Meditation and Difficult Emotions

Occasionally when doing zazen (meditating), I’ll be derailed by strong painful emotions such as shame. My body wants to get off the mat and, try as I might, it seems impossible to return to the practice.

Today, to my relief, I read a section of the Mindful Self-Compassion program that affirms my instinct to stop the meditation session and go do something that’s more likely to get me out of such excruciating mind-states.

In case this might be helpful to others, I share it here:

Difficult emotions are emotions that cause us pain, such as anger, fear, and grief. Sometimes when we turn toward difficult emotions, even with mindfulness and compassion, our pain temporarily increases. Meditation practitioners often wonder how much emotional distress they should allow into their practice. The meditation teacher Thich Nhat Hanh once answered that question succinctly: ‘Not much!’ When we want to build the resource of self-compassion, we only need to touch emotional pain as a catalyst for compassion to arise…. We should probably titrate the amount of suffering we allow into our lives, to keep from becoming overwhelmed.”

~ Teaching the Mindful Self-Compassion Program: A Guide for Professionals. Christopher Germer and Kristen Neff. The Guilford Press, 2019. p. 290