I would like to address a couple of misconceptions I often hear regarding meditation and one’s emotional life. The first is we meditate to either to get rid of negative emotions, such as anger, or to manufacture positive ones, such as joy. The second is meditation erases our emotions altogether, leaving us emotional flat-liners.

nothing is supposed to happen

Let’s start with the basics: the meditator’s job, as Gil Fronsdal says, is to free ourselves from the idea that something is supposed to happen. We simply use whatever is happening in the moment, just staying present in a very simple way for what is, as a way seeing your life in a deeper way than is usually possible in our busy lives.

Meditation allows us to peek under the hood and more clearly see the forces that drive us, motivate us, and push us around. The forces we often automatically react to. By applying “wise attention” to our lives, we discover a space that allows us to make better choices, and lessen our pain.

frozen emotions

When strong emotional feelings become the “what is” that we pay attention to, we can see how we entangle ourselves in a mix of a judgment, aversion, clinging, and resistance. These reactions can freeze emotional experience, and we easily succumb to either repressing them or acting out on them.

Mindfulness can create a safe inner space that allows “what is” to simply be. When we let the present moment be as it is, free of our usual over-involvement, we experience a radical unfreezing of our inner experience.

With mature mindfulness, we discern subtle flow; we see deeply into the impermanence of all phenomena, releasing the grasping or resistance that causes so much pain and sorrow.

the middle way

Meditation opens us a marvelous “middle way” to our habitual freezing, repressing or acting out, our emotional experience. Meditation allows our rich inner life to simply be there as it is in the present, and to discover a kind of freedom that allows our emotional life to flow through you.

This can be powerfully transformative. We discover a healing, safe and wonderful depth in our emotional life we never knew was there.

naming our experience

In our practice we use the breath to settle the mind. The instruction is to then pay attention to whatever is so compelling that is consistently draws your attention away from the breath.

Let’s say anger arises and pulls you way. We are instructed mindfully label it, such as “anger…anger.” There is something magical about naming our experience this way that takes away its power to entangle us.

Tara Brach says that when you mindfully label a powerful experience such as anger, you are doing so from a place where you are not caught by or lost in it. You label from a place that’s already free and spacious, and this spaciousness seeps in to the experience.

Mindful noting also allows you to see the attraction of the story the emotion is telling, and to not get sucked in. We just come back to mindful labeling.

natural joy is liberated

Labeling gives us a chance to allow the emotion to do its thing, to not resist it, and not be in conflict with it. As we saw last week, Diana Winston calls this a practice of “non-contention.”

Joy, rather than being somehow manufactured by the meditation process, is liberated from deep inside. It seeps into our being causelessly, unrelated to having things a certain way, when we allow this free flow of emotions, thoughts and feelings.

When we are mindful of our emotions like this, we drop the clinging and aversion that keeps us bound up and joy naturally bubbles through.

We discover an amazing treasure we never knew we had.


Katina and I are here to support your meditation practice in any way we can, just contact us through the Contact Page on this site. Or if you live in Honolulu, or ever visit, feel free to drop by our free, weekly meditation evenings.

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