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In the last lesson, I talked about how to go into emotions that come up, into the physical sensation of them. This is a really important practice to do in your meditation, anytime emotions arise … as well as after meditation, throughout your day.

If you avoid working with the emotion, avoid really allowing yourself to feel its energy … it doesn’t just go away. It starts to control you. We’ve all had the experience when we’re angry and all we can do is think about this horrible thing someone else did to us, how mad it makes us, and we try to do something to comfort ourselves like eat or drink or do drugs or watch TV so that we don’t have to feel this way anymore — in this case, we’re not free of the emotion, we’re avoiding it but controlled by it.

We get caught up in the story of our emotions, and it can take us on a wild ride. In our meditation, we’re going to try to notice when we’re doing that, and just drop below the story into the pure physical sensation of the emotion.

Below the story, it’s just energy. Without the thoughts about the emotion, it’s nothing but energy in our bodies. Experience this energy, see how it feels to you, with curiosity but without a “good” or “bad” judgment.

When we’re meditating and an emotion comes up, there are a few things we normally do:

  1. First, we often get caught up in the story, about what the other person did, mad about something, wanting to hurt the other person back, or do something about it to alleviate the feeling of injustice. We think about how we’re right and they’re wrong.
  2. Second, we might try to seek comfort from the discomfort of the emotion, and want to turn to food, TV, drugs, alcohol, smoking, distractions, porn … anything to not feel this emotion. Maybe we try to think of something nicer, to distract ourselves.
  3. Third, we often try to get control, which is really another way to seek comfort — having the feeling of control is comfortable. For example, we might try to figure out how we’re going to turn this situation into something that will turn out in our favor. Or how we’re going to make things right.

All of these strategies are a way of avoiding the raw feeling of the emotion. They try to get away from it, by getting lost in the thoughts, getting away by seeking comfort, getting away from it by gaining control. But on top of all of these strategies, they can lead to other emotions piled on, as we feel worry about not getting control, jealousy, fear, paranoia, sadness, depression, helplessness.

As emotions come up, we’re often harsh and critical with ourselves. We might start tell a story about ourselves, like “I can’t do this” or “I’m not good at this” or “This is too hard.”

The instruction for all of this is the same as before: Just stay with the emotion. Give it some space. Be with the pure physical sensation, the energy of it, without all the stories and strategies. Breathe, and bring your gentle, friendly curiosity into the feeling that’s in your body.

You’ll want to stay with your breath, but not only the breath … don’t use returning to the breath as a way to avoid the emotion … we habitually try to avoid the emotion, but if you want to grow out of these habitual patterns, you’ll want to practice staying with the emotion … so breathe, and feel the energy of the emotion in your body … let the breath anchor you to the present moment while you’re feeling the emotion’s physical sensation.

If you feel resistance to feeling the emotion, then breathe and allow yourself to go into the physical feeling of that resistance. It might come in the form of fear, frustration, not wanting to do something, tiredness. Let yourself feel that tiredness, that frustration, not as a story but as a physical energy.

You will likely have the urge to either take action (say something, do something, control something) or to repress the feeling. Try to do neither of these things. Don’t take action or repress. See what it’s like when you do nothing. Just experience. This is helpful not just during meditation but to practice in the rest of your life.


  1. Beginner: Similar to the exercise from the last lesson … during your meditation session, recall a difficult memory that gives you an emotion such as sadness, anger, frustration, irritation … investigate that emotion 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: Again, explore 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.