relaxation

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.]

Sanctuary Visualization

Sit or lie so that you are completely comfortable. Let your eyes close.

Focus on your breath. Breathe naturally, and follow the rhythm of inhale… exhale…, as if your breaths were the sea gently washing up and back over the shore.

Relax each part of your body, one part at a time, from your feet to your head. With each breath, imagine light entering that part of your body as you inhale, and all tension draining away as you exhale:

  • Your toes—inhale light; exhale tension
  • Your feet—inhale light; exhale tension
  • Your calves—inhale…; exhale…
  • Your thighs…
  • Buttocks…
  • Pelvis…
  • Abdomen…
  • Back…
  • Chest…
  • Shoulders…
  • Upper arms…
  • Lower arms and wrists…
  • Hands and fingers…
  • Throat…
  • Back of your neck…
  • Back of your head…
  • Jaw…
  • Mouth…
  • Eyes and nose—inhale…; exhale…
  • Forehead and temples—inhale light; exhale tension
  • The top of your head—inhale light; exhale tension

In this state of relaxation, continue your breathing for a moment that lasts as long as you like.

Clear a space in your mind. Just ask everything else on your mind to step back for this moment. Your thoughts need not vanish, only stand back to give you space to be.

Let appear in that cleared space in your mind—a venerable stone stairway. This stone stairway leads down to a place that is solely for you. There are ten steps. When you want to, with one complete breath, in and out, go down the first step and hear a voice inside count:
  “10”——inhale—exhale
    With each subsequent breath, descend another step, counting down, slowly:
      “9”
        “8”
          “7”
            “6”
              “5”
                “4”
                  “3”
                    “2”
                      “1”

You may now step into your sanctuary, a beautiful, peaceful outdoor space created by your imagination, your inspiration, your intuition.

It can be a meadow, a lake, a beach, a waterfall, a grove, a mountain—any natural place where you feel completely secure and at peace. Here you are always safe and content. Here everything is beautiful and true.

No one can enter this place except you, and anyone you expressly invite in. Anyone you invite in will leave the moment you think of them leaving.

Explore your sanctuary. Walk around and discover what’s here. Let your bare feet luxuriate in the grass or sand, or whatever is on the ground. Breathe in the fragrances. Taste the air. Bask in the light and warmth. Hear the sounds—waves, breezes, rustling leaves.…

Everything here understands your every thought and feeling. If there are animals, you may communicate with them, and they will always love and obey you. You may have one or more animals who are your special companions. You can send thoughts to the flora, and every plant can soothe and heal you. Any water here is healing and refreshing when you drink or bathe in it. The air invigorates and inspires you. The light is suffused with warmth and nourishment for your spirit.

Somewhere in the landscape of your sanctuary, there is a source of fresh water; perhaps a spring, or a well, a pristine pool, a stream, an ancient fountain.… There can be more than one. The water here washes away pain, regret, error. It rinses away negative thoughts, opens your senses and pores to the light and warmth. Drinking the water cools and dissolves stuck emotions into new, lighter feelings, new understandings.

Somewhere there is a healing garden. You may create it yourself, or find it already in full bloom. You can cultivate anything you wish here: ideas, dreams, forgiveness, positive feelings, health… and anything you plant will grow. You can prune back whatever hinders your growth. You can weed out what you no longer need. You can plant things you’ve never grown before, new possibilities. Here your love and goodwill always increase.

Somewhere there is a seat for you made of stone or wood, or both, and any other material that makes it perfect for you to sit in. It is here that your Guardian—an angelic being dedicated to your welfare and best destiny—may visit you from time to time (and always when you call), and give you exactly what you need at that moment; guidance, insight, perhaps a special gift, and always comfort and reassurance.

You may stay in your sanctuary as long as your heart desires.

When you are ready to return from your sanctuary, you will find yourself at the bottom of the ancient stone staircase. Climb the ten steps, one at a time, taking a complete breath, in and out, at each step, starting with…
                      “1”——inhale—exhale
                    “2”
                  “3”
                “4”
              “5”
            “6”
          “7”
        “8”
      “9”
  “10”

You are back at the cleared space in your mind. You are rejuvenated, as you always are by a visit to your sanctuary.

Feel your breathing—in, out.…

Feel the solidity and definite shape of your body.

Feel the surfaces that are contacting and supporting your body where you are sitting or lying down.

When you’re ready, open your eyes. You feel rested, alert, energized, calm, embodied, grounded, safe, secure, assured.

You can return to your sanctuary any time you want or need. It is there, always, for you.

Go Fish in
Streams of Consciousness:

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