As I was meditating down at the beach today I was struck, not by a wave, but by a thought, about waves. I noticed that as a wave rolled in another rolled out. I’ll admit some people may have noticed this before. However, what struck me as interesting is that there is no in-wave without an out-wave. And there is no out-wave without an in-wave. They rely on each other and as such balance each other. There is a yin yang element to the waves’ existence. I felt this to be a rather simple yet elegant metaphor for our own thoughts and emotions. These roll in to our mind, whether this be anger, joy, sadness, indifference etc then recede to be replaced by another; sometimes the same emotion building in strength until we feel overwhelmed. Sometimes these waves seem so fierce and stormy that we will surely perish beneath the weight of them, but they always lessen eventually. They always calm and are replaced by another thought or emotion. This constant shifting of emotions shows that we are not our emotions.
I often hear people tell me “I’m an angry person” or “I can never speak to people because I’m shy”. These are only temporary states, these are not “you” even though it may feel like they are constant. What it is possible to come to realise is that we have can have control over thoughts and emotions. Learning meditation is an excellent way of “bringing the mind home” and finding some balance. This is not to suggest that these emotions will not be felt; to be angry, joyful, sad, apathetic are all normal parts of being human and we can be grateful for that. What meditation can help us learn is to observe the thought/emotion and detach ourselves from the story behind it, allow ourselves to experience it without judgement and let it pass.
To return to the wave analogy, we allow an emotion to roll in and then let it go without a bigger wave, then a bigger wave, then a bigger wave to quickly roll in on top and swamp us. We can learn, quite easily, to allow ourselves the space to let go of an emotion and find equilibrium. This applies equally to too much joy, it can overwork our adrenals eventually leading to fatigue. Besides, if you go around grinning and laughing all the time you may quickly find not many people will sit next to you on the bus and parents of small children hurry off in the opposite direction.
In Irish they express the feeling of emotions in a beautiful way. “Tá fearg orm” is translated as “I have anger on me”, in English we would say “I am angry”. There is a difference here, one identifies the whole self as that emotion, the other as the emotion existing as a state separate to the self and as such can be recognised as temporary as it will be replaced at some stage by a different visiting emotion. This is important for our mental health as we can often feel weighed down if we continue to experience the same emotion for a long time. Learning to recognise that it is just a wave that will roll out when we allow it to will calm the seas in our mind and help us find peace and not to worry about the new wave that the out-wave will bring in to us, this too shall pass.
To try this now sit in a comfortable position, take three deep breaths and let the mind empty. You may find that quite quickly a thought will pop in to your head followed quickly by an emotion. That’s fine. Just observe it, notice your breath again and allow the thought to roll back out to sea. You can do this for 30 seconds or 30 minutes, it doesn’t matter. Practicing this every day will help calm the mind.
Here is a beautiful guided meditation by a wonderful teacher, Jon Kabat Zinn. I highly recommend his books as an excellent way to start learning about meditation, or to deepen your current practice.