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Recently I started reflecting on how we can work with our own emotions more Mindfully, especially during this very charged time in history when the polarization gap between people seems to have widened and is creating a lot of emotional havoc. Using a lot of my own practice experience, I will share my thoughts.

First things first; What is Mindfulness? Mindfulness is Witness Consciousness. A form of non-attachment. When we can become, even for just a moment, the objective observer of ourselves, we are practicing Mindfulness. It is to depersonalize the experience we are having, and to adopt awareness that there is simply “stuff happening.” And eventually we begin to identify how and where the mind will make meaning out of whatever is happening.

The practice of mindfulness involves becoming aware of what is happening IN OUR BODY during any experience. The languages of the body are sensation and emotion. Every person will develop their own unique sensory and emotional pathways for the environmental stimulus that they come into contact with early in life. And over time these pathways become well-worn, so to speak, and a general go-to for any experience that has some similarity or connection to past experiences.

One of my well worn emotional pathways would be anger. For me, anger is my go-to when I feel like I don’t have control in situations that feel important to me. Anyone who has dated me knows this 🙂

Now with lots of help having my patterns be reflected back to me through relationships, and with my Mindfulness practices, I have been able to identify why anger is my go-to. In my family, when my parents were stressed, or depressed, which was most of the time, they retreated into their own personal world of isolation. Mainly through quiet hobbies such as cooking, reading, watching tv, gardening and private addictions to substances. These activities are far from inherently negative on their own. But as a lonely and only child who deeply desired intimate emotional interaction with my parents, the behaviours they engaged in instead of interacting with me made a very real impression into my nervous system that felt scary and neglectful.

As we all tend to do, I developed coping mechanisms to try and regain some sense of control over my own sense of vulnerability during a period in my life when I could not express this in words. What ended up working most successfully for me in my family was to get really loud and emotional, mainly angry. With that I succeeded in achieving some form of acknowledgement; they would have to see me, hear me, and feel me. I would have their attention for a short while.

Needless to say as an adult, getting angry at people (mainly my partners) when they need to chill out has not served me very well. And let me tell you, it is no accident that all my primary relationships have been with men who isolate themselves when they feel overwhelmed and stressed out. The Universe is very intelligent.

My anger became such a strong reactionary impulse I frequently felt like I could not control it, and yet to actually get angry filled me with a brief sensation of being powerful, which was close enough to being important, the sensation I truly wanted to feel. When I didn’t express the intense emotion of anger in the moment, all that energy still needed to go somewhere. Without much positive guidance, a lot of it went into rebellious behaviour and drug abuse.

It was only when I became aware that my intense anger was a SIGNAL from my body that there was an unconscious need and vulnerability that wanted to be acknowledged, that I was able to differentiate and identify that some horrible offense was not actually taking place. NOW I was able to start consciously working with this powerful emotional energy more consciously and more successfully.

Conches | Image of a snail on a buddha statue

So that is one example of working Mindfully with our experiences. Some of you may feel and connect with an actual emotion, others may experience this energy more as physical sensation (like a headache, or insomnia), or in a behavioral go-to (like an addiction).

To work with this we need to allow space. If you have the ability to do so in the moment, that is ideal, however even carving out 5 min later in the day can work too. Sit alone somewhere quiet where you will not be disturbed. Connect to an experience, perhaps an interaction, that triggered an emotion, a physical sensation, or a desire to find relief in a go-to habit you are working on. As you connect to the situation begin to scan your body. What sensations do you notice? Can you give these sensations any particular shape, texture or colour?

When I get angry I feel it almost exclusively in my upper body; shoulders, upper back, head. All those body parts feel rock hard, and it feels like energy is projecting out, like lasers or daggers or a fire breathing dragon, ha ha.

Once a sensation has been identified, say aloud to yourself “this sensation has full permission to be here”. This is a powerful expression. We tend to want to escape and not feel what is uncomfortable, so giving the sensation permission is a potent gesture of self-love and self-acceptance.

Final step is to wait. Be there, with the sensation. Watch it, let it move through you if that’s what it wants. If we can start to understand emotions as simply energy in motion (E-motion), it becomes easier for us to let it move THROUGH us. We are not the emotion, it is merely a visitor passing through. And it may need something from us, a function of our body to initiate the shift; tears, a noise, expression such as song, art or dance.

There are positive ways to move energy, and not-so positive ways to move them. When we are unconscious of our own emotions, they can easily be projected out onto others through gossip, passive aggressive behaviour and violence, or turned back into ourselves where they cause disease and pain. For more on that, you can look into the Metaphysics of disease and pain, it’s truly fascinating stuff.

When we give permission and sit with ourselves, the parts of ourselves that are so desperately looking for acceptance, there is a softening of the heart. As the heart relaxes, the nervous system in turn follows and unconscious reactions diminish.

This can be challenging work, for you are repatterning parts of yourself that you have relied on for possibly decades. Approach with a sense of curiosity, for you are a truly fascinating and beautiful being! Allow yourself to experience all of this. And please remember Mindfulness is a PRACTICE. We don’t learn from getting it right, we learn from getting it wrong. Treat yourself through this delicate learning process with compassion. Trust that it will begin to feel more natural with time and regular practice.


~ Erica Sainsbury