The other day, when I noticed I had embarked upon a steady, rapid decline of sinkage into thine depths of despair, I did what I normally never do—a 5 minute meditation. And well, it helped (to my surprise), and I learned a little lesson about the enlightening act of making space for all my bad, icky feelings. Which, I admit, sounds definitely very unfun and possibly counterintuitive, but it was actually quite productive. So I thought I’d share the story.
Before I go any further, I should give a disclaimer that I don’t *actually* practice meditation all that much, and I also don’t typically opt for potentially enriching activities when I’m feeling down. Especially when suggested by another. Which this was. But for whatever reason, on this day, I was receptive to the idea posed by my husband (after I’d done my fair share of moping around the kitchen talking about sadness and quietly, blankly staring off towards nowhere in particular from time to time, accompanied by some heavy sighing…). “You should meditate,” he said, and for whatever reason I replied rather amicably with a simple, “Ok.”
I used the mindfulness/meditation app on my phone, Simple Habit (I have the free version, I use it from time to time, whatever). I clicked into the “ON THE GO” section, debated whether to go with “Tough Day :(” or “SOS!” I selected the latter, and out of the next set of options, I chose “Depressed” (womp womp).
I laid down (because I like to lay down when I meditate sometimes even if I fall asleep so what). The meditation began. It took a few seconds before the voice started. Kind of like when you answer the phone and it’s a robot on the other line, except this robot sounded really, really nice. The voice (a woman, I’ll call her teacher) said in a slow, low, soothing tone, “I’m sorry you’re feeling depressed.” Pause. She just kind of said it like it was. No discernible emotion behind it, no beating around the bush, no flowery words. In the same tone, she continued after the pause with some comments about how being able to recognize that you’re feeling depressed in the first place is a good thing. I gave myself an imaginary pat on the back. Then we took a few deep breaths; in through the nose, out through the mouth. I yawned.
Then the lesson began. The teacher gently instructed me to think of a place where I felt happy and safe (a quiet beach at sunset with a margarita on the rocks), and then guided me to go there in my mind and stay there a bit until I was ready for the next part, which was to identify and name my feelings one by one. “What are they?” she said in her polished accent, “sadness? loneliness? fear?” There was a good pause to be able feel and name those feels. And mine kind of built upon each other. There was sadness (of course), then fear (of my sadness), and then overwhelmingness (of my fear of my sadness). You know, your typical boo-hoo fest.
After all that, the teacher encouraged me to go ahead and open myself up to make room for all those bad feelings I had just named—wait, what? I mean… I knew she couldn’t hear me, so she didn’t know one of the things I was already feeling was overwhelmed, and therefore this proposed activity seemed potentially stressful… like wouldn’t my feelings overwhelm me even more? I’m trying to kick these feelings out, not make more room for them! But, hey—what did I know? So, I did what the woman said. Because, well, she hadn’t led me astray in the whole three minutes prior to that moment, and what did I have to lose anyway?
Slowly, I began to expand that imaginary space within myself where my feelings reside, and as I did, I felt… relief. Relief was finally able to creep in as I made more room. She had been knocking on the door, hanging around outside waiting for there to be space for me to let her in.
I then started to realize I’d developed a bad habit of treating my “bad” feelings very poorly. I’d been inhospitable, to say the least. I regarded the feelings as the invasive army of an oppressor in a land where I was outnumbered and had no rights. I tried to subvert their occupation by appeasing, ignoring, or squashing them. Another tactic was making myself small, so when those bad feelings called for backup and they came knocking on the door, I could say “sorry, no vacancy!” And while I successfully kept more bad feelings from entering, I was somehow creating and sustaining this hostile environment within myself where—although there were fewer bad feelings—the space was very overcrowded. Bad feelings on top of each other makes those feelings more aggressive, and I don’t blame them. They were trapped. Not only was I the person responsible for trapping them, but putting myself on lockdown also meant I was responsible for keeping the good feelings away too.
Contrary to what I previously imagined, I soon realized that making room for my emotions didn’t make those bad emotions bigger—they were the same size. There was just more room to move around them, which made them seem smaller and less significant. More breathing room allowed for those bad feelings to be less hostile. And sure, there was more room for more of the bad feelings, but—there was also more room for the good feelings too. And, to my delight (who was now able to enter my feeling space!), I found that I was somewhat infinite. I could keep expanding as necessary. I was also fluid. I could contract the space if needed. And I was free. I could let the good and bad feelings come and go. Whether their visits were short or long, I could begin to get to know them. Learn from them.