Mindfulness in Irritation Central Station
Alternate titles: Letting Go at Angerball Square, Feeling Fine on Frustration Avenue, Deep Breaths on Depression Drive... You get the idea. Pick your emotion. Apply the following as needed. Me? I'll stick with the established title for now...
For the past several days, I have been irritable. Maybe it was the full moon last week. Maybe it's a difficult sleep schedule. Maybe it's the to-do list that never seems to end. Maybe I'm hangry. I can't quite tell you. A lot of my basic interactions have just left me irritated, frustrated, and overall unsettled.
As you may know from your own experience, these feelings don't react well to simply being pushed away. They shove back with at least as much force as what you're pushing at them. If you successfully bottle or ignore the emotions, they inevitably come back in some way. I have spent a lot of time "going robot" and pushing aside feelings of all kinds. Let me tell you: this tactic has not helped me in the long run.
So then what? If you're anything like me, feelings like the irritation I’ve been experiencing don't sit well. They rub wrong, kind of like sandpaper on my insides. But what is there to do?
Sit with them. Make space for them.
Sounds cliche, but that's the only answer I have for myself or for anyone else. Meet the feelings with as much gentleness as you can muster, recognize them, and try not to hold onto them. There’s nothing productive about grasping too tightly. These feelings are impermanent and will slip away. In an hour, I could be feeling something completely different, couldn't I? Or my irritation could just be towards something else, continuing to be fed by my own thoughts and unwillingness to let go of the feelings.
Notice the difference between pushing and letting go. Pushing is forceful. Letting go isn't. This process can look like a quiet conversation: "Hi there. I see you. I might not like that you're here, but I feel you. Stick around as long as you like. I'll still be here when you’re gone." Say it with as much equanimity as you can. Remember that there is the place inside of you that is always calm, always equanimous. Tap into that space while you feel these things. Know that you are not your feelings; the tides change for "negative" and "positive" emotions alike. You’re still here after each.
Learning to be mindful does not require that feelings evaporate. You may not always be happy or light-hearted or calm. That's not the point. The point of mindfulness is to be where you are, as you are, however that may be. I'm irritated. So here I am: irritated. In a minute, maybe I'll be something else. I'll be here with this until then.