One of the great benefits most people report when they complete an 8-week mindfulness course, is that they seem to be able to cope better with difficult emotions. The great American Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck said, “Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment.” She taught her students to make use of all the messy stuff that makes up everyday life and to turn it into an opportunity to practice. We need rough edges, she would say, to hone a blade. So it is with all of us. We need to turn towards troubling experiences, including emotions, in order to see them for what they really are and learn from them.

We will all become annoyed and frustrated at some time during our day. Maybe it will be a mild feeling of irritation (getting stuck in the checkout queue for example) or it could be a full-blown road rage: but it will occur at some time. The trouble is, for the most part, frustration is pretty useless. Getting annoyed will not bring the lift to your floor any quicker or get that traffic jam moving. However it has got the potential to colour the next few moments of your day or even your whole day. It is left brain activity; defensive, aggressive, insensitive to the needs of others. Frustration is part of the cluster of emotional states that maintains separateness from others. Useful, from the point of view of survival, when our ancestors needed to put some distance between themselves and some threat out there on the savannah; less so these days. These emotions, all variations on anger, maintain a “me first” rather than a “we first” state of mind and this, inevitably, makes us unhappy, isolated, anxious. Mindfulness training is about rewiring the brain so that there is a better balance between the left and right brain. Noticing when negative emotions bubble up and then bringing close, mindful attention to them is the first step in taming them and shifting to a more right brained mode of being. Name it; "Ah, there you are, Frustration, I recognise you." I am not saying that these emotions are “bad”; they are just the emotional weather of the moment so it is sensible to pay attention to them.  Remember, all you need to do is notice what is going on for you in the moment and be curious about it.

Notice when you feel frustration and how it is expressed in the body. Examine it carefully. And then pause, breathe, notice the story you are creating about the situation and then, when you are ready, move on. What happens to your feelings of frustration if you do this? This is all part of learning to respond wisely to situations rather than reacting automatically to them. Learn to respond to the small irritations of life in this way and we will be better equipped to deal with the really bad stuff when it comes along.

Thanks for all your interest in these posts. Comments in particular are really appreciated and please share them about. And for those of you who are on holiday this week, have a good one!

Donald MurrayComment