Becoming more familiar with our emotional furniture

A favourite phrase that we first heard from the Zen teacher Ken Jones, describes the awareness that arises through mindfulness meditation practice as a process of becoming more familiar with our emotional furniture.

As we mark World Mental Health Day today, this analogy of our emotional furniture is a really helpful one that merits further investigation.

What is our emotional furniture?

We could say that we all have a unique collection and arrangement of personal emotional furniture. We can understand this as describing our habits, our preferences, our patterns of thinking, our reactions. Essentially these are the ways in which we process and make sense of the world around us. And we can speak of our ‘personal’ emotional furniture as no two individual’s experience of the world will be exactly the same.

Running shoes and a meditation gong

To become more familiar with our emotional furniture suggests perhaps that we’re not too aware initially of what that furniture consists of. What are these items of furniture, do we look after them and take care of them, and how are they arranged? Are they arranged in a way that is beneficial and supportive of our wellbeing and positive mental health? If not, might there be some benefits in becoming more familiar with the furniture to help us reorientate its arrangement?

Familiarising ourselves with our emotional furniture

Each time we follow the breath, feel into the body, or investigate the breadth of our sensory experience, it is an invitation to see our emotional furniture in operation. We begin to become more familiar with the likes we gravitate towards and the dislikes we hold at bay. We come to see our habitual responses in certain situations, our repetitive and obsessive thought patterns. By contrast, we may also notice our capacity for compassion and tenderness, equanimity and ease.

Mindfulness in running

When it comes to running with mindfulness, we’ve always asserted at RUN:ZEN that there’s a wonderful completeness as a body-mind experience that is offered to us when we head out on to the trails. It’s a perfect opportunity to see our emotional furniture in sharp focus. It starts from the mind games that many of us experience even persuading ourselves out of the door (see our tips in ‘Running with motivation, intention and attention’). And the there’s the whole world to investigate of the ebb and flow of the mental and emotional backdrop that shapes our run.

As long as we are prepared to show up in our run, which is to inhabit the present moment as it is, then our emotional furniture will begin to appear of its own accord. As we learn to become more present and receptive when running, we begin to see more clearly the habits, the patterns, the preferences that otherwise tend to control and dictate our view of the world. So this is the practise of mindful running. Cultivating a present moment awareness that brings our emotional furniture into focus. With that new found awareness choices present themselves. The choice to let be and let go of what no longer serves our wellbeing and the choice to cultivate what does, for our benefit and by natural extension the benefit of others.