A common mistake that we make is to depend on our rational critical thinking or problem solving mind to try to fix or get rid of negative emotions, like sadness. Remember emotions are a complex fusion of feelings, thoughts, urges and bodily sensations. Emotions can only be experienced not fixed.
If we try to get rid of sadness using rational critical thinking, our mind would first look to our memory for other times we have felt like this. The purpose would be to help us understand how not to repeat the mistake by seeing it again. But what happens in actuality is we remind ourselves of many sad scenarios and re-feel the pain. Then we start looking at how we allowed this to occur “what is wrong with me”? This of course causes our minds to search for other times that we felt like this and we end up remembering many instances in which we unsuccessfully dealt with fixing sadness, including this one.
Really we are looking at one sad scenario after another from the past as well as remembering how we did not deal with them very well. Next we step into our rational inquiry and think that “we shouldn’t feel this way” as we watch the sadness increase. We next, conclude that our struggle shows personal weakness and then we start “negatively judging ourselves.” This leads us to think that we really should fix this because it is getting worse and we might not be able to stand it. Your personal content in the search can play out in endless scenarios but the result is always the same, bad. Wow, not only do we feel sad but now we are depressed and scared trying to fix the emotion and control the future!
Feelings must be felt not “explained, solved or thought away”. Paradoxically if we allow a felt sense to be as it is it generally passes in time. We must learn to be with what we feel because “thinking” does not do “being”. As you noticed thinking to get rid of feeling actually made the sadness worsen.
With a commitment practice mindfulness can provide a skill to achieve a more flexible approach to living. We can train ourselves to sit non-judgmentally with our feelings and thoughts. We all own the capacity to be aware outside of thinking, to have an awareness of our own thinking and feeling. When we recognize this we become more able to see the bigger picture and in that perspective you begin to gain wisdom based on viewing the actual nature of your mind and body moment to moment, instead of being run by our conceptual thinking and conditioning.
Another way that we can get stuck when we try to rid ourselves, explain or fix an unpleasant emotion is we enter into a wishing ritual. We start comparing this moment with a moment that we want. I am sad and I want to be happy. This is what intiates the thinking.
The mind loves working on a problem and when it is not an emotional feeling sense it is very good at it. How do you get from sad to happy by remember all the times you were sad and fussing at yourself for being sad again. You don’t. Every time you wish that you were not so sad you are rejecting the only moment you have to take a mental journey wishing only to eventually, end up with disappointment. The brain is great at problem solving but it is not a good manager, that is our job. We are responsible for learning how our wonderful brain works best for us.
You have been observing yourself your whole life even though you may never notice that you have. You have watched every choice you have ever made. Begin to learn to relate to life more directly through your experience.
“Pure awareness transcends thinking. It allows you to step outside the chattering negative self-talk and your reactive impulses and emotions. It allows you to look at the world once again with open eyes. And when you do so, a sense of wonder and quiet contentment begins to reappear in your life.” Mindfulness an eight week plan for finding peace in a frantic world. Williams, M & Penman, D.
It is an interesting time when not only eastern and western ideas are being melded but also we are seeing a interdisciplinary effort to enhance our overall conceptualization and treatment of human distress.
For now, a mindfulness practice provides us with the tools and means to begin the process of managing in a way that leads to learning to live a life we value in this moment, rather than being dragged through life on autopilot. Mindfulness offers the means to begin the work of improving ourselves by understanding the very nature of life and our own paths.