How To / Thirteen Ways to Calm our Negative Feelings

What do the monks and nuns at Plum Village Monastery do when they experience difficult emotions?

One of the basic practices in Plum Village is to become aware of our negative emotions and habits as they arise. Rather than rejecting them, we learn to accept their presence and calm them down. Later on we can then take time to understand their roots and can begin the process of transformation. Each of us finds our own way of applying the practice to take care of our feelings. Below are some ways that our monastics have used to recognize and calm their feelings and we hope they can help you as well.

Recognizing our feelings

  1. Be aware of how negative feelings manifest themselves in our body. When I feel anger arising, my body tenses up and my heart starts racing. So as not to aggravate the situation, I turn my attention away from the incident and focus on my breathing which helps me to calm my body and mind.
  2. Withdraw from the situation. I excuse myself and leave as soon as possible. I go and find a quiet place to calm down.

Calming our feelings

3. Practice walking meditation in nature. I walk slowly, feeling the earth directly beneath my feet (barefoot if possible!) and feel the strength of the earth enter me.(You may like to watch a short video on how to practice walking meditation here.)

Tea making can be a beautiful meditation

4. Prepare tea slowly (or my favourite drink), sit and breathe which will help me calm my thoughts. I embrace the sadness and reflect on all the things that I am grateful for and on what brings me joy.

5. Practice to honor the feelings, it means simply recognizing them, with no judgement if possible. Then I realize that they are parts of myself. I allow them to come and go while following my breath, and not to see them as “things that need to be fixed”. This helps me to cultivate compassion and understanding for myself.

6. Practice self compassion. I recognize that I am doing my best under the circumstances. I try to treat myself and my feelings with kindness and compassion which gives me space to be with my vulnerabilities.

7. Find some corners of the room to clean. Cleaning the room gives me a feeling that I am doing something useful, no matter how small.

8. Take a shower. I give myself one minute to be still and let the water flow directly on me and allow my body to relax. 

9. Go to a sacred space, or outdoors and practice touching the earth with all five limbs (head, both arms and legs). I go into the embrace of Mother Earth and release all my negative energies into the earth. (You may like to watch a short video on how to practice ‘Touching of the Earth’ here.)

Touching of the Earth is both a personal practice and also often part of a Plum Village ceremony

10. Contemplate theFive Ways of Putting an End to Anger’. I contemplate and put into practice the discourse on the ‘Five Ways of Putting an End to Anger’. My anger calms down as I practice to see the goodness (no matter how little it seems) in the other person. This way, I avoid dwelling in the angry state of mind for too long.

11. Go to see the new leaves on the plants. It helps me to connect with the miraculous and powerful stream of life in the very tiny manifestations before me.

12. Make a phone call to the one who I appreciate very much, because I know that being in touch or close to him or her, he or she will water the seeds of faith and beauty in me.

13. Listen to a teaching by my spiritual teacher, to be in touch again with his/her wisdom, compassion and profound teachings. Remember that these qualities are also within yourself.

Looking Deeply

After recognizing and calming our feelings, we later need to spend time to look deeply into their roots so as be able to truly understand their causes. The roots of our suffering may lie for example in our childhood, or in a bad experience we went through in the past, in addition to the recent event that triggered the difficult emotion. When we understand the roots of our suffering, the transformation and healing already beings. You may like to explore the topic on looking deeply here.

Our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh on his way to give a talk

This post was updated on October 13, 2021

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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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