All things splendid have been achieved by those who dared to believe that something inside them was superior to circumstances. Bruce Barton
In the 80’s and 90’s I used to go for month-long retreats in Southwestern France to study with Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen Master, who was our teacher for many years. One of his constant themes, and something he would repeat over and over again, was that whenever strong negative emotions came up in our meditations, we should treat them kindly. He suggested simply being mindful whenever resentment, anxiety, regret, self-judgment or similar emotions came up; and instead of pushing them away, to treat them with the same respect and affection you might treat a good friend in need. Listen to them, be kind to them.
What would happen to your relationship with a friend in need if you were to judge them, show impatience and anger, or try to ignore them when they showed up?
The suggestion was to develop a relationship with those difficult emotions as you would with a friend. When you do, you can be sure that those emotions will cause you less grief in future encounters with them. It’s not that they won’t show up any more, it’s that your relationship to them begins to change. This is a basic strategy of mindfulness training; simple, though not necessarily easy to do.
Go on, beat yourself up! You do it so well!
Unless you do something different than just fighting and blindly resisting negative emotions you will never learn the valuable information they carry. You never get to truly heal the deep wounds that we all carry. Worse than that, you end up compounding the negatives:
– beating yourself up about beating yourself up
– getting angry at yourselves for getting angry
– shaming yourselves for failures, weaknesses, your lack of confidence
– having anxiety in anticipation of anxiety or fear
in a repeating pattern of neurotic loops.
Those layers of resistance accumulate and compound, creating a tangle so dense that it seems almost impossible to ever extricate yourself.
Those meditation instructions echo the ‘meta-state’ model of NLP, which I use now, to great effect with clients who have no experience of, and no particular interest in meditation.
The common key, and the starting point, is Awareness. You begin by simply being aware of the negative emotional state. As if you were with a good friend who was in trouble; you listen to it. You accept it as it is. Later you begin to evaluate the emotion. Is this state valid? Is it appropriate? Am I digging up some old reaction that is completely outdated in the present circumstances? Can I learn from this? What is it telling me?
Asking clear questions with awareness is the first step of becoming master of your emotions. Most people don’t develop even this basic skill; or if they do, it is haphazard at best. But if you could learn to handle the infinite progression of emotional states, as they happen, with alignment and clear focus – imagine what would then become possible! You can transform all the emotional patterns that limit who you are, and what you can do.
What I am describing is a way of handling your emotions so that you can play the game of life in an entirely new way, with resilience, resourcefulness, energy, and creativity! And because treating it as ‘play’, may just be the one of the best ways to embody those qualities!
Welcome to the Meta-Zone!
In previous blogs I described how to use Meta-States. There are many ways of doing so, and after you become familiar with the process, you will be able to adapt it and create your own unique approach.
I gave you an example of taking a negative emotional state and then gradually accessing its higher level underlying intention. Grief and loss was the initial negative state, and I moved from there to joy and gratitude as its higher level intention, using four intermediate states to get there. I layered each state one on the other, until I was immersed in the joy and gratitude.
Here is another approach to creating Meta States. You begin in the same way, asking what the underlying highest purpose behind the negative emotion is. Then you go directly to it, and move backwards to find the sequence that connects it to the original negative emotion. Once again you are layering state upon state, to transform that negative emotion.
Recently I experienced a strange and unfamiliar fear. I was about to stand up at a large gathering of entrepreneurs to publicly acknowledge someone from whom I had learned some life-changing lessons, and for whom I felt profound gratitude. My fear kept me paralyzed in silence. Then I examined it to explore it a little. I began simply with an awareness of the fear, and an acknowledgement that it was there for a reason. I realized that underneath my fear there was a stronger feeling – my gratitude. My gratitude had been buried under old habits, and emotional triggers that had lost their relevance years ago. That awareness alone was enough to shift my focus in such a way that the fear disappeared completely. As I tracked back from gratitude, through layers of love, celebration, energy, I found that I couldn’t even access the fear any more. The fear was now the messenger of profound gratitude.
The use of this powerful process called Meta States is something we use to help our clients learn to live with clarity, focus, and purpose. There are some amazing ways of using them that are impossible to describe fully here, but I hope you get a sense of how it works. Meta States is also something we cover in depth in our NLP Certification training.