This Sucks! Zen and the Art of Difficult Emotions

I’m the worst person alive!
Over a year ago, I made a vow to make amends for all my unskillful actions. This process involved doing a moral inventory.

It’s a technique I borrowed from 12-Step work. (In the spirit of full disclosure I’ve never done 12-step work and am not an authority on that process.)

I decided to make a list of every bad thing I’ve ever done. This is super hard. At times, I felt like I was the worst person alive.

Photo of Crying Kid

Tell me how I failed!
The first list I made was long, but I knew there was more. So each night before bed I would sit and say to myself,

“I want to live a life of integrity. I am willing to accept the mistakes I have made. If there is any action I have forgotten and I don’t feel good about, I invite it to come into my awareness.”

After I said this, I would sit in silence for a few minutes. Often something would bubble up to the surface. No matter what it was I greeted it with gratitude and wrote it down.

Make it hurt!
When we start to improve our lives, we open more space. This leads to a sense of freedom and joy. It also allows unfelt emotions to surface.

When these emotions surface, it can feel like we’re moving backwards. In truth it means you are really digging in to real transformation.

The challenge is to face these emotions without trying to fix them. Allow them to arise, feel them, and then be willing to let them go.

5 Steps For Creating Space for Difficult Emotions

1. Set aside time.
You need at least 10-15 minutes, but it’s better to give yourself some wiggle room.

I found that just before bed was the best time for me. It helped me process the day. It also meant I didn’t take these emotions to bed.

2. Find Somewhere to Be Alone
It’s hard to be with difficult emotions around others. They may try to consol or distract you. The point is to just be present with what’s arising. Nature is great, or your bedroom, but if all else fails the bathroom is a good standby.

3. Invite the Emotions to Come In
An invocation can be helpful. State your intention, your willingness to accept what comes, and then invite any hidden emotions to arise.

3. Feel Your Body
If emotions arise, try not to focus on the content. Instead, focus on how the emotions feel in your body. Notice any beliefs that arise especially any absolute statements.

If these emotions become intense try to stay with it, but if your mind starts spinning, focus on your breath or your feet to become grounded.

4. Write it down
Once you have watched the emotion arise, exist, and ebb, write it down. Name the emotions and any beliefs that came with them. This can be a few sentences or much more, it’s up to you.

This gets it out of your head and gives you perspective.

5. Gratitude and Release
Now thank whatever came up for arising. Thank your heart for being willing to feel these hard feelings. Thank yourself for being willing to do this work. Then ask yourself, your heart, and/or a higher power to help you let these feelings go.

Remind yourself that you will do this again soon and that anything else can wait until then.

6. Grounding
Working with difficult emotions can be agitating. Afterwards take ten breaths, do a short yoga routine, or maybe read something inspiring. If you are still reeling try doing something to get in your body: light house work, a more vigorous yoga routine, or a longer meditation.

This practice can be very powerful. It’s not about wallowing, it’s about giving space to the powerful forces inside of us. When we are willing to be with challenging feelings, we gain the courage to face challenges in every aspect of our lives.

Discussion Question: How do you work with difficult emotions?

Disclaimer: For some people this practice is not suggested. If you notice the consistent arising of thoughts involving self harm or suicidal ideation stop using this technique and consult a licensed counselor or therapist before continuing.

If you feel like you need to speak with someone right away call your local crisis line or call A Lifeline Crisis center at 1 800 723 TALK (8255)

Photo Credits


Thank You, Stress!

It Begins With a Thought
I was walking to meet a client and a thought popped in my head: “There is something wrong with me.”

My low back had gone into spasm over the weekend. I had experienced a ton of pain and discomfort. I had a few nights of little sleep.

Now a few days later I was experiencing some localized numbness in my low back. As I walked, my body felt weird. I wasn’t sure how exactly, just weird.

The Spin
As soon as the thought entered my head, it happened. I was sure my whole body was going numb. My breath shortened. Thoughts spun in my head.

Stressed Out Girl

What if I slipped a disc?
What if the numbness was permanent?
Should I even be walking right now?
I’ll need to get an MRI.
My insurance sucks.
How much is an MRI going to cost?
How long is it going to take to pay off?
What if I need surgery?
What if I can’t exercise?
What if I can’t walk?
I just started my new business.
I feel like I’m on the right track.
I’m doing something amazing with my life.
Why is this all falling apart?
What am I going to do?
What am I going to do?
Oh my god, I think it’s getting worse!

Fear sits underneath so much of our lives. Just stepping out of our house everyday we face a thousand fears.

When we give in to those fears, others follow. To live we have to face our fears. Facing our fears leads to stress.

Working on my dreams meant, I was facing my fears. The stress built up. Then the dam burst.

Was the injury the result of fear and stress? Or did it give me space to finally feel it?
I’m not sure. I do know we must face our fears, but we must also see our stress.

MindFitMove Practice
(I’ll be doing the following practice this week to respect my stress.)

-Everyday when you come home from work or before you go to bed, write down one stressful event that happened today.
-Write down the fear you faced.
-Accept that this event was hard.
-Accept that you did the best you could.
-Accept that you can’t go back and do it differently.
-Thank yourself for facing this stress.
-Then write down one thing you can do the next day to thank yourself.
-A few suggestions are: Tell a friend about your stressful situation, engage in a small act of self-care, forgive yourself for not being perfect.

No matter what we choose to do, we must see the stress in our lives. Then we must honor our stress with attention and care. If we don’t, if we deny our stress, it will find us in our weakest moments.

What are you afraid of? What stressed you out?


Slow Down

That Time Of Year

This is the time of year where everything seems to be going so fast. It’s an acceleration to Christmas day, then New Years Eve, and then beyond. That’s why it’s so important that we slow down this time of year. When we get to the gym and find someone is using our machine or when we get to the store and find that the lines are long, irritation can arise. But these things are only a problem if we are in a hurry.

I’ve been told that in Russia for one to two weeks this time of year almost everything closes down. Because everything is closed people have no choice but to slow down and enjoy time with their loved ones. In many places things may only close for a day or two around the holidays so we have to make the choice to slow down.

Slow Down

When we slow down something truly amazing happens, we relax, we notice beauty, we become more kind, and we enjoy ourselves. But perhaps the most amazing thing of all is that we can get almost as many things done in the same amount of time. Frantic activity rarely leads to efficiency.

In addition to being more efficient we also perceive things differently. The lines move about the same at the grocery store, but because we slow down we don’t feel like they are going too slow. People may be on our favorite equipment, but because we slow down, we remember there is a new workout routine we’ve wanted to try out.

Theres no Hurry

Being around others who are in a hurry can be contagious so when you find yourself feeling frantic, try out these tips to help you slow down –
· Take a few deep breaths
· Reconnect with your heart
· Take a walk, run, or bike ride (alone if that’s what you need)
· Leave extra space in your day by planning ahead or managing expectations
· Let go of how things are ‘supposed to be’; being calm and relaxed is a better than any perfect dish, ritual, or present

When we are in a hurry nothing seems possible, our lives contract, and we rush from one thing to the next. When we slow down our lives expand, many things are possible, and we greet each new activity with a fresh and excited mind. Make the choice to slow down; it’s the best way to spread peace on earth and good will to men and women alike.


What Are 3 Aspects of Being A Great Student?

So I haven’t posted in a few days 14 to be exact and I am working on a response to a great question asked of me, but it won’t be ready today so instead I give to you, one answer from my Yoga School application. I know it’s kind of cheating, but I think it was illuminating for me to read what I wrote here and I hope that it helps you as well. I think it applies to almost any situation we find ourselves in that asks us to be a student.

What are 3 aspects of being a student of yoga that are important, and why?

1. It’s important to watch the mind that grasps for achievement – The western mind can be, by virtue of the society in which it was raised, a bit competitive. I know that I have had the competition bug in me and that it can come out no matter what I do. This can happen in yoga just as much as anything else. I want to have perfect form, I want to be more flexible than others, etc. etc. There is nothing wrong with wanting to study and practice with skill, because without any determination I would drop any practice as soon as it got hard. What I have found is that I must expect to lose myself in the effort, rather than gain a new sense of self through it.  

2. It is important to let go of preferences – I think this is true in all aspects of life, but especially when being a student. Each of us can get a certain idea in their head, about how things should happen. The mind believes that if it can think about something enough and set up a model it will prevent suffering and death. In truth these ideas are what lead to suffering in the first place. I know that when I set my preferences and opinions aside and become open to what is happening, that I learn more about myself and any practice I engage in. Holding my preferences lightly and also respecting my own boundaries allows me to stay in the realm of learning with my whole heart. This is a practice I engage in at all times, but I think is essential to keep in mind when studying yoga.

3. Remembering to be present in the body – Meditation, zazen, yoga and many other similar practices are often thought to practices of the mind, but they are practices primarily of the body, or more correctly the mind body. I have a tendency, born of my study of western philosophy, to think of the mind and body as separate. I often tend towards the superiority of the mind over the body, a sort of mind over matter attitude. This way of thinking is not right view. The mind and the body are not two things. To hold the mind and the body upright are holding one thing together. I think I always have to remind myself to be present in the body rather than to try to think my way through something.


What’s so great about impermanence anyway?


If you have practiced Buddhism or a few other eastern traditions at all you’ve heard about it, read about it, been admonished about it, and more. Even if you haven’t you have experienced it. The ever changing now, the subtle shift of the winds, the endless march of time, whatever your preferred referent it’s quite clear, all things are in a state of flux.

Often impermanence gets a bad wrap as the thing that takes whatever we love away from us, but from the right perspective impermanence is also what gives life’s it’s special significance.

The moments we cherish very often signify change.  A great example of this is the sunset. People all over the world admire and relish the colors, the shifting light, the change in noises, that the sunset brings. The sunset embodies a moment of change.

The sun moves all day long and maybe we notice the changing angles of light, the shift in temperature, but maybe we don’t. In the Northwest United States, for example, the shift of the sun often occurs behind a curtain of impenetrable grey.

The sun set (or sun rise) is a time when the movement demands our attention, often with a dramatic effect. It signals that this day is ending, that even the huge forces that seem so stable to us are shifting in front of our very eyes.

If you’ve ever sat and watched a sunset you know this to be true. The sun a massive ball of plasma, falls beneath the horizon faster than you realized it could. It’s our attentiveness to this change that helps us see the beauty.

There are many other examples of beauty found this way in change, migrating birds, the opening of flowers, the first snow, the first spring shower, the first warm day of summer, and many more. These moments bring us into the present moment and show us that this flow of life is filled with an amazing vitality.

When I stand in the middle of one of these moments, I can feel my life sliding underneath me. Like that moment when the waves cross over one another at the beach. They seem like they are both coming out and going in all at once. This feeling is raw and scary, but it something I live to feel. It’s this feeling that makes me realize how precious each grain of my life truly is.

Take some time this week and reflect on something that you enjoy watching change. Think about how changes in the day, the seasons, even the people around you create beauty in your life.

Change is what enables us to become new people to learn new things. It keeps everyday fresh and unexpected. It only becomes a problem when we fear it.

Thanks for reading and Be Well,


What are 3 Virtues You Can Get By Waking Up Early?

First off I wanted to apologize that’s it’s been a few days since my last blog. Work has been hectic, but nevertheless I’ve started and not finished several blogs. This will start me back up and I should get back to posting every other day. I know you’re not hanging on my every word, but nonetheless I apologize for the hiatus. I hope you enjoy the post.

Look, I love sleep as much as many of you (ok I’m sure some of you love it more.) Well probably not as much as some of you. I have heard many people profess their love of sleep, as if it were an oddity, but unless you have bad nightmares most people enjoy sleep.

Unfortunately, our modern society has given us some funky ideas about how much sleep people actually need and in reality most of us get much more sleep than we require. Part of the reason why people get more sleep or feel like they need more sleep is that they aren’t very active. Many long distance endurance athletes need more sleep than the average person, but for the rest of us as we become active, its very common to find you can go with less sleep.

In any case no matter how much sleep you need or think you need, there are many benefits to waking up early. Whether you wake up early to exercise, meditate, plan, or read here are 3 virtues of waking up early to start your day.

1. The Virtue of Space – Early in the morning there are fewer distractions to getting done what you need to get done. Whether you have a family or live with roommates the earlier you wake up the less likely anyone else will be up. In addition there isn’t much on the radio or TV so there are fewer things on to distract you.

The quiet of the early morning offers a special energy for reflection, focused attention, and a fresh quality of the mind. The early morning is a great time to work on life goals, plan out your day, or even catch up on some good reading. Whatever usually gets in the way the rest of the day, there is less of it early in the morning.

2. The Virtue of Time – Have you ever noticed that as the day, week, or month goes on it seems like you have less and less time to get things done. Time very often feels like it contracts throughout our whole lives and especially if we have alot to do.

Some of this is a matter of perception, but part of it is that as we go through our day unexpected demands arise. Projects and problems appear that we never could have anticipated. One of the best things about waking up early is that it gives us more time. Not only does waking up early often actually give us more time in the morning, the extra time we get early in the day seems to be more productive.  Whenever I exercise in the morning I always have time for it, but when I wait until later in the day I often can’t seem to fit it in. If you want to get something done for sure, wake up early and do it. 

3. The Virtue of A Good Start – The law of karma can be complicated, but one thing is for sure, the way we start something greatly effects the way the rest of it goes. When we wake up early we give ourselves a chance to have a better start. This is especially true if we use this time to reflect, plan, or exercise. When we wake up late and move slowly to start our day, the resistance present in these actions carries on the rest of our the day.

Consider this: If you have a big exciting trip planned with your partner or good friend, you wake up early with energy. You are looking forward to a day of fun and adventure. You just can’t wait to get started. If you celebrated Christmas growing up, you can probably remember waking up on Christmas morning as a kid. The excitement and anticipation would get you out of bed earlier than normal.

On the other hand if we have something we are dreading or we are in a funk, we tend to wake up late, get out of bed slowly, maybe even stay in bed even though we are awake. Our every action is an expression of resistance to what we are going through or fear experiencing.

Each of these examples represent a different attitude about the day, either one of anticipation or one of resistance. So even when our day doesn’t look like one of the two described above, our attitude depends on the way we start our day. By getting up early we are saying, “Today is an important day, I’m excited about today, and I am ready to meet the challenges this day will bring.” If on the other hand we wake up late, we are saying, “I’m not sure about today, maybe something bad will happen, and I’m not sure I’m ready for it.”

Finally one objection:

The main objection I hear from people about waking up early is either: 1. They need more sleep or 2. They ‘just aren’t morning people’.

In the first case, it’s very likely you don’t need as much sleep as you think you do, or you could just go to bed earlier. Before I lived at the monastery I used to think I needed so much sleep, but after living there I found I could easily function on five and a half to six hours of sleep. How much sleep we need is often just another function of the mind and it’s something that is worth experimenting with to find out what’s real.

As for the second objection, I have found that being a morning person has to do with my attitude about the morning. If you wake up late and rush around to get things done you are likely to be cranky. If instead you wake up early and give yourself lots of time to complete tasks then you are more likely to have a pleasant morning.

By getting up early we can embody the energy of morning people even if we are in some part faking it. Very often when I wake up early, even when I feel kind of cranky, after my morning run, swim, or meditation I feel great! (Or at least better) Sometimes I feel like that when I wake up late, but more often than not an early start to the day, means a better start to the day.

Try experimenting with changing your schedule around and see how it effects your productivity and energy. Remember that if you start waking up early your sleep patterns are changing so as you make the change you are likely to feel tired even if you get plenty of sleep. Also if you want to start waking up early it helps to be consistent about it. If you get up late on the weekends it will be harder to get up early during the week. The more regular you make your sleep habits the less tired you will feel.

As your patterns settle in I think you will find that the morning is this rich golden opportunity just waiting to be discovered. Mornings can add something special to everyday. When I am good about getting up early I rarely regret my choice.

Thanks for reading and Be Well,