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  • Writer's pictureAlexa Waldmann, LCSW

Staying present with difficult emotions

As an avid follower of Pema Chodron and other teachers of mindfulness, I have come to think more about what it means to truly show up for ourselves and others in our lives. Pema Chodron teaches that each time we stay present with fear, uncertainty, and other unpleasant emotions we are letting go of a habitual way of finding security and comfort. Scientific studies that placed people in MRI machines and measured brainwaves using electrodes on their heads have shown us that every time we chose to remain where we are, and do something fresh and nonhabitual, we open up new pathways in the brain. On the flip side, every time we repeat an old pattern, we strengthen that pathway instead, making it more challenging to do something fresh in the future. Getting distance from our thoughts and emotions can be hard to do. The following is a mindfulness that I have found to be very helpful with this.

Bring your attention to your breath and then tell yourself:

" On my inbreath I acknowledge my (insert emotion), on my outbreath I smile to (insert emotion)."

And then repeat.

It is important to truly smile on your outbreath, as making the accompanying facial expressions means we are doing it all the way.

By creating distance between us and our emotion we are able to learn as we go. Deciding ahead of time how it is all going to be does not work. But if we take each moment in small bites, not noticing anything past this moment and this moment and this moment, we may find that the moment is workable just as it is. In so doing, we don't have to run away in order to find security and comfort. I believe that staying present in this way is what it means to truly show up in our lives. Afterall, it is easy to be present when life is pleasant, but staying present when it is neutral or unpleasant, is when we are showing our character, not only coming through for ourselves, but also for others that count on us.

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