Whether you have a little or a lot of experience with meditation there are a few simple Taoist meditation tricks that work very well and can do you a world of good. It’s first helpful to delineate three general meditation categories. You could make the focus on your Body, your Mind & Thoughts, or your Emotions.
In this article I’m choosing Emotions, by themselves and as they interact with Mind and Body. We know intuitively that there is a continuous interaction and what we need to do is experientially understand that process better. An experiential understanding is what gives us the means to shift everything toward more balance and harmony.
1. Let’s look at what emotions may arise in a simple everyday situation. Say you’re in a public place and find yourself in the presence of a complete stranger for whom you have an immediate dislike. That’s one emotional reaction. Next you might ask yourself why you were so prejudicial, another emotion. That may take the form of embarrassment or guilt. You might then reassess your reaction by feeling acceptance instead, which in turn might make you more comfortable, or proud of yourself. Or you may say that your first reaction was right because you sensed a good reason to avoid this person, you just have to learn to trust your intuition. Or it may dawn on you that this person just happened to trigger one of your buttons from way back, something that you need to get over already. But maybe you can’t deal with that right now.
It may surprise you to realize that all these emotional reactions, about ten in that example, could come and go in a few seconds, producing a small “tempest in a teapot”. Multiply that by a few hundred simple interactions in a day and you might have a big mess brewing just below the surface. All these emotions will have a direct effect on what you say, think and do in the immediate situation as well as in the long term.
1.A. The first step in gaining some stability in this possibly turbulent stream is simply to sit quietly and take notice. Pick a situation which could be emotional but doesn’t require you to interact such as watching the news or listening to an argument. Or you may want to go internal and examine an emotionally charged circumstance in your life. Ask what emotions are coming up and what others they lead to. If you get caught up in them, take note of that and just keep watching.
This perspective, which is found in many traditions, is sometimes called the Independent Observer. You could be watching with your intellect but you might also be accessing a part of yourself that is beyond, behind, deeper than, more stable than the vagaries of capricious emotions.
You will realize that emotions come and go like the breeze and might have about the same importance. One perspective is that all humans throughout time have had these same emotions all their lives and you are just one of them here in one moment. To think that yours are all that significant could seem a little ridiculous.
With practice you will notice that certain patterns repeat themselves, that you have certain habits. It’s probably less important to know how they developed than to note how they are maintained.
1.B. A second method you could try might sound as though it requires a bit more courage: Take any situation wherein you find yourself, intense or neutral, attractive or repelling, and allow whatever you see and hear to be absorbed into yourself. Let in the humans, buildings, media, weather, whatever, and then let it all out again. You could try inhaling and exhaling as you do. Observe what emotions arise. Keep this up until something changes, for example becoming more comfortable with what was uncomfortable.
A refinement of this exercise is to bring the scenes into and out of your three main energy centers, brain, heart, and belly. There will be a different sensation in each one. What is the nature of each and how do you react differently? Note that no situation need have any particular effect on you; you still are who you are.
2. That’s dealing with emotions alone, but of course they never exist all alone. So next you could watch how they interact with your thoughts. What might be associated with an everyday thought like “If I’m late I’m late?” Relief? Relaxation? Anticipation? Resignation? Urgency? Dread? Callousness?
Any of these emotions will lead to another set of thoughts, so if you’re Relieved you might think, “I could just do some breathing exercises.” If you reacted Callously you might construct all kinds of ways to blame it all on anyone and anything else. Watch what emotions are then associated with these thoughts. It sounds like an endless morass but you’ll soon discover a lot of repetition.
3. You can also examine the interplay of your emotions and your body. In a literal sense emotions live in your body. They express themselves through changes in your breathing rate, your heart rate, your nervous system firing, your organ functions, your muscular tension. Conversely, the condition of your body affects your emotions: How you feel affects how you feel.
An easy exercise here is to pick any one emotion, feel it as thoroughly as you can, and see what it does to your body. Where do you feel Fear or Joy or Depression or Anger? What happens where you feel it?
Then pick two emotions, opposites like Courage vs. Fear. Inhale one and exhale the other, either way, and feel how it changes your insides. Pick other pairs of opposites like Contentment vs. Desire, Appreciation vs. Disgust, Enthusiasm vs. Depression and amplify them as you breathe in and out. Notice also the difference when you switch each one from inhale to exhale, e.g. Courage in vs. Courage out, Fear in vs. Fear out.
These exercises will shine a light that enables you to recognize what your usual patterns are. It will also give you the sense that you can have some direct control over your emotions and your body, an immensely useful ability.
Once you realize that you can create a more balanced emotional life you can do these Taoist meditation exercises whenever you feel the need. You will also be able to empathize with other people because you’ll recognize their particular patterns. There will be a harmonious effect on all your interactions.