Not all emotional pain will (completely) dissolve just by meditating on it. What should you do about the remaining pain?
To put the question in the terms we’ll use in Part II: not all emotional pain, nor everything you feel, is a reflection of your true self’s preferences, some of it is just mislearned. You’ll need to know which parts are a reflection of your true self’s preferences if you want the willpower and internal cohesion that comes from acting in accordance with yourself. So, which feelings are which?
Well, the first test is to see if there’s something in the real world the emotional pain wants you to do, like “cut ties with my transphobic dad even though everyone thinks he’s ‘reasonable’”. Yeah this might cause you to have to do emotional processing on having one fewer parent, but after you do, you’ll get a permanent emotional resolution. The alternative is carrying around the stress of not getting along with him, forever flinching away from that stress when it comes up, and forever sacrificing the increase in willpower that would come from resolving that stress. Being socially “unreasonable” by cutting him out is a lesser price to pay.
Fortunately, 90% of feelings, habits, etc. that aren’t serving your true self will come apart once you do enough mindfulness meditation. 90% of those that are serving your true self will resolve and stop being emotionally loud once you act on them sufficiently. But what about the rest?
That’s what the rest of this post is about: assume you have some emotion that isn’t getting processed, and that you don’t know if it’s serving your true self, and you want to figure out if it is, so you can decide how to act on it.
First, you can always do a second loop of meditating on the emotion and seeing if there’s anything you can do to resolve it. Emotions that have been around for years, will take much longer to process, and may require multiple rounds of meditation.
If that doesn’t work? Phobias respond better to exposure therapy better than to mindfulness, and the next post is on that. So, check to see if the emotion/feeling you’re troubleshooting is literally a phobia, or is acting like one. Boredom is a state and not an emotion, but if you can’t resolve it, see the post on that.
What if the feeling is something like, “After sincerely trying to figure out what I wanted, I concluded that networking with these people was a good use of my time and would satisfy my true self’s values, but I keep getting exhausted, why would I be exhausted if I’m following my true values?”, and you’re not sure if your introversion is a mislearned response that isn’t serving you, or if your exhaustion is from your true self and is trying to tell you something? In my experience, emotions only get mislearned in certain categories (mainly just around being unwilling to process pain). In this example, the exhaustion doesn’t fall into one of these categories. So, assume the exhaustion is a sign from your true self to do something different.
In that specific example, it’s likely that what happened was that you originally actually wanted to network, but then you re-evaluated your decisions on a subconscious level, and your exhaustion is trying to make you aware that you recalculated.
What if you need an answer now and can’t wait until your daily meditation to figure out what your “getting tired of networking” feeling means? If you’ve been sincerely trying to serve your true self’s preferences, you can just guess. Though, I find that emotions which go against my beliefs about what I want are almost always right, so I personally try to pre-emptively do what they suggest.
If all that doesn’t work, try asking a good therapist if you can find and afford one, or ask in the comments. I’m willing to bet that if you’ve tried all the above and your emotion still hasn’t resolved, it’s due to some sort of systemic thing, like not having money or healthcare, or it’s a very difficult goal, like saving the world. In which case there’s no good solution, just try with all your cunning to solve the issue, and the pain will be lessened if your true self can see that you’re really trying.
I suspect that most people reading this post and trying to figure out why mindfulness won’t solve their emotion, just need to do more mindfulness. Especially if they haven’t done a couple hundred hours in the last year. Good luck.
Next post: Exposure Therapy