Urban Mindfulness

Finding peace in the middle of it all.

Riding the "E" Train: Mindfulness of Emotions

Riding the "E" train: Becoming mindful of your emotions

Prompted by an inquiry from a reader, I wrote last time about the importance of introducing mindfulness to our emotional experiences. Emotions come and go, like the passing sound of an express subway train. We have a slight feeling that grows in intensity until it reaches a peak, then subsides. This exercise will help you become more aware of your personal experience of various emotions, your judgments about them, and their natural ebb and flow. Please allow about 10 - 15 minutes of uninterrupted time for the activity.

  • Take a few moments to focus on your breathing.

  • Notice how you feel emotionally in the present moment.

  • Do you feel good or bad?

  • Are you happy or not happy?

  • Is it pleasant or unpleasant?

  • What word best describes the specific emotion that you're feeling?

  • Gently maintain your attention on your emotion.

  • How intense is your feeling?

  • Does it change over time or remain the same?

  • How do you breathe while experiencing this emotion?

  • What else is happening in your body?

  • What is your posture?

  • How do you embody the emotion?

  • Do you experience areas of muscle tension? Looseness?

  • How does your face feel physically? Do you notice yourself smiling? Frowning? Crying? Squinting?

  • Notice any thoughts or judgments that arise. You might want to cling to "positive" emotions or reject feelings as being "undesirable," "unacceptable," or "intolerable." Simply notice these thoughts without considering them to be "true" or reacting to them. Return your attention to your experience of the emotion itself in the present moment.

  • If other emotions arise, notice what specific feeling has come into your awareness. Describe it as you did previously. Observe how your emotional landscape changes over time.

  • After the exercise, take a moment to reflect on your tendency to hold onto or reject certain emotions. Did it work? How did it affect your experience of the emotion itself?

By cultivating such mindfulness of emotions, we can build our resiliency to handle all of the intense experiences associated with urban living. We can limit our ability to get hijacked by emotions, which can carry us away to undesired places (like getting on the wrong subway).

Jonathan Kaplan, Ph.D., has been practicing, teaching, and writing about mindfulness for over a decade. He maintains a private practice in New York City.

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