Feel the Tension

I had a bit of an 'aha' moment with meditation a while ago, which I thought I'd share. It's about how to feel tension, and how to change your relationship with how it affects your actions.

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So many of our social and personal problems arise from not being able to appropriately manage tension. Tension in the body means any stressful emotion. I’ve recently had an ‘aha’ moment with meditation where I’ve seen its role in helping me to manage it. We all know meditation helps with stress, but that’s not it’s purpose. The purpose of meditation is just meditation (annoyingly enough).

Take this as me figuring out the ‘why’ for myself.

I’m not an expert in meditation or spiritual teaching by any stretch. I have more of an Epicurean attitude to life, the sort of person who enjoys as much and as wide a variety of what life has to offer, rarely becoming an expert in anything, bar some select skills or practices I’ve picked up over the years.

But maybe that’s why you might learn something from the things I write about. The best teacher might be the one who knows their field the best, but often in reality the best teacher is the one you’ll listen to. And often that’s the one you relate to, who might be someone who’s going through the same struggle you went through in learning something, and is just a few steps ahead of you, or has reflected on things enough to give you some guidance. If you’re new to running, you might have more to learn from someone who’s been doing it for a few years and competed in a couple of races than Usain Bolt, ya know.

Take this as something you can just practice doing at home, at work, whenever.

There are some phrases which are so familiar to me as to be almost cliched

“Become aware of your thoughts and practice focusing your attention on your emotions without judgement”.

Things like that. Kind of makes sense but…

But really – what the hell does that mean like? It clicked with me this week anyway. I was able to put 2 and 2 together with regards the observing of thoughts and the feeling of emotions and how to just let them be.

Emotions are felt as energy in your body.

It takes a certain amount of observation and awareness just to notice this.

It’s another challenge then to not react to these emotions.

But with enough practice you can feel emotions without reacting to them

It’s not just angrily snapping at someone cos they annoyed you, or cursing when you’re interrupted by the phone.

It goes right down to conditioned patterns of how you interact with the world and other people. Specific situations. They don’t have to be negative interactions or situations either. Positive ones are maybe more insidious cos we think they’re good for us - they’re even enjoyable.

You react without even thinking, in actions or in words. It seems fine, maybe it is fine. But I’ve noticed that sometimes it’s not fine. Tension and stress can build up in the body, sometimes over years, when we’re not 100% in control of our actions, reactions, and words. This goes even for pleasant interactions which can wear you down over the years.

When we’re not in control of our decisions and actions, tension and stress accumulate in the body.  

So much of life is lived on autopilot this way. I guess we’ve evolved to minimise the amount of decisions we make throughout the course of our lives. Save our mental resources for the big ones – this is how our brains work.

We’re conditioned to be agreeable. Just smile and agree to everything. Especially in Ireland. Sure everything’s grand.

How do you stop it?

Pay attention to your body. Meditation and mindfulness don’t even have to be formal rituals. Just things you practice in your day to day life. The reason sit down for 10-15 minutes to ‘meditate’ is so you can practice doing it and nothing else. But it’s like walking to the gym to go for a walk on the treadmill – you’re already doing it.

Observe your thoughts and bodily sensations (emotions).

When you’ve practiced enough, you’ll notice waves of emotion/energy when you’re in uncomfortable situations. This could be as simple as being in conversations. If you pay attention, you might notice them when you’re on automatic mode in an interaction with someone. Someone says “Hello” and you immediately skip to small talk or shy away; someone asks “How are you” and you immediately go “Ara grand year, same old, same old.”

This moment lasts a lifetime, and so often we fill it automatically with an automated response (if it’s a conversation) in order to avoid the physical feeling of discomfort that the tension brings. The stare of eyes. The awkward pause. The moment of confusion. The difference between being good at something and remaining stuck at it lies in managing that tension.

Being comfortable standing inside that moment that lasts forever. Turns out, it doesn’t last forever.

In other situations, it might be a slower response like fidgeting (also an instant response), checking your phone (a few seconds), going for a cigarette (a few minutes), drinking for the evening (whether with people or alone, a whole night you don’t want to sit and feel the tension in your body).

And sometimes the avoidance manifests as something you spend years doing (repeating same mistakes for years, toxic relationships, or avoiding them altogether).

This wave of energy is tension. This is when you have to choose your action. Pause. Don’t jump into a response. Nobody’s putting you on a timer to respond, and if they do: f*ck them. Think about what you’re going to say, or do. Say it, or do it. But be deliberate and do it with full conviction. It could go either way, to be honest. But if you fail? No worries. Just try again next time.

This is the practice.  

Repeat the above steps.

Congratulations, you’ve just reprogrammed yourself, in some small way.

You are now more in control of your own life.

Repeat all the steps to reprogram your life.

Not just that, but the only way to release tension from your body is to feel it - not ignore it.

The key is choice – you’re practicing choosing everything you do, instead of reacting to emotions. You’re practicing thinking for yourself. Just because you’re reacting for yourself doesn’t mean you’re thinking for yourself – until you are.

Because a lot of the time we don’t even realise that the emotions are what’s guiding us in the first place – not the thoughts.

Give it a try.

And let me know if any of this works you.

Sincerely, from someone who’s not an expert, but has struggled with many of these things, and practiced this quite a bit.

And it’s worked wonders.

If you found any of this useful (or not), then why not let me know - I love getting any and all feedback.

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