Riding out the Storm: A Meditation Technique for when Emotions Run High


Adapted from Peace Is Every Breath: A Practice for Our Busy Lives by Thich Nhat Hanh

Look at strong emotions as a kind of storm. If we know weatherproofing techniques, we can come out of it intact. A storm may last an hour, several hours, or a day. If we master the ways of calming and steadying our mind, we can pass through the storms of emotion with relative ease. 

Sitting in the lotus position or lying down on your back, begin breathing into your belly. Keep your mind entirely on the belly as it rises with every in-breath and falls with each out-breath. Breathe deeply, maintaining full attention on your abdomen. Don’t think. Stop all your ruminating, and just focus on the breathing. 

When trees get hit by a storm, the treetops are thrashed around and run the highest risk of being damaged. The trunk of a tree is more stable and solid; it has many roots reaching deep into the Earth. The treetops are like your own head, your thinking mind. When a storm comes up in you, get out of the treetop and go down to the trunk for safety. Your roots start down at your abdomen, slightly below the navel, at the energy point known as the tan tien in Chinese medicine. Put all your attention on that part of your belly, and breathe deeply. Don’t think about anything, and you’ll be safe while the storm of emotions is blowing. 

Practice this every day for just five minutes, and after three weeks, you’ll be able to handle your emotions successfully whenever they rise up. Seeing yourself pass through a storm unharmed, you gain more confidence. You can tell yourself, “Next time, if the storm of emotions comes back, I won’t be scared or shaken, because now I know the way to overcome it.” You can teach this to kids as well, so they too can enjoy the sense of safety that belly breathing can give them. Take the hand of your child, and tell her to breathe with you, putting all her attention on her abdomen. Though she may be only a child, she can have very strong emotions, and she can learn to breathe her way through them. At first, she will need your assistance, but later on she’ll be able to do it herself. 

Practicing in the sitting position is best, but you can also practice while lying down. If you’re practicing while lying down, you may like to place a hot-water bottle on your abdomen as an added source of comfort.

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