A MIND-BREATH PRACTICE FOR COPING WITH IN-THE MOMENT EMOTIONAL CRISES
One value of meditation lies in developing your resources for coping with crises. Matrix meditations emphasizes the role that mind-body connections can play in such coping. That's the item that we address here today.
Almost everyone in any kind of emotional crisis goes into a state of tension and stress. These events then become part of the crisis, making everything else worse and interfering with your ability to cope. Becoming physically less tense and increasing your physical centeredness can often reduce your level of emotional distress and help you cope with emotional crisis situations.
An old formula that you've surely run across for handling situations when you're angry but don't want to blow your top is to count from one to ten before saying or doing anything. There are two more elements you can add to this counting to make it more effective. And they can make it effective for handling not just anger, but other kinds of emotional distress too--especially when you're out in the world and something happens that triggers an emotional reaction so intense that you feel like you just can't hold it together and are about to go into a meltdown.
The two elements are: (1) pairing your breathing with your counting; and (2) explicitly noticing the physical tension in your body and letting go of a little of it with each breath. Here's how it works. When you realize that you're freaking out emotionally and want to punch someone, insult someone, scream, crumple into a little pile in your chair or on the floor, or go into any other response that makes you unable to hold yourself together in the situation you're in, do this: Count slowly from one to ten, counting one number on each inhalation. As you count "one," notice any physical tension that you feel anywhere in your body. Then as you exhale, let go of that tension as completely as you can. Then as you count "two" as you inhale, again notice whatever tension you feel, since you'll probably have released only a little bit of your tension during the first breath. As you exhale, just focus on letting go of more of your tension, or the tension in a different part of your body than you released with your first breath. Then count "three" as you inhale, again tuning in to find where you feel tense, and once again focus completely on letting go of that tension as you exhale. Continue in the same way until you have counted to ten. (If the situation permits it and you wish to, you may close your eyes as you do this and visualize each number as you inhale. Or if you prefer, keep your eyes open during the whole process.
After you have counted to ten, take one "empty breath" in which you do not count but just scan for remaining tension in your body. Then count from one to ten again, just as you did above, but add one more element. As you inhale and silently say each number, besides noticing tension in your body, also notice whatever words or phrases you're saying to yourself inside your mind and whatever emotional reactions are related to them. Then as you exhale, release not only any remaining physical tension you've noticed, but also let go, as best you can, of the words and associated feelings that you noticed, so that each exhalation becomes a movement not only toward physical relaxation, but also a mind less cluttered with what you were saying to yourself, and toward emotional calmness.
Those two cycles of counting to ten while attending to your breathing may be enough to bring your to a much quieter, less distressed state. But if you're still agitated, you can count to ten one more time. During this third cycle of counting, as you count each number during your inhalation, you can be attentive not only to any remaining places where you're tightening and tensing your body, and to whatever you're telling yourself, but also explicitly notice whatever emotional reactions you are having that are not exactly the same as your physical tension or your self-talk. Then let some of that emotional response flow out and drift away on your exhalation--breath it out and feel greater calmness come in to take its place. Do this with each number as you count to ten for the third time.
When you've finished, you will probably find that you're capable of functioning in whatever situation you're in and of handling it "well enough" to get through it and avoid making things any worse for you or any other person or people you're with. If someone says, "Are you OK?" or "Why aren't you talking?" while you go through the sequence described above, even if you're in a situation like a party or at the office, you can say something like, "I need to take just a few quiet minutes by myself to relax and center myself."
You'll probably find it useful to practice this when you're by yourself, and not under stress, as a "mini-meditation." After you've done so a number of times, it will easier for you to go into using the method to handle challenging situations in your everyday life.
(The method describe above is a minor variation of the "Emergency Meditation" described in Cell Ten--"Stress: Holding Tight versus Letting Go" in the book Matrix Meditations: A 16-Week Program for Developing the Mind-Heart Connection. To learn more about the book and read sample chapters, see <http://www.matrixmeditations.com>