Working with Positive Emotions

Compared to negative emotions, positive emotions often seem less obvious, less overwhelming, and perhaps less frequently experienced (or at least taken for granted!). Yet, as mindfulness practitioners we find that such experiences are possible. We catch glimpses of them in our meditation practice, and experience the joys of life from time-to-time.

There are two ways in which we can view positivity in our experience according to traditional teachings. Firstly, as joy, compassion and even bliss, as our natural state; qualities that lie beyond the confusion and clutter of the mind. Working with confusion and giving our minds a good spring clean through meditation, can help reveal what is already beholden by us.

The other is to see that we can cultivate positivity. Through contemplation on what is good, wishing others well, and acting skilfully, for example, we can build positivity into our life.

However, both of these views come together when we bring mindful awareness to the positive aspects of our experience. When we notice or even just glimpse a sense of joy, contentment, or equanimity, and bring our attention to it, it is like watering a seed. Those seeds are already in us, but they do need some attention and nurturing into full growth.

So, as we do in the compassion meditation, we can bring to mind those things that stir up positive emotion such as loving-kindness, empathy, joy and compassion. Even contemplating how fortunate we are to have such things as good health, for example can be enough to kindle a positive emotion. This, in turn, directs energy away from negative emotions.

As with negative emotions, we can hold the positive emotion in our experience, with a sense of kindness. Not labelling, nor building a narrative in our minds about it, but just feeling the energy of it, can be enough to bring conscious awareness to it.

By cultivating positive emotion and by recognising the positive qualities that we have, we become better equipped to deal with negative experiences. While once we may have been overwhelmed by a situation, we now take a more balanced view, where it is not the end of the world, there is so much to be grateful for. We recognise that our emotions shift, and anticipate that we will find ourselves in a positive place again.

Whether negative or positive emotion are dominant in our experience, we can lean toward them, get to know them, and develop an interest in their qualities. With conscious awareness, kindness and compassion, we can take the sting out of anxiety, and develop an appreciation of positive qualities. We might even see that what we once perceived as a negative and damaging emotion, has become a gateway to wisdom and compassion.

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