How I handle uncomfortable emotions

How I handle uncomfortable emotions

There I was, sitting at a conference table with the CEO, CFO, the VP of Finance, one of the members of the board, and my Supervisor.

Prior to meeting my Supervisor mentioned to me “Since you did most of the work would you mind taking the lead on this?”

“No,” I thought quietly to myself. But I knew that wasn’t really an option.

I had a feeling this would happen. That’s why I prepared for this moment.

We just finished our compliance audit of this company. Now I had to present all of our audit findings.

My mind raced.

These men and women were in the 50s and 60s. All of them had more years of experience in their fields than the number of years I’ve been alive. And now I have to tell them people all the things they did wrong.

No pressure.

As I was about to present the findings, my nerves were getting the best of me. My stomach was in knots. I wanted to be anywhere else but here.

I used what knowledge I had of mindfulness, and tried to turn this situation into a positive.

“No sweat,” I thought. “Focus on this feeling you have inside yourself. Embrace this feeling. This feeling is merely a guest. Treat it so.”

I used whatever mind hacks I could to get into the proper frame of mind. I asked myself “What’s good about this?”

My mind searched and searched for answers.

“For one, I don’t normally feel this way. Embrace this discomfort. It’s going to go away soon.”

“Be mindful of the feelings going on inside of you. What are they telling you? Should they be avoided?”

“No, they shouldn’t be.”

Months after this presentation, I came across something fascinating. While reading “Search Inside Yourself” by Chein Meng Tan, a great point was brought up.

The key to let go is two things: grasping and aversion. Grasping is when the mind deliberately holds on to something and refuses to let it go. Aversion is when the mind desperately keeps something away and refuses to let it come in…Grasping and aversion together account for a huge percentage of the suffering we experience, perhaps 90 percent, maybe even 100 percent.

He goes on to state:

The theory is that aversion, not the pain itself, is the actual cause of suffering; the pain is just a sensation that creates that aversion.

The idea is that the pain isn’t what causes suffering. Rather, it’s how we choose to respond to the pain.

This echoes many of the ideas I’ve read in unrelated fields. Tony Robbins, for example, states that you can’t always choose the situation you’re in. What you can choose is how you react to the situation.

Much of this relates to letting go. I didn’t choose to be in this situation. It just sort of happened. However, I did choose how to respond to the situation in a novel way.

I didn’t get angry that my supervisor put me on the spot. I knew it was a possibility.

I didn’t let my nerves get to me. This feeling was only temporary.

I didn’t try to escape the knot in my stomach. Instead, I decided to embrace it.

I embraced that emotion building up inside of me. I welcomed it as if it was a guest in my house. I danced with it.

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.

-Marcus Aurelius

I chose not to give more power to my emotion than it deserved. After all, it was just a physiological response that probably evolved over thousands of years. What’s the point in trying to change that?

I hadn’t read anything about grasping and clinging prior to doing this presentation. All I knew was that I would choose how I would react to the situation. And running out of the room wasn’t an option.

So I took a deep, mindful breath. I felt those emotions inside of me one more time. Then…

“I want to thank you all for joining us today…”

It was one of the best presentations I’ve ever given.

I was calm. I was composed. All because I didn’t escape my feelings. I welcomed them, embraced them, and danced with them. I try to do the same in all uncomfortable situations.

When was the last time you were in a situation that made you uncomfortable? How did you (or could you have) put a positive spin on it? 

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