What does it mean to be mindful?
Being mindful means being aware of yourself. What are you really, truly feeling right now? It means noticing when you feel envy, jealousy, empathy, love, hurt, happiness, sadness. It means recognising emotions when they bubble up within you, and patiently, compassionately asking yourself why you feel this way. Often, the emotions we feel go far deeper than the current situation we’re in. For example, a friend told me she got onto the University Badminton Team, and I noticed that I felt jealous because of it. The common way of handling negative emotions is to think ‘I shouldn’t be feeling this way. She’s my friend. I want to be happy for her’. But you cannot lie to yourself, or even if you can you can’t do it forever, so you must at some point face the reality of the negativity inside you. It exists, it is there, it is asking for your attention. So, acknowledge it. Once you accept that this is the way you feel, it doesn’t mean you stop there. I can’t justify hating on my friend and feeling ill towards her because I feel this jealousy within me. Rather, I want to overcome it. Nobody wants to live with negative emotions forever, they pull you down and we’d all much rather be happy. So, once I start asking myself ‘Why am I jealous?’ – again, with patience and compassion – I can begin to delve into the root of this negativity. In my case, it goes like this:
Why am I jealous?
Because she made the team and I’m not on it
So, why is being on the team important?
Because people will like me if I’m on the team.
See, in my case, it wasn’t even about Badminton or my friend. It was about me feeling as if being on the team was a status symbol that would make people like me. I had a fear of people not liking me, so I felt insecure when my friend was on the team and I wasn’t. Because that made her better than me, and so people would want to be friends with her and not me. For me, this belief stemmed from a high school experience of being shunned by the popular kids, the reason for which I thought was that I wasn’t on the school netball team – which many of them were on – and therefore wasn’t cool. Reading and watching many American high school stories also made me believe that the so-called popular kids were the jocks and cheerleaders. So physical prowess and skill automatically equated to popularity and friendship, in my mind. In this way, my belief about the basis of friendship was so deeply ingrained in me that, when I felt jealous of my friend, I didn’t immediately see what the reason behind it was. It had nothing to do with her, and everything to do with me. And negative emotions are often like that. So, if we can start to become mindful and aware of our emotions, then we can patiently and compassionately question ourselves to find the root cause of our discomforts. And it won’t be easy to ask yourself these probing questions, because you don’t know what might come up. The unknown is scary and you don’t know what dark memories may exist within you. But I encourage you to be brave and ask yourself anyway, because only by doing so can you dismantle distorted beliefs you hold, perhaps from childhood, and once you deconstruct those you can free yourself from the negative emotion(s) altogether.
Now, I’m not saying I never get jealous. I still do. But by being able to find the root of my insecurity, I can kindly teach myself the right way of thinking. That people will like me for my personality and character, not what I’m excessively good at. Of course, some people will like me for that, but I’m talking about the real friends here; they’re the ones I care about. And of course, as a human being I will forget myself many times and revert back to my old beliefs causing insecurity and jealousy, but as soon as I become aware of myself again, I can let go of the negativity and feel lighter for it. Because when you let go of negative emotions, you feel lighter and happier as a result.
So, how can you apply this all to overcome negative emotions within yourself?
1. Become aware of when you experience a negative emotion – it may be a thought or feeling.
2. Identify what exactly that negativity is – are you experiencing jealousy? Sadness? Envy? Hatred? Happiness* (at someone else’s failure)? *this kind of happiness isn’t true happiness, because it relies on someone else’s pain.
3. Accept that it exists, it is there, it is real. And accept yourself for feeling that way without judgment.
4. Ask yourself – with patience and compassion – why you’re feeling this way. Take your time, you might not know the answer right away, keep questioning to get to the true root cause – it may be a childhood memory, a belief, or an experience. Also, take care too because opening up old internal wounds can be very painful, so be kind to yourself by allowing yourself to feel the pain and give yourself time to get to the root cause (it may take minutes, hours, days).
5. Once you’ve identified the root cause of your negativity, see if you can rethink any false notions or beliefs you may hold – like my belief that people would want to be friends with me if I was on the school netball team. Reform these beliefs to ones that represent the true nature of reality. In this way, you can heal your past wounds and let go of the negative emotion.
6. When that negative emotion pops up again, which it will since we’re all human, kindly remind yourself of the flaws in your old belief system and remind yourself of your new, healthier, truer belief system to let go of that negativity again and again and again. And each time, letting go will get easier and you’ll feel so much lighter for having done so.
Until next time,