Catching Stars, artist not known – I wish I could tell you!

I recently found a thought provoking and immensely practical article on developing our own emotional intelligence, defined as:

‘…the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict. Emotional intelligence impacts many different aspects of your daily life, such as the way you behave and the way you interact with others.

Many people are disconnected from their emotions—especially strong core emotions such as anger, sadness, fear, and joy. This may be the result of negative childhood experiences that taught you to try to shut off your feelings. But although we can distort, deny, or numb our feelings, we can’t eliminate them. They’re still there, whether we’re aware of them or not. Unfortunately, without emotional awareness or connection, we are unable to manage our stress, fully understand our own motivations and needs, or to communicate effectively with others.

Our emotions, not our thoughts, motivate us. Without an awareness of what you’re feeling, it’s impossible to fully understand your own behavior, appropriately manage your emotions and actions, and accurately “read” the wants and needs of others.’

the article also includes a toolkit to help us learn to achieve these objectives, which builds the following skills for controlling and managing overwhelming stress, and for communicating with others:

  • the ability to quickly reduce stress in the moment in a variety of settings
  • the ability to recognize your emotions, to keep them from overwhelming you, and to harness the power of emotional connections
  • using mindfulness meditation to learn to tolerate strong emotions and remain focused even when you are feeling emotionally overwhelmed.

the first two have been a huge part of my sober journey so far. I blogged a couple of months ago about learning to recognise my own emotional states. interestingly that has come about relatively recently!

from my own experience one of the first skills we need to successfully learn as non-drinkers is to find something else to do to reduce stress – to get off the revolving chair of repetitive emotions like anxiety. if we cannot do that then it is all too easy to return, in that moment, to our old habit.

I would really recommend you have a look at the whole article, if you find the topic relevant to you – but if you need a quick fix right now 😉 the section of the tool-kit dealing with mastering the skill of quick stress relief is here – some interesting suggestions for using your senses to soothe, comfort, and invigorate yourself.

a later part of the tool kit offers a series of free guided meditations:

‘Our feelings often seem like a wild horse, full of fear and uncontrolled energy. The only way to accept and tame these feelings is to take up the reins and learn how to ride them.

The Ride the Wild Horse mindfulness meditation offers more than a standard mindfulness meditation. It teaches mindfulness practice while taking into account the effect that intense or chronic levels of stress have on our ability to meditate. It’s true that meditation is intended to relieve stress, but many people who begin meditating discover that the process connects them to emotions that they find so uncomfortable that they stop meditating.’

this chimed deeply with me after my recent difficult experience with the Headspace Acceptance meditation, so I decided to try it, and to document it here.

in particular I did not want to recommend to anyone else something I myself had not tried! so here are my thoughts on the beginners meditation…

it was a simple guided meditation lasting some 16 minutes. during the meditation one is instructed to tense and then relax specific parts of the body. in the latter part of the meditation there is some (to me, slightly annoying) guitar music during which the idea is to check in with each part of the body again and assess how it is feeling. at the end of the process the listener is instructed to return the focus to external inputs rather than internal feelings.

the meditation was quite useful to me, overall. I was particularly pleased to be instructed what to do if a deeply unpleasant feeling arose – ie to use a technique already learnt to quickly reduce stress, as mentioned above. however this does rely on the user working their way through the toolkit in the specified order and not jumping straight into the meditation (ahem. me.) I do think the quality of the recording could have been improved. in particular, there are several points when the recording appears to have stopped, but it then continues, so do be aware of this if you decide to try it.

I’ll be looking more into this system, and would be really interested if you have any thoughts on it.

one of my blog posts from this time last year was on how hope is actually not a fuzzy candyfloss substance, but a learnt skill. I find it hugely reassuring that even if these skills are not ones that I have learnt so far in my life, it is never too late to learn them!

learning to join the dots now, to do the seemingly impossible: to draw down the moon and stars so that I can dance with them more joyfully, whether solo or with those I love. because it’s a marvellous night for a moondance…