Update 24/10/2014: I no longer perform the meditation suggested in this post (well, I do, but investigating such states is now part of a standard insight meditation model). I will be adding some basic meditation guides to this site soon.
This post is still worth a read for some general principles.
This is a quick guide explaining mixed emotional states. It is one of the most important concepts in understanding human mood and the style of attention you are bringing to the world at any given time.
By exploring this principle, I also hope to show why I only practise one style of meditation now (which will be described in the post) after what must be six years of trying existing methods, hybridizing them with my own, outright making my own up, modifying and refining them, and writing them up. The final meditation I arrived at is the no-brainer, “Of course! How could it be done any different?” one.
Before continuing to read this article, please do bear in mind that I’m basically making it up as I go along. I think that’ll have to be a standard disclaimer I insert into posts in future. 🙂
Your Two Brains
Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you probably know by now that you have two brain hemispheres, left and right, in your head. They each have their own personality, functional strengths, and ways of viewing the world.
Here is a reasonable breakdown of the two brains I rustled up on Google Image Search (there were some real crap ones):
You will notice in the above that the left hemisphere is associated with positive emotions, and the right with negative, and this is how neuroscientists and psychologists typically model the hemispheres in terms of emotional affect. However, this itself is a rather left-brain way of looking at it. I believe it is more inclusive to say:
- Right hemisphere: Truthful evaluation / Rest and reflection
- Left hemisphere: Corrective action / Forward momentum
The right hemisphere sees the world “as it is” (meaning via the senses, and via its own honest appraisal of the situation). It filters (because the human nervous system is a filter), but it does not manipulate reality by changing the narrative in the way the left hemisphere does. It’s about as honest as you’re going to get. Possibly due to humans’ “negativity bias”, we tend to evaluate the situation as bleak or lacking, hence the right-brain’s “negative” emotional affect.
However, I’m not happy with that explanation, and I think there’s a lot more to it. Firstly, the right brain does have its own kind of happiness — which is more “contentedness”, in my experience. A right brain contentedness is more permeating, more peaceful, than left-brain impulsive, cocainic “Go go go!” cheerfulness. Another type of “right-brain happiness” seems to be the emotion of wonder. This connects directly to “Likes newness, novelty” in the list above. Imagine you have just woken up, and drawn back the curtain of your bedroom window to reveal a world blanketed in crisp, white, freshly fallen snow. That little gasp — just then, before the left brain gets a chance to dive in and start analysing — is wonder. It is sad that, for many people, these little moments are some of the only times they experience a true right-brain appreciation of the world. It is one of the goals of meditation to develop this capacity for wonder — to experience the old as new whenever you like. Eckhart Tolle’s concept of “Presence” encapsulates this way of experiencing the world.
So I think a more accurate reason the right brain is associated with negative emotions is as follows. Firstly, contentedness is rarely achieved in the modern human. There is always something to be discontent about. This is why meditation is enjoying a resurgence at present. In the same vein, there isn’t much to be in wonder about. Getting out into nature is one sure-fire way to rediscover wonder, but most of us live in cities — the drab, predictable architecture of the left brain. Thus, most “happiness” we experience is actually left-brain stimulation. Crap on TV, titbits on your Facebook feed, the latest celebrity scandal, some social drama… The left-brain is rather self-stimulating, probably because of its greater use of and dependence upon dopamine. (The right brain on the other hand is more dependent upon norepinephrine.) Verbal thought itself is stimulating. Solving problems (or the process of solving problems, even if you never actually reach a solution) — the left brain’s primary procedural pathway — is very stimulating. If you’ve ever lain awake at night, unable to sleep, thoughts racing through your head, you will have experienced this first-hand, undeniably.
The right brain’s “stop, and reflect, and make an honest evaluation” signalling, compared to the left brain’s “accelerator pedal” modality, feels tangibly like someone slamming on the brakes. (I believe bipolar disorder is a swing back and forth between extremes of these two states, with some individuals staying in a single state sometimes for days at a time. The “hardware” side of bipolar seems to me to be a genetic dopamine sensitivity (possibly DRD4-7R) which magnifies the subjective feeling of each state; the “software” side is the individual’s lack of integration between the two ways of experiencing the world. I have ideas for addressing both, but they will have to wait for now. As is often the case, I am also likely well out of my depth by this point.)
If people were more used to the right brain’s “honest evaluation” phase — through regularly, voluntarily entering it as experience demanded — they would not suffer it as some malevolent hidden force messing up their (left brain’s) plans. They would be able to find contentedness in that state quickly, and regain a sense of wonder and appreciation for the world. I believe meditation addresses this. But people don’t meditate. They try and stay in the left-brain accelerator pedal modality as much as possible because it’s more compelling and the modern world is built around it. Meditating is seen as something that gets in the way of that, and from personal experience I can tell you that, starting out, it was extremely hard to sit down and do nothing, even for just 15 minutes!
So, let’s finally get to the point of this post: mixed states.
You have your two brains. You have the stoic right brain telling you to stop and feel and reflect, and you have the compulsive left brain overriding that and keeping you “doing” things. This is what we mean by a “mixed state”.
There are a few things I have noticed about mixed states:
- They are uncomfortable, both physically and emotionally (I don’t see a separation between emotion and physiology, but you might, hence why I have mentioned them). “Cognitive dissonance” falls under this umbrella of mixed-state discomfort.
- People are in mixed states — a LOT. It’s possibly something like 50%–100% of the time, depending upon the person and the threshold we use for what constitutes a “mixed state”. Some mixed states are necessary, e.g. pushing through discomfort when you know you have to get something done. However, many mixed states are completely unnecessary and create ongoing suffering and even bad life choices, and it is resolving those that this post is about.
- In the fight between the two states for your conscious attention, the left brain usually wins. That means people are more inclined to keep thinking in verbal thought, keep doing actions, and keep trying to “solve the problem” (even if it cannot be solved by the left brain), than go into the right brain’s feeling and reflection modality. The possible reasons for left-brain dominance in our society will be covered in other posts.
- In practice this means people are more likely to stimulate themselves in order to turn up the left brain’s signal and “drown out” the right brain. This could mean engaging in more verbal thought, or distracting oneself via stimulating activities, or taking substances (including alcohol and cigarettes).
- Mixed states however can only be resolved by consciously attending to the right brain’s signals — as it has primacy over baseline emotional state — by entering its feeling/reflecting modality. This should be done regularly, in my opinion.
Meditation can be seen as the direct attending-to of the right brain, as described in this last point. In my experience, simply feeling the right brain’s point of view for some time each day calms its signals (and yields its hidden insight), reducing instances of mixed states. I will describe what this is like in practice, for me. I close my eyes and start to feel what it wants me to feel. Often it starts giving me visuals. Things I didn’t know were still bothering me sometimes begin to play like movies. Simply observing them (without trying to get involved) lets them go, the vast majority of the time.
However, asking someone with no meditation training to quickly enter this state is likely to be almost impossible. The reason for this seems pretty straightforward to me: The left brain cannot fathom that there are things it cannot “solve”. It cannot understand that there are issues beyond its grasp. So when a feeling arises in the right brain which the left brain doesn’t like, it is the left brain’s compulsion to get involved. You experience this as verbal thoughts. However, verbal thoughts hijack the process of letting things go, by turning them into a problem that must be solved. If the right brain is left to simply feel (and have images and movies play, if that’s what’s on the menu that day), those issues resolve by themselves most of the time. They just disappear from your conscious awareness. They dissipate. They stop contorting your face, they stop contributing to your mixed states. It’s like oil being left to rise to the surface of water whereby some invisible hand just reaches in and skims it all off. But the left brain really cannot fathom a world where its problem-solving processes are not required, so it hijacks compulsively.
I have determined that most meditation methods are actually set up to help the individual avoid this left-brain verbal hijacking of right-brain feeling and reflection. For example, “watching your thoughts” can be seen as keeping awareness in the right brain — observing the left brain’s activity passively rather than being carried away by it. Similarly, “watching the breath” has a bias towards keeping awareness in the right brain, as the right brain is far more connected to the body.
These are all training wheels. Yet, I have no doubt most people would find them necessary in order to develop the patience and awareness required to overcome left-brain dominance (if only for a short time each day) and attend to the underlying emotions of the right brain effectively. It can take meditators years to develop this skill to the point whereby such quiet, reflective states can be accessed very quickly (e.g. instantly, or within one minute). However, most students do make solid progress after just a few months’ practice, and can typically learn to pass through the “overwhelming left-brain chatter” stage within 5 or 10 minutes of sitting. It is my hope that, by sharing the following insight with you, both beginners and experienced meditators alike can learn to get through the left-brain hijack phase even quicker, and thus spend more of their session in the quiet reflective state — and get at the “good stuff” of meditation.
It’s All in the Face
The emotional states from each brain hemisphere are sent to the face and expressed simultaneously.
If the right brain is discontent, its facial expression will tend towards one of sadness. Sadness mainly occurs following a loss. It also occurs when a need is not being fulfilled (e.g. hungry, lonely). The following picture shows sadness faithfully:
It is harder to find a picture of an adult showing true sadness, as adult sadness is compulsively hijacked by the left brain. The left brain will typically, compulsively, and automatically attempt to override feelings of sadness. The left brain does this by inhibiting the facial expression of sadness and also by turning on its own negative emotion, anger.
Mild left-brain inhibition of sadness is experienced as determination (jaw clenched, brow furrowed). Full-blown left-brain inhibition of sadness is experienced as anger.
Anger results in a reversal of all the facial features seen in sadness. Eyebrows point the opposite way, eyes are narrowed instead of wide, mouth is open with teeth bared, and so forth:
- Sadness indicates a loss has been recorded in the right brain. The loss could be material (e.g. food, territory) or abstract (a relationship, or “psychological territory” e.g. beliefs, knowledge, values or self-image). Sadness = loss.
- Anger is the left brain’s attempt to recover that loss. Loss recovery is one of the main jobs of the left brain. Anger = loss recovery.
Sadness can also be a need going unfulfilled. The left brain overrides this type of sadness with its positive emotion, reward-seeking. The other main job of the left brain is to get needs met. Sadness hijacked by reward-seeking is experienced as frustration.
Another right-brain discontent state and facial expression is tiredness. To the untrained individual, tiredness sometimes feels similar to sadness. Tiredness can be hijacked by either of the left brain’s emotions — anger or reward-seeking. If this goes on for a long time the end result is exhaustion.
So sadness and tiredness — but especially sadness — are the two main “underlying emotions” of the right brain that are typically going ignored when experiencing a mixed state. Remember this — it’s important.
The right brain’s main positive emotion, contentedness, can be better understood as lack of discontent. When you do not feel discontent (sad, tired, hungry, whatever), you feel good.
Once again, I found it difficult to find an adult with a genuine relaxed, content smile. So here is a baby instead:
I think the main problem in modern humans is that they do not know how to feel content. As a result, they instead rely on the left brain’s positive emotion, reward-seeking, to feel happy.
A reward-seeking smile is more of a beaming, focused smile. The following is a woman smiling via left-brain reward-seeking circuitry:
There is a kind of hungry look about it. She is also pretty relaxed (content) so it’s quite a nice combination of the two forms of happiness (left and right brains). However, compared to the baby who wants for nothing, she definitely has her eyes set on a reward. 🙂
Facial responses more skewed towards the reward-seeking, left-brain version of happiness can be seen in greed, smugness, schadenfreude, and the hungry eyes of an addict about to get his fix.
More positively, reward-seeking is also integral in socializing and humour. Beaming smiles, high spirits — socializing is a reward in and of itself.
Reward-seeking happiness is not “bad”. It keeps us laughing, eating and fucking. The problem with relying on reward-seeking for happiness however is that it is inherently stimulating, and tolerance to that stimulus quickly builds. The more you rely on reward-seeking to feel happy (because you do not know how to feel content), the more likely you are to become addicted to reward-seeking acts. No contentment + reward-seeking = addiction.
To feel content, you have to either fulfil your needs and recover your losses, or learn to let your needs and losses go. In reality you will be doing both at various times (hopefully the right times). I think modern humans are pretty good at getting their needs met, but pretty poor at letting go of losses. They’re also shit at identifying when to go after something and when to let it go as a loss, tending towards going for it compulsively even if it’s pretty obviously a lost cause.
The task is therefore twofold:
- Learn when it’s best to go after something, and when it’s best to let it go (wisdom, experience — every event you go through helps you improve this model so long as you approach it consciously).
- Learn how to let things go (experience sadness genuinely, intentionally, to allow something to become a “loss” and dissipate, rather than letting anger and frustration keep it “active” in consciousness).
Right Brain Repressing Left Brain?
Our moral codes are based on punishment (= loss = sadness). When the right brain inhibits left-brain reward-seeking, this is felt as shame.
When the right brain inhibits left-brain anger, this is felt as resentment and, eventually, hate. Hate is really an intense anger which cannot be resolved for whatever practical reasons, and must therefore be inhibited.
But I’m not here to spoon-feed you every combination of right-brain/left-brain emotion and inhibition. In fact, as an exercise, you can draw up those combinations in a grid and fill in the ones I haven’t yet mentioned (you can also figure out how “fear” fits into all this 🙂 ). If you link to your grid or other representation in a comment, I will feature the one I think is most right in the post.
Furthermore, the issue you are going to be facing most of the time regarding mixed states is left-brain inhibition of right-brain sadness.
Example Mixed State
While writing this post I took a break to watch some Star Trek: The Next Generation. I occasionally research the episode I’m watching, usually to find the name of an actress I’d like to fuck.
Wil Wheaton’s blog appeared at the top of the search results for this episode, so I thought I’d take a look at what he had to say about it: https://wilwheaton.net/2013/01/a-matter-of-perspective/
Wil’s pic shows a classic mixed state. I felt bad for him because I’ve seen it and experienced it a million times before. It is left-brain smiling (reward-seeking for social approval) inhibiting right-brain sadness:
The eyes are the window to the soul. Look to someone’s eyes to see how they’re really feeling. You will also be using this recognition skill on your own eyes in the meditation later on.
Wil also beats himself up pretty bad in the post:
I viscerally remembered being that awkward 15 and then 16 year-old kid, with the awful helmet hair, the uncomfortable grey spacesuit with the embarrassing muscle suit underneath it, and almost crippling desire to be the kind of cool I was never going to be.
I was the only one who was too young and foolish to understand. I was the only one who was too young and foolish to attempt to understand.
Season 3 and part of Season 4 are really tough for me to watch, because I regret being such a tool back then. I wish I could go back in time and tell that kid to relax and enjoy what was a pretty awesome job, but I know that he wouldn’t listen to me any more than he’d have listened to anyone else. He was a confused, weird, awkward nerd trying so hard to be an adult, and failing spectacularly.
That’s a shame because I actually thought he was good in that show. Sounds like he’s taken some bad feedback to heart and never let it go.
I will continue to simultaneously feel ashamed of myself, embarrassed by myself, but compassionate towards myself. That kid was doing the best that he could, and I’ll keep trying to accept that. Maybe one day, I’ll even make peace with it.
Not likely, unless you know how. Humans have been trying to answer that question forever, and in my ten years of studying personal development I have not come across a decent explanation of that process (until I wrote this post).
A Bigger Context
Letting go of sadness (loss) is really going to be the main application of this whole “mixed state” insight and meditation. It’s good that I’ve laid out all the other details, as spotting mixed states within yourself is essential for your meditation and self-understanding, whatever those states may be.
However generally — i.e. 90% of the time — a mixed state is going to consist of right-brain sadness being inhibited (and therefore not resolved) by left-brain anger or reward-seeking (distraction, self-stimulation). Much of what we consider to be “ego” is covered in this simple principle. Once again I will remind you that a “loss” can be tangible (e.g. property) but is more often abstract, such as a relationship. Most often, it is loss of some aspect of your self-image. So if someone insults you, you “lose respect”. Much of the anger we experience day-to-day is focused on recovering these metaphysical “kudos points” we perceive others as having taken away from us. But, certainly, these little quibbles are more quickly forgotten than, say, the loss of a loved one, loss of sense of purpose, or significant loss of self-image due to some social incident. The sadness from those kinds of losses can stay with you for a long time.
But when you let go of a loss, where does it go?
Well a loss is not really “let go of” in terms of losing the memories associated with it. Rather, a loss is resolved by putting it into a bigger context. It is this process which causes it to lose its emotional weighting and even send us in a better life direction. You surely know you have overcome a loss when it has been transformed into an appreciation. It can take time, but I’ve found that approaching the process consciously via meditation can speed it up considerably.
A “bigger context” is a bigger story which contains this little story. When the little story (the loss, or whatever emotion it is at the time) is the “whole story”, everything within that story takes on a great magnitude of importance for you, and consumes your focus. But if you make what’s happening now just part of the bigger story, it becomes smaller and easier to move beyond. I recommend you consciously choose your bigger contexts and bear them in mind regularly, especially when unpleasant things are going on. Here are some default ones of mine:
- “Everything will turn out all right in the end — it always does.” This comes from my observation that, generally, it has all ended up okay, in the past.
- “I’ve learned so much from this, which I can teach to others via my website and books.” Being able to share my insights has often transformed fuck-ups into sources of wisdom, in a contextual sense.
- “Staying on my life’s purpose will bring me happiness.” I have noticed that when I’m contributing to the world, I am rewarded with a good mood and good luck.
It is a major feature of religion that it is supposed to provide reliable bigger contexts into which to put one’s troubles (a paradise afterlife, making God happy, and so forth). Since many people are a lot more sceptical of such things nowadays, you may have to make up your own bigger contexts. This where things like discovering your life’s purpose come in. I think there is a huge hole in society at the moment where, for many people, religion no longer serves its old purpose of providing acceptable, believable bigger contexts, and nothing else has decisively stepped forward to fill that gap in people’s lives. I think a lot of depression is simply nihilism, medicalized.
Regarding specific troubling events, I generally try to put them into a bigger context by imagining a future where I have learned from the experience and used it to do more of the right things in the future.
I am mentioning bigger contexts before giving you the meditation because bigger contexts are your safety net to prevent you falling into the abyss following a troublesome meditation. Meditation can throw up some unpleasant memories and emotions sometimes (though generally it’s either a neutral or pleasant experience), and bearing your bigger context in mind in the wake of such things can be the difference between thinking “What’s the fucking point?” and going back to bed, or getting on with your life in good faith you are on your path.
Sit comfortably. Get as comfortable as you can and decide to start. Once you’ve started, basically ignore your comfort level.
Don’t worry about closing your eyes. If they want to close, let them. You can close or open them at any point, as they wish.
Instead, get a sense of your facial expression. There will typically be two facial expressions, overlaid on top of each other. Your job is to separate them out.
There will be left-brain stuff representing the most recent things that have happened to you, i.e. in the last hour. If you’ve just been smiling or someone made you laugh, you will have elements of that smile remaining in your facial muscles. If you are angry, you will have elements of the angry look left in your facial muscles.
Try and see what’s underneath that. Relax those smile muscles or those anger muscles and see what facial expression your face now automatically wants to adopt. THIS is the underlying (right brain) emotion.
- Sometimes it is tiredness.
- Sometimes it is sadness.
- Sometimes it is just content!
The point is, try and find it, and then “go into it” (feel it voluntarily, non-judgmentally).
If you cannot relax your smile, anger, or “surface” emotion (muscles do get “stuck” occasionally), you can massage them with your fingertips. The muscles on the outer sides of the eyes, and the ones just beneath those on the cheekbones, and the ones where the jaw meets the skull, are all prime “stores” of emotional tension. Massaging out that tension will allow your face to fall into its “underlying” (right brain) state.
I also open my mouth slightly, and relax my tongue. This disengages the left brain’s verbal faculty (oh, it will come back quickly, trust me, but with practice you can keep it quiet or even off by relaxing the speaking apparatus in this way).
Now you have accessed that underlying emotion in your face, get a sense of what being in that emotional state feels like for the rest of your body. Notice what it does to your breathing. Just get a sense of that whole feeling and stay with it. Keep breathing regularly, at the rate your body wants to.
If your emotions begin to change, let them, and let that be reflected in your face.
Now, stay in this “feeling” state, moving with the feelings as they wish to change, for your whole session.
If you get into left-brain stuff (verbal analysis (talking to yourself), anger, fantasy etc.) — and that will happen, A LOT, but less so the more meditation experience you have — then simply return to being aware of your face again, and go back into that “underlying” facial expression. So you could say this meditation is similar to a breath meditation, but the focus of the meditation is instead the face and the emotions.
What I Experience
I don’t like writing this bit, because having expectations is a very easy way to ruin a meditation. Yet, what I often experience is noteworthy enough to have written this entire post about, so I’d be remiss not to share it.
Sometimes I settle into the “underlying emotion” quickly, e.g. under 5 minutes. Other times my verbal thought keeps hijacking it and can take 15 minutes or so to finally shut up. When I finally “get there”, though, it’s very obvious. It is a kind of permeating sense of peace. The sadness is experienced in its entirety, which makes it feel more akin to some unnameable emotion like “understanding” (but that word just doesn’t quite cover it). In other words it no longer feels sad to experience that sadness. I usually set an alarm for 30 minutes for a meditation. If I hit that state, though, I will change the alarm to add another hour (1.5 hours pass easily in this state and I find it feels very “correct” to want to spend more time like this). If I don’t reach that state within the 30 minutes I stop and don’t beat myself up over it.
When in the state, often movies will spontaneously start playing. It’s a bit like dreaming while awake. The right brain’s representational systems are primarily emotional and visual, and the movies tend to be silent. These movies are so clear, it is almost like I’m back there. They typically show events from the past. Sometimes those events are from years ago. My idea is that my underlying feeling in the present moment was tapping into or being formed by those memories of the past. Perhaps something in the present moment activated that emotional-memory network. Perhaps that network was already active, influencing my thoughts and actions in the present. Maybe it’s both.
I let the movies play without interference. The amount of things your brain remembers, which you had consciously forgotten about, is astounding. I never fail to be amazed by what comes up in these visions. My idea about these movies/memories bubbling to the surface is that, at the time, these events were difficult and I lacked the wisdom required to put them in a bigger context, so repressed them. I think life experience since then is what allows them to be contextualized. This meditation triggers that contextualization process, which makes those memories lose their emotional weighting. This is a very cathartic process, and I almost always feel a sense that some weight has been lifted from my shoulders at the end.
I think one of the most interesting things about this is that it has shown me I don’t often logically know why I’m feeling a certain way. The reasons we assume for why we feel a certain way are often just stories (rationalizations) made up by the left brain to explain feelings which are beyond its grasp. Going into the right brain in this way allows you to see the source(s) directly. Often some event in the present has reminded me of something that happened in the past. The events are linked together via their context into this kind of emotional-memory network. An example is if I’ve been speaking to a girl and now feel irked in some way. If I go into that feeling via this meditation, sometimes movies will play of an ex-girlfriend — sometimes “chaining” back into other memories of other ex-girlfriends — and it turns out I was taking many of my emotional cues from that old memory network. The same can happen for other situations, e.g. arguments with other men. It’s amazing to find out you’re upset with someone because of something that happened, say, 10 years ago with someone completely different and the emotional-memory network has simply been activated.
You don’t need to “do” anything in this meditation. For some reason, just observing and becoming aware of what’s going on in your right brain allows it to reorganize itself. It’s pretty nuts that “doing nothing” can do so much.
I’ve focused on sadness in this post because that is the one I believe people struggle with the most. However, this meditation will also let me go into tiredness if that is the most prominent underlying emotion, in which case I’ll have something like a semi-conscious nap (often with dream-like visuals) and awake feeling very refreshed, even if it was only for 30 minutes or whatever.
If I have contentedness most prominently, I’ll drift into that and stay there for the session, smiling with complete relaxation. That’s just an amazing feeling, and tends to reinforce a sense of appreciation for the world. But I do not long for it — meditation is about accepting what is, non-judgmentally. To long for it is to “reward-seek”, and you are back to left-brain hijacking.
Generally, however, my states are simply not this static. I will go through “chains” of different emotional states. One will link through to another then another, and I’m just letting it happen. My left brain / hijack mode is disengaged. I’m smiling when the feeling is contentedness/appreciation, I’m doing my sad face when it’s sad. I’m being tired when I’m tired. I’m letting everything do exactly as it wants. Everything plays like a movie, and the end feeling is usually one of catharsis. Perhaps now it is more clear why I can easily spend 1.5 hours in this state.
Earlier I talked about consciously choosing a bigger context into which to put events. The truth is however that this meditation itself will often yield insight: events can reorganize themselves into a new bigger context, automatically, just via the meditation. The right brain has its own contexts and sense of appreciation at the world. You can come out of it wiser.
I still think it’s a good idea however to consciously choose some default bigger contexts. You don’t “do” anything with these during the meditation, but while not in the meditative state, it’s good to remind yourself things like, “I will learn from my mistakes” or “Everything for a reason” (or whatever context(s) you choose).
I think continuity is the next most important thing to bear in mind. Events which move us, such as losses, appear to create a window whereby one becomes vulnerable to new ideas and new ways of looking at the world immediately following the event. For example, many people find religion after a serious accident. Being conscious of this window is important as it allows you to make better choices about the direction you can take your life in following such incidents. This can help you turn a crisis into an opportunity.
To clarify, this means that whatever you are exposed to immediately following a true exploration of sadness — whether via the actual event, or through meditative reflection — will have a far higher potential to change your views. You are vulnerable to shifts in your world view during this time. I therefore try and talk to wise, positive, helpful people at this time, and also make positive changes in my life.
Your world view — your bigger picture — is a right-brain paradigm. Sadness appears to be the gateway to this paradigm. I think sadness turns on the right brain. It makes it say, “Okay, maybe our ideas about reality weren’t quite right. Let’s get some new information now to make a better map of reality.” Your eyes are open. You can temporarily see the world in new ways and absorb that perspective on a more permanent basis. So use it wisely! Surround yourself with the inputs (people and situations) you want to experience more of, going forward. Choose your contexts based on love and appreciation. Start doing the things you want to do, and quit the bad habits you don’t like, during these times. This is how you establish a “continuity” following sadness. If you don’t choose your contexts and continuity consciously, you can easily become nihilistic, or end up joining a cult or some other belief system promising to end your troubles.
I also apply continuity following the above meditation. This means I do not dwell upon what I saw or how I feel, afterwards. Once the timer beeps, the meditation is finished. It’s time to draw a line under it and move on. Do something productive, or get out the house and see friends. I don’t worry about my “mixed states”, or wonder why my sadness “isn’t solved yet” if elements of it are still there. I have faith it will be resolved in time (this itself is a bigger context), and meanwhile I get on with things.
I believe continuity is important in order to avoid dwelling on some event and letting it drag you into some nihilistic abyss. “Continuity” means doing actions consistent with getting on with your life. Yes, that even applies after a simple meditation, as well as after some serious event. It is often the case that a sad event cannot be put into a bigger context until months or even years after it takes place. It is the continuity you do during that time which prevents the reference points you require for it to, one day, be put into that bigger context. The events I “let go of” now are often ones from years ago. At the time, I couldn’t do it. But now I can, and meditation is one way to actually let that process take place.
I don’t think this is an “easy” meditation, and I would not want anybody to feel bad if they give it a go and don’t get the state I’m describing. It’s possible that only experienced meditators, who have already learned to move beyond left-brain hijacking via traditional methods, can jump right into it, and it’s also possible that what I’m describing is basically what they do anyway in their meditation. “All fingers pointing to the moon”, and what not.
However, I still think monitoring the face could be an amazing source of insight, even for beginners, and I simply haven’t seen it described anywhere else. I would like you to try it for a while and let me know what you find.