Emotional intelligence is about being aware of our own and other’s emotions, being able to regulate those emotions, and also being able to express what we feel in effective ways. This week, we add the base level of working with your emotions into your mindfulness practice
The practice skill for this week will help you learn to identify and become more aware of your emotions. This is a base level skill that we will expand on in the future but, for now, we need to build a solid base before adding the more in depth material later.
What We’ve Covered So Far
When teaching mindfulness, we start with the breath, add in the body, move next to the emotions, and then deal with thinking and the mind last. Please take a moment to read, practice, and catch up to where we are to-date, if you haven't done so.
Many People Aren’t Aware of What They Are Feeling
When I ask students how many emotions they feel throughout their day, their responses are all over the map. Some are really in touch with what they feel and others will tell me that they only had one emotion their entire day.
Typically, your emotions change hundreds of times during the day and you often have quite a few different emotions happening simultaneously. So when someone asks what you are feeling, it’s entirely possible that you will have multiple answers to that question.
The Beginner's Call and Response Practice
Sit or lay down in your meditation posture and begin the breath and body awareness techniques you've learned previously. Since emotions are felt in the body, we are adding this practice on top of that practice. We cover the body prior to emotions because connecting to your body will naturally begin to make you more aware of your emotional state.
When you are centered and ready, ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” and listen for your body to respond. Don’t force anything. It’s entirely possible that as you first start doing this that your internal response will be, “I don’t think I’m really feeling anything.” It may take awhile to identify what you are feeling. As you become more in touch with your emotions, this call and response becomes easier.
When an emotion returns, feel where it exists in your body, move your focus there, really explore it, and give it a label. For example, if you are feeling compassion, explore the area of your body the feeling is centered in, move your focus there and explore how it feels in your body, and label it “Compassion Compassion." If you are feeling rejected, explore the area of your body the feeling is centered in, move your focus there, and label it “Rejected Rejected."
How long you stay focused on that area of feeling is up to you. You may find that as you focus on the emotion that, just like when you focus on the other things happening in your body, it intensifies for awhile or that the focus actually makes it dissipate. When you are ready or you feel you've sat long enough with the focus on that particular emotion, take another breath or two, and then return to your question, “What am I feeling?” Sit with your breath, do the body scan, and wait again for a response. Just breathe as normal as you wait for your body to respond.
The same emotion may still be dominant and return again as the answer. Noticing and labeling the same emotion again is perfectly acceptable. The focus is on learning to be present with what is – not on feeling something new or different each time.
Moving from General to Specific Emotional Labels
As you work with this call and response technique, try to be as detailed as possible with your emotional labels. You may be feeling “Love” but that is a very high level emotion. What type of love? Desire, passion, sympathy, attraction, sentimentality, or another more specific word? You may be feeling “Sadness” but that is also a very high level word. What type of sadness? Is it guilt, remorse, grief, loneliness, or another much more specific word?
Be as detailed as you can. Part of this practice is also to build up your emotional vocabulary. When covering this in class, I will often pass out a list of emotions so people can expand their own vocabulary and really get better at labeling what they are feeling.
The chart below is from a branch diagram of 135 emotion names found in the Emotional Knowledge: Further Exploration of a Prototype Approach Emotions section in Social Psychology: Essential Readings (Shaver et al, 2001):
Amazement, surprise, astonishment
The diagram’s creators noted that many people stayed very general when asked about their emotions. The top of each section shows examples of words that could be seen as “fuzzy sets.” As you drill down, you are able to connect to a more specific feeling that has a clearer definition.
As you do the call and response practice, it can be helpful to have this chart out at first. We are still in the training stage. Mindfulness training is big on not using crutches of any kind so you when you are ready, you will want to drop using the chart. For now, though, I’ve found it to be helpful for beginners or for people who really need help labeling what they feel to have some additional support at the start.
Bringing Breath, Body, and Emotions Together
Add this call and response technique into your regular practice this week. Similar to the breath counting, this technique is really a bridge to help you move across the emotional identification gap many people experience.
Once you are able to more easily identify your emotions using more detailed terms, drop using the sheet. And once you more readily receive a response to the question, "What am I feeling?" you can drop the call and response technique. Over time, the call and response technique trains you to notice your emotions as they naturally arise and you won't need the verbal prompt.
Next week, we move on to working with and labeling your thoughts.
Shaver, P., Schwartz, J., Kirson, D., & O’Connor, C. (2001). Emotional Knowledge: Further Exploration of a Prototype Approach. In G. Parrott (Eds.), Emotions in Social Psychology: Essential Readings (pp. 26-56). Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press
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