Kind promise: I will open to each moment.

PaintingI practice samatha meditation. My teachers tell me that the first step is “mindfulness of body.” As I sit, I adjust my spine, legs, arms, neck and head to be in graceful alignment. “Not too tight. Not to loose,” the Buddha is said to have advised. Then, I move on to “mindfulness of breath,” which produces “mindfulness of mind.”

Similarly, I can practice “mindfulness of emotion.”

Emotions have always been a challenge for me. Born a midwesterner, I was taught that good people don’t have emotions. The ideal is to be entirely reasonable and shrug off any drama. I seem to have been born with dramatic flair. I feel things intensely. I grew up feeling like something was wrong with me because I had Big Emotions.

In my 20s, I joined Emotions Anonymous, a 12 step peer support group for people with Big Emotions. I found such relief, hearing that other people have emotions. We claimed we were “powerless over our emotions.” We found sanity through working the 12 steps and supporting each other.

Even so, I did not “deal well” with my emotions. I believed the stories I told myself that generated and nurtured Big Emotions. Sometimes, I denied my emotions – a good recipe for depression. Sometimes I indulged my emotions, screaming into a pillow in the hope that all expression would lead to elimination.

Meditation is teaching me a middle road. I watch emotions arise without believing the stories that induce them and without taking any action to move them one way or another. Like my breath, they arise and dissolve.

When I am not mindful of my emotions, they easily “come out sideways,” finding expression in unfortunate phrases and tones of voice that affect my relationships. I want to notice emotions when they happen and name them without imagining outside circumstances cause them.

An image we use in meditation is to imagine muddy water. If I stir it, it remains muddy. If I leave it alone, it settles, with dirt on the bottom and clear water on the top. Thoughts and emotions – stories – are like that.

Even emotions that I used to think of as negative become tender sweetness when I experience them in their pure form. Notice them, name them and let them go.