Emotions flash through the mind in a moment; however it takes the body a little longer to process them. It doesn’t take as long as you might think. According to the research by Jill Bolte Taylor (author of My Stroke of Insight), the chemical reaction that occurs in the body as a result of an emotion takes only 90 seconds to disperse. That is, of course, if you don’t think about the emotion, and in the process unwittingly tell the brain to continue releasing all those chemicals.
Now, 90 seconds can feel like a long time. When you’re waiting for your computer to boot up, or for the stoplight to change, or when you’ve been enveloped by anger, just 90 seconds can feel like an eternity. However, with 86,400 seconds in a day, 90 seconds is a very small fraction of time.
In those moments of unpleasant emotion, we can learn to sit with our bodies and wait for the chemical reaction to calm. Every time we notice any emotion, it is an opportunity to be mindful of the moment. We can be present with whatever emotion and thoughts arise, and without engaging our thoughts, we can watch both the emotion and the thoughts disperse. We can feel what that emotion is like in our body. When anger fills us, we can feel the heart race, the fists clench, and the jaw tighten. As we wait for the 90 seconds to pass, we can notice the heart slowing, the hands loosening, and the jaw relaxing.
To stay with the moment takes practice. This practice begins with simply noticing what is happening. If you immediately engage and watch your mind spin out, then you are practicing. As you pay attention to how it feels, you will learn what it costs to engage, to indulge in anger, sorrow, and other lower mind states. After watching enough times, you’ll be inspired to try something different. Just as we learn to not touch a hot stove because we burned our hand, we learn not to engage the thoughts that lead us to suffering.
If we find ourselves recoiling from the experience, we can give ourselves cues to remind ourselves to stay present. We can teach ourselves to concentrate on our watch, and pay attention to the second hand ticking along, each time we notice an emotion. Or we can use a mantra, like OM (aum), or notice the beauty around us, or concentrate on gratitude, to hold the focus of our mind while we wait for the body to do its thing. Once we’ve been through it a few times, then we’ll have more confidence and be able to stay fully present longer with all that we experience.
So try it today: Simply wait and watch. After all, it’s only 90 seconds!
~ Jenna Sundell