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Emotions and communication

man holding babyOur communication has a direct and powerful effect upon our emotions. One way to change a mood is to talk to someone else. Even if they don’t say anything to us, the feeling of being heard has a potent effect upon us. It can help to put things in perspective, to give us more of a sense that our emotions are manageable.

When the emotions that we express are positive ones, they can become much stronger through the act of communicating. I guess that everyone has had the experience of thinking about saying something, and then finding that when you try to say it, you have difficulty in getting the words out because of the power of the emotions welling up into your throat. It seems that in communicating, we often get more in touch with our emotions.

Communicating with ourselves has a lesser, but still useful, effect on our emotional states. Many people use writing in a journal to help them manage their emotional states. Writing can help us to untangle our experience so that we can begin to make more sense of what’s going on in our emotional life.

Communication that alters our emotions need not be verbal. Non verbal communication – a reassuring touch, a hug, holding hands – can have an enormous effect on how we feel.

In the metta bhavana practice, we imagine that we are communicating with others, and we do actually communicate with ourselves. We call others to mind, those we like, those we have difficulties with, and those that we are indifferent to, and we wish them well. We may find ourselves communicating to a friend exactly what it is that we appreciate about them. We may call to mind someone we’re in conflict with and imagine apologizing to them. We might even imagine non-verbal communication as well.

This may seem very similar to the category of using thoughts to change our emotions, but I feel that communication is such an important part of being human that it’s worth singling it out, and also thought is inherently an inner phenomenon, while communication goes beyond this. It can have an inner aspect that starts in thought, but by definition it involves reaching out to others and letting them into our hearts and minds as well.

Comments

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Comment from Trey
Time: December 1, 2011, 5:02 pm

Hey, Bodhipaksa,

First off, I want to thank you and your crew for maintaining such a ridiculously elaborate website. It really is ridiculous, haha. I’ve read through every article starting from the first one under “Is Meditation for Me?” and every single one is just full of useful information. You also have a really nice writing style, I like it.

But more on topic, you say writing in a journal can help some people out. When I’m feeling particularly depressed I like to go and write poetry/songs/whatever, but usually they’re really depressing. I’ll basically just put everything I’m feeling bad about, usually my flaws, or “adventitious defilements,” into a song. Usually afterwards I feel better about myself and want to go and fix what I did wrong. I don’t ever go back and do anything with what I write, I usually don’t even read it after I’m done writing it.

But what I want to know is whether or not that’s counteractive to mindfulness. Because doesn’t sitting there writing depressing things about yourself completely go against only having positive thoughts? It seems to help, at least in the short term, but would it be bad for me long term once I start mindfulness meditation?

Thanks in advance,
Trey

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: December 2, 2011, 10:02 am

Hi, Trey.

Thanks for the compliments. Probably this should be ten different websites, but hey, what can you do?

My short answer to your question is, if it works, it works. If you feel better after writing your poetry or songs, then you feel better. So something worked. I find that when I write about what’s going on with me I feel less caught up in it, and feel more objective about it. And often what happens is that I start having and writing thoughts that are more creative as I continue. The depressive thoughts are progressively revealed to be biased and distorted, and they no longer have a hold over me.

You asked, “doesn’t sitting there writing depressing things about yourself completely go against only having positive thoughts?” but I think there’s a false assumption in there. The depressing thoughts are there anyway, and you’re simply becoming more mindful of them. You’re not cultivating a depressed state of mind; on the contrary you’re cultivating a sense of perspective on your thoughts.

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Comment from Trey
Time: December 2, 2011, 3:00 pm

Hey,

You make a really good point about it not cultivating a depressed state of mind, instead it’s just putting it into perspective. Just wanted to say thanks again.

Trey

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: December 2, 2011, 11:49 pm

I just want to say it would be possible to work your way deeper into depression through writing. It’s just seems that you don’t! It all comes down to how you relate to the writing…

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