If you’re like me and often find yourself getting swept away by emotions long after you’ve first noticed them in your body, then you may find it freeing to know that any given emotion only lasts 90 seconds in the human body until it runs its course. Any emotion that exists past that 90 seconds is our own brain and ego holding on to it. I learned this biological response to emotion while reading Pema Chodron’s book Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change which discusses at length the human desire for certainty and groundedness in our lived experiences even though certainty is never available to us. We manifest this struggle for certainty in our daily lives when we grasp for the settled feeling expecting it is just within our reach, when in reality it doesn’t exist at all. It’s these feelings of groundlessness that keep us reaching for things like tv, shopping, alcohol and other distractions to give us the feeling that we are steadying ourselves, when in fact we are only furthering our groundlessness by giving in to false anchors for our emotional state.
If I can sit with an emotion and let it run its course in 90 seconds, then I free myself from suffering, from attaching to it and reacting as if it must have all of my time and energy. Every morning, I practice this letting go through meditation. During meditation, I watch how my brain creates stories, and lingers and attaches to thoughts that are manipulating my body to respond to them as if they are real. When I’m in a state of awareness and can see these thoughts for what they are, false stories generated by my brain, I gently escort these stories and thoughts from my mind telling them they are not needed here and return to my state of stillness and presence. It’s often outside of my meditation practice that I witness the fruits of my practice. I can be out for a walk and notice a story is playing in my mind that sweeps me into it as though it was real and I begin to have physiological reactions to it. My heart night begin to beat faster or thoughts start to race in my brain. I can then laugh to myself and gently tell the story I’m not buying into it. When I’m really present, I can sense a story forming at the edges of my mind and I can shut it down before my brain and body begin to attach to it, before it's even had time to coalesce. It’s in these moments that I feel the elation of personal growth that spur me on to continue evolving my emotional intelligence. With each thwarted story, I gain more presence and awareness, which leads to greater contentment and happiness. In this way, I gain control over my emotional state instead of it controlling me.
There are some instances during meditation where the same thought or emotion continues to appear and makes itself prominent in my mind. This tells me that it’s a thought or emotion I need to process and sit with, let it run its course so that I can work through it. It’s taken me time to get to a place where I can discern the difference between the thoughts that are energy sapping versus those that have merit and require deeper interrogation. Generally, the emotions I need to process keep tapping me on the shoulder telling me that they require tending. This tending is simply allowing them to run their course and I’ve noticed that these emotions too are often fading in 90 seconds. The difference is that it may take several rounds of 90 second sessions to process these emotions. I’m now able to be in the moment of a given situation and know that I’ll have to fully process the emotion later if I’m not in a place to do so at the time. This feels like great progress and helps me tend my emotional garden allowing for deep personal growth. I’ve come a long way from pushing down all of my emotions with the hope that ignoring them will render them powerless. Now I think of my emotions as deep clues to my own evolution and well being. I can honor them without letting them control me and this makes a huge difference in how I experience life and the world around me. It’s the difference between feeling thrashed about by my emotions and welcoming them into my body so that I may learn from them.