We can lose our emotional control without realising. In fact, this is what happens most of the time. Life pressurises us, and, like a kettle, we boil.
If you have ever watched a saucepan of water boiling, you will notice that, at first, it seems as if nothing is happening. The temperature is rising imperceptibly, though, and if we dip our finger in, we can notice the slowly increasing warmth.
Then we may notice a few bubbles running across the fabric of the water, just one or two. After a time, as the heat increases, the tiny bubbles will appear more frequently, and their movement may become more rapid.
There is often no sudden explosion – just a gradual increase of ‘bubbly state’. Eventually, the surface of the water might start to wave and ripple, and small hisses may emanate from the pan.
In the end, once the water has reached a definite boiling point, we can stand back and observe that the pan is a seething mass of bubbles, currents, and steam.
If we wanted to limit this activity, what options do we have? We essentially have three:
- We can turn down the heat, or move the pan off the heat
- We can add some cold water
- We can channel the heat and/or air away from the pan, by opening the lid
APPLICATION TO MENTAL HEALTH
We are often like that boiling pan. We, and other people, don’t really notice our increasing emotional temperature until it is too late, and we are a seething mass of energy, and someone eventually gets hurt.
Emotional mindfulness is the art of being able to ‘just watch’. With awareness, we can observe our own emotional temperature as it goes up.
Just as we can observe a pan of water going through the different stages mentioned above, we can observe ourselves. Instead of leaving the emotional ‘kitchen’, and being absent from our own presence, we can ‘stay with the pot’, and take responsibility for it. With practice, we will notice when we are getting warm; we will notice when emotional ‘bubbles’ begin to fly across our minds; we will sense it when our surface begins to ripple.
Just as importantly, we will learn what we can do to channel and control our energy.
- We can turn down the heat (change our environment to a ‘cooler’ one, or move ourselves away from the emotional pressure
- We can add cold water (bring in a calm influence, play soothing music, invite in peaceful thoughts, meditate)
- We can open the lid (allow ourselves the freedom to escape a pressurised place, or set of thoughts, by opening releasing doors, physical or mental)
Ways to do this in practice include:
- deep breathing; going for a walk
- contacting a calm friend; listening to calming music or words; meditating; gentle focused activity
- spacing out activities; channeling energy into exercise
An unaware pot cannot take itself off the heat, add cold water to itself, or open its own lid. (Notice how an angry person boils like that pot, with no self-control.) In order to find control through mindfulness, we have to train ourselves to step outside the ‘system’ of our unaware mind and body. We need to be able to see and manage our own ’emotional pot’. We will only have agency if we can separate ourselves from the heat, watch it, and consider what to do next.
Just for today, I will watch my emotional temperature from moment to moment. I will notice if and when the heat rises, and disturbances begin to run across my fabric.
When this happens, I will pause and turn down the heat, or bring in a cool influence, or open a door to greater freedom. I will take care of my emotional temperature.