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Thoughts are one thing, but when emotions come up, they can feel much more difficult — we get caught up in them and don’t know how to get out. In this lesson, we’ll talk about how to work with these difficult phenomena.

When emotions come up in meditation, or even in regular life, these can be amazing things to work with — they are rich and powerful lessons in mindfulness and being awake.

Here’s the practice: when you notice the emotion arise, just acknowledge it. Think: “I’m feeling angry”. Or “I’m feeling anxious” or “frustrated” or “hurt.”

Now here’s the next part of the practice: drop the story you’re having, and just lean into the feeling itself. Just pause, and experience it. What does it feel like, physically? Where is it located in your body? What is its energy, its quality, its texture? Is it hard and thumping, hot and stabbing, soft and pulsing, tight, dull, throbbing, shooting? Let the physical feeling of your emotion become the object of your meditation.

This can be very difficult, because we mostly try to avoid these difficult feelings. We don’t want to feel this, so we run away, find distractions, find pleasures like food and porn, anything to avoid feeling this. But you can do it, even if it’s uncomfortable. I’ll tell you what — we so often run from these uncomfortable emotions, and we turn to comforts, and that just leads to more problems. This is how I got overweight, was addicted to smoking, deep in debt, life full of clutter and procrastination, never exercising, addicted to junk food. I turned to all of these things rather than face my emotions. It wasn’t until I learned that it’s OK to face loneliness, boredom, sadness, guilt, anxiety, frustration, difficulty … that I started to free myself of those distractions and addictions. You can’t get free of those problems until you’re willing to sit with the discomfort of your emotions.

So stay with the emotions, even if you’re uncomfortable, even for just a few seconds at a time. Consider it training — you stay with them a little, and you get a little better at it.

Our natural reaction is not only to run away from the emotions, but to run with them. We get caught up in our stories about why we’re feeling this way. “It’s because she did this” or “It’s all his fault” or something along those lines.

But if you can notice the physical sensation of the emotion, in your body, just notice it …  you open up the space to decide. Are you going to stay with the physical energy of the emotion, or run away with the stories about the emotion? It’s hard to overcome this habitual running away with the stories, so be patient and gentle with yourself, but do allow yourself to open up into this space and practice with it.

So here’s the next part of the practice: meditate on your emotion. Make it the object of your meditation. Stay with it, and feel it as a form of energy, not solid but changing, not permanent but flowing. Be curious with this energy, try to understand it, get intimate with it, see it as a friend. It’s part of the total energy of your body, and you are part of the total energy of everything around you.

You’ll find that the emotion is also fluid, not static, and can pass through you like clouds in the sky if you don’t attach to them.

This is the practice, and it might not be something you’re very skilled at in the beginning. That’s normal. Give it time, continue to practice with this, beyond this course for the rest of your life. You’ll become more skilled at working with your emotions over time, and less attached to them, less wanting to avoid them, more free of their power.


  1. Beginner:During your meditation session, start by trying to recall a pleasant memory that gives you a pleasant emotion. Investigate that emotion as described in this lesson, dropping the story and going into the physical feeling. Then try a slightly more difficult memory, maybe of something that annoyed you a little … investigate that emotion as well, with curiosity, gentleness and friendliness. If your mind wanders off into the story of the emotion, try to notice and bring it back without being harsh on yourself, just be gentle. Write about this experience in your mindfulness journal.
  2. Advanced:Get your hands dirty and dive into any very difficult memories that come up for you. Any emotions that arise during your meditation, no matter how extremely difficult, stay with them, meditate on the physical sensation of the emotion, see it as energy. Try this throughout your day for a few days as well.