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Elisa Goldstein, Ph.D.Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.
A blog about mindfulness, stress-reduction, psychotherapy and mental health.

Meditation for Difficult Emotions

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. Updated: Feb 8th 2013

meditationI want to piggy back off of a recent post by my friend and colleague Rick Hanson on beginning to meditate. Know the brain science of meditation may give us the motivation to begin exploring. Reducing any stress around the “right way” to meditate can also lower the barriers. In this post I want to give you a simple way to use the practice to begin working with difficult emotions. 

Here is a practice directly out of The Now Effect to break out of autopilot of the difficult emotion, steady your mind, deepen your connection to this moment, and begin a process of befriending whatever difficulty is here.


  • A: Awareness of your thoughts, feelings, and sensations. For example, you may notice worried thoughts about an upcoming vacation and be feeling anxious. This feeling is expressed in your body as a rapid heartbeat or a constriction in the chest. Or maybe there are looseness and a sense of calmness and your thoughts are moving more slowly. The purpose of awareness is to break out of autopilot and come into the now.
  • C: Collecting your attention to your breath. In this practice we’re not simply taking a few deep breaths; instead, we’re allowing our attention to rest easily on the natural rhythms of the breath. You might choose to see where you notice the breath most prominently. Is it at the tip of the nose, in the chest, or in the stomach? During this practice your mind will wander to all its stories, and that is perfectly fine. Play with your attention, knowing that there’s no need to judge the wandering mind. Instead you can bring curiosity to where it wandered and in that space of awareness choose a different response—to gently bring your mind and attention back to the breath.
  • E: Expanding your attention throughout your entire body. This is different from naming how your body is feeling. It is training your mind to be with what is happening now and is another way to accept the reality of what is here and letting it be. Sadness may be expressed as heaviness in the face or chest, anger may be seen in a tightening of your muscles, fear may be felt in a rapid heartbeat. Bring a beginner’s mind to the feeling, along with kind attention.

Start off by practicing ACE for just a few minutes right now. After the practice, reflect on what you noticed during the space you created. 

What’s most important to pay attention to right now? Maybe it’s making a phone call to a friend or family member you’ve been putting off. Or perhaps it’s putting a few daily practice reminders in your calendar to begin sowing the seeds of the Now Effect. If you are not experiencing a difficulty at the moment, you can still give this practice a try. Just engaging in the practice plants a seed in your memory making it more likely to recall during difficult moments.

As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from. 

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D.

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the upcoming book The Now Effect, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of the Mindful Solutions audio series, and the Mindfulness at Work™ program currently being adopted in multiple multinational corporations.

Check out Dr. Goldstein's acclaimed CD's on Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression, Mindful Solutions for Addiction and RelapsePrevention, and Mindful Solutions for Success and Stress Reduction at Work. -- "They are so relevant, I have marked them as one of my favorites on a handout I give to all new clients" ~ Psychiatrist.

If you're wanting to integrate more mindfulness into your daily life, sign up for his Mindful Living Twitter Feed. Dr. Goldstein is also available for private psychotherapy.

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