presence

Overwhelming Emotion? Try Unfusing

Feeling bad? If, inside, you are saying, “I’m anxious,” or “I’m depressed,” or “I’m furious,” or any other overwhelming and unpleasant emotion, Try unfusing1—as in uncoupling—from it. Unfusing works way better than trying to wish or push away emotion. Pushing against emotions actually keeps us in contact with them (and increases the tension as an added bonus!). And wishing strong emotions away—we all know how well that works. Unfusing from emotions, in contrast, is like swimming out of deep, turbulent waters to the lapping shore. The tossing waves may still be there, but now they’re at a safe distance.

Here’s how unfusing works. Let’s take anxiety as an example (though you can use this technique with any emotion).

  1. Allow yourself to notice the feeling, and say out loud:
    “I am anxious.”
  2. Next, say out loud to yourself:
    “I am experiencing the feeling of anxiety.”
  3. Say aloud:
    “I notice I am experiencing the feeling of anxiety.”
  4. Say aloud:
    “I notice that sometimes I experience the feeling of anxiety.”
    (If it’s the first time you’ve felt anxiety, you can say “I notice that I am capable of feeling anxiety.”)

Notice how you feel now in relation to your experience before you did the unfusing. By voicing these successive variations, you are changing your inner world. The original emotion might still be there, but the “I” in every sentence (“I am experiencing… I notice…”)—this “I” is growing bigger and bigger relative to the emotion. Unfusing moves you from being anxious (“I am anxious”) to being the “I” that is experiencing and noticing and owning the emotion. You can feel your emotions in a more aware way, a way that is literally self-contained.

So, when intense emotions well up and it feels like you and the emotions are one and the same—fused together—you can unfuse from them. You may still experience them, but with greater tranquility. The emotions can be with you, and you can be with your emotions, and feel more possession of your self.


  1. This exercise is my adaptation of a concept and set of techniques in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) called defusion. See the Cognitive Fusion section of “The Six Core Processes of ACT”.
        Notes from a dictionary nerd: Why have I changed the word to unfuse? I wanted to use the word as a verb, and the verbal form of defusion, defuse, already has a meaning that is resonant in the context of strong emotions: “To remove the fuse from an explosive device” (OED). While I acknowledge that some intense emotions can lead to explosions of temper, I am loath to associate the world of human feeling with “an explosive device.” The adjective unfused was recorded in John Ash’s The new and complete dictionary of the English language (1775) as meaning “not fused, not put into a state of fusion.” This is closest to the concept that ACT is trying to get at, so I’ve shamelessly coined the verb unfuse from that adjective. 

 

Being Present Meditations

How present do you feel right now? Presence, as in “presence of mind,” is the most essential prerequisite for harnessing attention. “Being present” means, at the very least (and for some mystics, at the very most), being and here and now. Of these three, being is the foundation. Even here and now must be to be uttered.

There are seven stages in this meditation. Each stage consists of a short phrase (mantram), and a space for contemplation. The mantram can be spoken in the mind or aloud (it’s worth experimenting with both). For the contemplation I suggest, at the beginning, that you observe your experience on three specific levels, allowing ample time for each in its turn:

  • physical and kinesthetic sensations
  • feelings
  • meanings

Center. For this meditation it is best to be in a comfortable, upright (awake) position. Allow your body to settle. Imagine an immaterial thread coming down from the sky and up from the earth through the center of your body. Allow the sky and earth to draw the thread a tiny bit up and down, gently lifting the top of your crown and bringing more gravity to your sacrum. Clear a space in your mind. Ask your thoughts to step back for this moment. They need not vanish; only stand back to give you space to be. Invite your feelings to help you experience.

Meditation

Now here I am.

[Two complete breaths]

Now here I am.

[Two complete breaths]

Now here I am.

Notice your experience. Sensations in your body. Feelings. Meanings.

[In-breath] Now, here,
[Out-breath] I am.

[Two complete breaths]

[In-breath] Now, here,
[Out-breath] I am.

[Two complete breaths]

[In-breath] Now, here,
[Out-breath] I am.

Notice your experience. Body sensations. Feelings. Meanings.

Here I am.

[Two complete breaths]

Here I am.

[Two complete breaths]

Here I am.

Notice your experience. Sensations. Feelings. Meanings.

I am.

[Two complete breaths]

I am.

[Two complete breaths]

I am.

Notice your experience. Sensations. Feelings. Meanings.

I am here.

[Two complete breaths]

I am here.

[Two complete breaths]

I am here.

Notice your experience. Sensations. Feelings. Meanings.

[In-breath] I am,
[Out-breath] here, now.

[Two complete breaths]

[In-breath] I am,
[Out-breath] here, now.

[Two complete breaths]

[In-breath] I am,
[Out-breath] here, now.

Notice your experience. Sensations. Feelings. Meanings.

I am here now.

[Two complete breaths]

I am here now.

[Two complete breaths]

I am here now.

Notice your experience. Sensations. Feelings. Meanings.

How are you experiencing your presence compared with when you started? How are you experiencing your being compared with when you started?

 

“I Am” Meditation

The “I am” mantram can be done on its own. Here are two variations:

Contemplate Being

Do this meditation for a preset amount of time. Start with 1–2 minutes.

I am.

Who am I?

I am.

I am not one and the same as my appearance. What am I?

I am.

Who is speaking?

I am.

Ask your own questions, make your own observations. Concentrate your thinking on the I am sounding within. Continue your contemplative meditation for the duration of your allotted time. Notice your experience. Sensations. Feelings. Meanings.

Just Be

[In-breath] I
[Out-breath] Am

[Repeat with each breath.]

 

Be Here Now

“I was out on Wednesday. Did we do anything in class?”

Oy. If you ask your teachers this question, make sure you watch their ears carefully: this is your chance to see actual smoke come out of a human head.

Why is this not cool to ask an instructor? For one thing, it implies that there are days when nothing much happens in class, as if on Wednesday everyone sat around painting their toes and sexting. From a professor’s point of view, every class is one in which something important happens. Whether every single class is in fact chock full of educational value is beside the point. To ask “Did we do anything?” or “Did I miss anything?” of the professor is to ask the one person who is most likely to resent and dismiss the question. How is the professor supposed to respond?—

“Did I Miss Anything?”
by Tom Wayman
 
Nothing. When we realized you weren’t here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours…

Another problem with this question is that it puts the burden on your instructor to catch you up to the rest of the class. I’ll tell you honestly what my reaction is to this when it happens. I think (though I try to say something more diplomatic): Man, I did my job. Do yours. Also, since this request is often made just as class is about to begin, when the teacher is gearing up to teach, the annoyance factor only multiplies.

You’ll often hear or read that you, the student, are “responsible for finding out from a classmate what you missed in class.” Why? Because class happened and you missed it. Really, asking the instructor what you missed is like standing and asking the bus you missed to come back to pick you up instead of running after it.

In his poem Wayman is also conveying something important about the power of your presence in the classroom. When you are there, you are contributing, however apparently or subtly, to the overall energy and direction of the class. A friend tells a story of taking a philosophy course in college. She had been out sick on Monday, and on Wednesday was back in the classroom again, listening to the discussion. She raised her hand and made a comment, and then suddenly had a strangely unsettling thought: on Monday, while she was at home, the class was there in that very room, having a discussion much like the one currently happening, only she wasn’t there to hear it, ask questions or make comments. Life had gone on without her in the class, but she wasn’t there to take part in it. She hadn’t contributed on Monday, and she’d never know what it was like to have experienced it. If she had been there, the class might have taken a different tack. Her presence might have affected the entire course. She vowed to herself then to attend every single class if possible.

Be Here Now is the title of a famous book by Ram Dass, and it’s also excellent advice when you’re a student in a class. You are a vital part of the whole!

 

Go Fish in
Streams of Consciousness:

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