When Feeling Bad Can Feel Good

ArgumentIt happened again! That irritating co-worker made a snide remark to you and then walked off. Or maybe your roommate left for the evening without cleaning up the mess he left after eating dinner – even though he promised to be more mindful of it. Or maybe you had an argument with your spouse, boyfriend, or girlfriend. And so you stew over the offense and magnify the bad feelings by continually thinking of them over and over.

It doesn’t feel good. Nobody in their right mind ever wants to feel this way. And what makes it worse is that it affects how you deal with the other person, which further aggravates the situation and now you have a vicious circle. But believe it or not, it’s possible to change bad feelings into good feelings – and turn this into a fun spiritual practice! How?

Eckhart Tolle’s, in his books The Power of Now and The New Earth, describes techniques for dealing with negative feelings, primarily through accessing the “Now”, or present moment. It was while practicing these techniques that I discovered something quite remarkable – not only are they effective, but they also make it possible to transmute a negative emotional feeling into a positive physical one!

According to Mr. Tolle, every emotion is our body’s reaction to a thought. By continuing to dwell on a negative thought or memory, we perpetuate the bad emotion that accompanies it and the feeling never goes away. So instead of reliving the offense in your mind, take the opportunity to focus on the present moment. Take advantage of the situation for your benefit by using it to practice focusing on the inner stillness that is behind all thoughts and emotions.

It’s easier to begin practicing this with the little irritations and annoyances. You want to be able to stop letting the irritation continue to feed the negative emotion. It can be difficult because sometimes we seem to have a need to replay the experience over and over again. We can’t let go. That’s why it’s easier to start with small annoyances.

First, decide whether it’s a matter that needs to be addressed right then and there. You might decide that there is no point in taking any action, or it is really too late. If that’s the case, then it does no good to dwell on the offense. Instead, put all those thoughts aside as you focus on noticing the feeling within your body. This is the key. Most of the time the emotion is concentrated in a specific area of your body, such as your chest, stomach, or shoulders. Notice where the feeling is located. Notice what the feeling is like. Is it a tightness? A sharp pain? A racing feeling?

As you notice the feeling, take some slow, deep, breaths to relax. Don’t judge the feeling or try to fight it. Let it be. What is happening to the feeling as you observe it while taking slow, deep breaths? Almost immediately it should start to dissipate as you stop providing the emotional fuel.

This feeling has an energy to it. It’s real and the effect on your body is real. But then something remarkable happens. What I’ve noticed is that, devoid of the emotional baggage, devoid of the negative thoughts, the energy has a soothing vibrational quality to it that I actually find pleasurable. It’s almost like a soothing massage, and there have been times when it was similar to a post-meditative body buzz.

This has a couple of advantages. For one thing, it makes it easier to remain in that state until the energy completely dissipates and you’ve been able to allow the bad emotions to pass through you. Holding on to negative emotions stresses your body and contributes to aging. The other benefit is that it is a useful gauge as to how successful you are in focusing on the present. Being familiar with the present moment and what that feels like makes it easier to go there more and more often throughout your daily life.

And being present is crucial to being awake. It’s no surprise that good feelings are associated with the Now. Perhaps this just demonstrates the truthfulness of the teaching that it’s within the present moment where we find true bliss.

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