'Introduction to Mindfulness & Resilience' Course for Men
Session 3: Working with your emotions
Human beings are curious creatures: we have highly developed mental functioning and the capacity for extraordinary achievements. Yet we can also sometimes be our own worst enemies, and can be harsh and cruel towards ourselves (or others). Perhaps in some ways this is a particular challenge for men, due to the conditioning many boys get about needing to be tough and self-sufficient. In this session, we look at some ‘antidotes’ we can apply to alleviate the effects of our harsh inner critical voice.
Dealing with difficulty: compassionate acceptance
In the previous session, we explored how to use mindfulness to work skilfully with your thoughts. Alongside difficult thoughts, you may also be experiencing difficult emotions and feelings. Again, you wouldn’t be alone. A lot of people are finding this at the moment. This truth can in itself help somewhat.
Mindfulness again has something vital to teach us about difficult feelings. The key here is gentle, kind and curious awareness of those feelings – allowing them to be there, without totally getting lost in them. This is all about acceptance. It doesn’t mean resignation, giving up or suppressing your feelings. Rather it’s about noticing how things actually are, then choosing to turn towards them and feel them deeply in your body. This strengthens your ability to withstand difficulties and to recover from setbacks. This process of fully turning towards your feelings requires both courage and kindness towards yourself.
The paradox here is that if we can allow difficult feelings to be present, then they can have less hold over us. This can also help us avoid the ‘double-whammy’ of criticising ourselves for experiencing difficult emotions, when the truth is that it’s entirely natural and human to have them.
Self-kindness and compassion
One of the most powerful ways to boost wellbeing is to develop a really nourishing relationship with ourselves. This is an integral part of mindfulness. To be precise, in our experience, it’s actually a natural process that extends out of mindfulness. In other words, when you practice the core skills of mindfulness, this naturally leads to a more open, generous, and kindly approach to oneself (and others). But it’s also possible to consciously encourage and cultivate this way of being.
And BEING is the key word here. That’s because one of the most effective ways to be kinder to oneself is to take the pressure of oneself to have to constantly do or achieve things. There’s plenty of time for that, but often this comes at the expense of time to rest and just be. This is where meditation – among other things – is so valuable, because it teaches you to be more comfortable in the pure and simple ‘space of being’.
You can go even further in consciously cultivating positive feelings of kindness and wellbeing towards yourself – and then extending this to others. The ‘Kindness meditation’ is designed to do just this. Cultivating kindness towards yourself and others in these ways can feel like taking restorative soak in a hot tub – and all without the need of any external support from anyone. We strongly recommend practising this approach. We know from direct experience how helpful it is at times of challenge.
Applying this wisdom: absorption in nourishing activities
Meditation and mindfulness are not the only tools available for developing a good relationship with oneself. This can also happen through all sorts of activities we can do throughout our day.
Of course, it’s true that the nature of the ongoing Covid situation places some limitations on certain activities, and physical connection with others. This is constricting and contracting. Human beings don’t like that.
But this doesn’t have to mean our whole experience feels like this. While there outer restrictions, we don’t have to experience an inner lockdown too. So what could you do (or not do) to encourage an opposite movement in your mind and body? How could you allow a sense of opening up, letting go and expanding?
What activities and pursuits could support this? How might you allow yourself to get really absorbed in something – with attention, interest and enthusiasm? And also, how might you ensure you stay connected to others – including other men – as much as possible?
All of these approaches are about giving your mind a rest from repeatedly turning over really difficult things.
Suggested home ‘practice’
We invite you to do some more regular mindfulness practice. This is about continuing to build your ‘muscles’ of awareness, and applying them constructively to your lives:
1. ‘Kindness’ and 'Acceptance' meditations: Follow the instructions on the audio meditation.
2. Three-step breathing space for kindness: Each time you notice you are giving yourself a hard time, you can step out of that critical mode by practising this mini-meditation to reconnect with your natural well-wishing towards yourself.