Difficult feelings can be our greatest teachers – a coarse whetstone to sharpen our blades on. One of the most challenging tasks as beginning meditators may be to sit with those feelings, to not try to avoid them, but to acknowledge and hold them; to see the truth that lies underneath any turbulent feeling that arises.
In the mindfulness program I completed, from time to time a member of the online community would confess to quitting during the exercises that dealt with turning towards difficult emotions. That week’s topic seemed to be the steepest hurtle in completing the course.
Like homeopathic medicine, I believe there’s value in taking in small amounts of challenging feelings before fully working with them in a practice. With that in mind, you can provoke difficult feelings that are at their essence, harmless, to use as a stepping stone to more meaningful contemplation. Invoke feelings that are temporary, but at the time, feel still quite uncomfortable.
The exercise: Walk out onto the street, and give away the largest bill in your wallet. Don’t check beforehand, don’t waiver, just find the most appropriate person – be they unsheltered, or look like they would benefit from the extra money – and give them that banknote. All the better if you feel conflicted about the task and its benefit. Hold onto that discomfort, and use it in a meditation. Sit with it, breathe into it. What can it teach you? What’s beneath it?
This isn’t about the value of giving, or how we shouldn’t cling to material things, but how to use the feeling as an object of contemplation – one that is uncomfortable but harmless – kind of like a fencing foil, which allows a simulation of a dangerous exercise with relative safety. Hopefully, this will make dealing with more difficult emotions easier, when the time is right.
This exercise pairs well with the “Turning Towards” meditation created by Palouse Mindfulness.
For more mindfulness exercises, look here.