as we understand the causes and nature of our feelings, they begin to transform themselves.
Applying This Process in Our Daily Life
Now that we know all the steps for dealing with negative feelings we can start practicing them in our day-to-day life. Whenever we confront a difficult situation, we need to remember to see the feeling, become one with it, calm, release and see clearly what caused it. It will be difficult at first but we shouldn’t be discouraged and keep practicing daily.