It’s easiest to open up and be aware of our emotions when we feel secure, and when we think the experience will be a happy one. Often, we have a special place for this. I have several – on Dartmoor, by the River Erme, by the sea, beautiful places where I usually feel happy.
Despite this, though, there will be times when the emotion is negative. We’ll feel angry with somebody, or upset that something has happened, or let down because we’ve been disappointed. And that’s okay. We don’t feel good every minute of every day, and it would be wrong to expect that.
Mindfulness can be helpful when we recognise and accept a negative emotion as it happens. Note the phrase ‘and accept’. This is a key part of being mindful.
Let me give you an example. Like most people, as I made progress in my career I needed training in new skills. I’ll admit something embarrassing; I’m not very good about being trained! Unless the training was very good, I became critical and argued with the trainer. For years I was probably a bit of a nightmare trainee! Then I started to practise mindfulness.
I needed to recognise and accept when I was becoming angry. That gave me space to ask myself “Why are you getting cross, Penny?”. Usually, the answer was, “Because I don’t think this trainer’s doing a very good job”. To which my mindful self could reply, “So what? They’re doing the best they can. It’s stuff you need to know. Getting cross is a waste of energy and you don’t need to do it.” Little by little I found that recognition of the anger enabled me to let go of it.
That’s a small example. However, if you add up lots of occasions when you’ve appreciated that you’re happy, and lots of occasions when you’ve recognised and dealt with negative emotions, that adds up to a significantly happier life.
One final point. Life has many challenges, both in the physical world and in our mental health. There will definitely be times when you feel a negative emotion and it stays with you. If there is an obvious cause in your circumstances for a negative emotion – bereavement, for example – then mindfulness can help a bit, but of course it’s not a magic bullet. If there is no obvious cause for persistent, frequent or long-lasting negative emotions, then, while mindfulness can help, you would be wise to also seek professional support from a counsellor.