Allowing Space Between Emotions and Thoughts

Allowing Space Between Emotions and Thoughts

Discussion date: Wed, Oct 05, 2016 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

This Thursday evening after our meditation period our Dharma sharing will focus on how we can use our mindfulness practice to transform difficult emotions such as fear and anxiety. Janice Stucke will open our sharing with her reflections on learning to allow space between emotions and thoughts:

Six years ago, during my first Thursday evening at Still Water, I heard Mitchell talk about how one might work with difficult emotions. This came during a very emotionally raw time in which I was looking for solutions. He talked about envisioning anger as an external object you could talk to and coddle. I envisioned this little angry emoji which I tried to hug and talk to about my challenges. It was the first time I had a window into the idea that “feelings aren’t facts” and maybe I could put some distance between my thoughts and the emotions that seemed to hijack my sanity and serenity. As the years have passed I have tried to find tools that allow me to acknowledge my feelings but not have my emotions take over my life. Meditation has been key to my staying in the present moment and not getting swept away in anxiety and depression.

This past week I had a very busy work week which included a fundraiser Thursday night and several high profile meetings. Simultaneously my father and grandmother have been in the hospital dealing with illnesses. At the same time several of my key relationships have had some conflict. Every morning when I woke up, I immediately felt anxiety and fear.

As I became more awake, I practiced seeing my emotions like little emojis bouncing around. I was able to say “Good morning, sadness, anger, grief, excitement, and anxiety.” I made an effort to acknowledge and greet each of my emotions and welcome them into my life. And, I also tried not to get lost in the story of why they were there. The hamster wheel of thoughts about my anxiety and fear was not helpful to me.

My intention was to acknowledge my emotions so they could move through me. It wasn’t necessary just then to pick up the thread of thought and delve further into the story. By putting some space between my emotions and my thoughts, I was able to be alive in the present and focus on life as it actually was. My work meetings went well and I was able to be present, alert, and enjoy myself. I was even was able to see the leaves falling and the fullness of the moon, and enjoy a good book I’ve been reading.

The pause between emotions and my thoughts is slowly changing my life for the better as I’m now able to enjoy moments of serenity and happiness throughout the day even during challenging times.

You are invited to join us this Thursday for our meditation and Dharma sharing.

In the excerpt below Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh offers a five step process for working with our difficult emotions.

As is our tradition on the first Thursday of the month, we will also offer a brief newcomer’s orientation to mindfulness practice and to the Still Water community. The orientation will begin at 6:30 pm, and participants are encouraged to stay for the evening program. If you would like to attend the orientation, it is helpful if you let us know by emailing us at

Many blessings,

Mitchell Ratner


Transforming Feelings
by Thich Nhat Hanh from Peace is Every Step

The first step in dealing with feelings is to recognize each feeling as it arises. The agent that does this is mindfulness. In the case of fear, for example, you bring out your mindfulness, look at your fear, and recognize it as fear. You know that fear springs from yourself and that mindfulness also springs from yourself. They are both in you, not fighting, but one taking care of the other.

The second step is to become one with the feeling. It is best not to say, “Go away, Fear. I don’t like you. You are not me.” It is much more effective to say, “Hello, Fear. How are you today?” Then you can invite the two aspects of yourself, mindfulness and fear, to shake hands as friends and become one. Doing this may seem frightening, but because you know that you are more than just your fear, you need not be afraid. As long as mindfulness is there, it can chaperone your fear. The fundamental practice is to nourish your mindfulness with conscious breathing, to keep it there, alive and strong. Although your mindfulness may not be very powerful in the beginning, if you nourish it, it will become stronger. As long as mindfulness is present, you will not drown in your fear. In fact, you begin transforming it the very moment you give birth to awareness in yourself.

The third step is to calm the feeling. As mindfulness is taking good care of your fear, you begin to calm it down. “Breathing in, I calm the activities of body and mind.” You calm your feeling just by being with it, like a mother tenderly holding her crying baby. Feeling his mother’s tenderness, the baby will calm down and stop crying. The mother is your mindfulness, born from the depth of your consciousness, and it will tend the feeling of pain. A mother holding her baby is one with her baby. If the mother is thinking of other things, the baby will not calm down. The mother has to put aside other things and just hold her baby. So, don’t avoid your feeling. Don’t say, “You are not important. You are only a feeling.” Come and be one with it. You can say, “Breathing out, I calm my fear.”

The fourth step is to release the feeling, to let it go. Because of your calm, you feel at ease, even in the midst of fear, and you know that your fear will not grow into something that will overwhelm you. When you know that you are capable of taking care of your fear, it is already reduced to the minimum, becoming softer and not so unpleasant. Now you can smile at it and let it go, but please do not stop yet. Calming and releasing are just medicines for the symptoms. You now have an opportunity to go deeper and work on transforming the source of your fear.

The fifth step is to look deeply. You look deeply into your baby—your feeling of fear—to see what is wrong, even after the baby has already stopped crying, after the fear is gone. You cannot hold your baby all the time, and therefore you have to look into him to see the cause of what is wrong. By looking, you will see what will help you begin to transform the feeling. You will realize, for example, that his suffering has many causes, inside and outside of his body. If something is wrong around him, if you put that in order, bringing tenderness and care to the situation, he will feel better. Looking into your baby, you see the elements that are causing him to cry, and when you see them, you will know what to do and what not to do to transform the feeling and be free.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Wed, Oct 05, 2016


This week
Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Sun, May 26

Columbia Sunday Evening Practice

Mon, May 27

Silver Spring Morning Meditation

Friends in Different Places

Tue, May 28

Takoma Park Morning Meditation

Tuesday Evening Gaithersburg Group

Wed, May 29

Silver Spring Morning Meditation

Spanish-Speaking Online Practice

Still Water Kent Island

Thu, May 30

Takoma Park Morning Meditation

Fri, May 31

Silver Spring Morning Meditation

Sat, June 1

Mindful Artmaking