EMO-MINDFULNESS – emotions need attention. A practical method to really let go.

This article takes a closer look at how the mindfulness technique on letting go works. The pros and cons will be discussed. The problem with mindfulness is that many practitioners become trapped in a turmoil that stands in the way of reaching the intended state of mind, which leads to frustrations and ultimately, quitting. Emo-mindfulness is a complementary technique that focusses on creating peace by giving non-reactive attention to the subconscious summoned thoughts, emotions and physical impulses so that these no longer interfere while practicing mindfulness. The emo-mindfulness techniques can be practised separately as well as prior to practising mindfulness.

© ‘The term EMO-MINDFULNESS is registered in a logo in the Benelux, registration date January 28, 2016.’ © 2017 N.J. Zimmermann


Letting go, the most misused term of this time. What is letting go? How do you do that? The media is full of non-defined statements about letting go: self-help books, audio exercises, online training-tools (Psychology magazine), the Jacket technique (2009) (Hans de Waard), feel your emotions, live in the now, speak the truth, do not pretend, empty yourself, say ‘yes’, examine and send images of letting go, Introduction to Tao philosophy with the core concept ‘wuwei’ translated to ‘not acting’ (Ransdorp et al., 2015) and last but not least, mindfulness.

There are many definitions of the concept ‘letting go’, but these aren’t exact equivalents. It is defined as what it should do and what the results should be. Most common examples include: ‘no longer holding on or remaining fixed’ (Dutch encyclopaedia), ’letting go of the hurt in your subconscious’ or ‘embracing the problem’. Nowhere does it mention what the tried and tested method is on letting go. (A tested method means that contact is genuinely made with the root of the problem.) The techniques as practised now usually just take away the ‘symptoms’. Hereby, people seem to be more conscious of the schools of thought.

The philosophy and operation of mindfulness shall be further explained in this article. An additional step to the mindfulness technique, emo-mindfulness, will be introduced with the aim to learn to use this to let go of mental-emotional problems. As a result, the mindfulness afterwards will work better.


Mindfulness (1979, University of Massachusetts) (John Kabat-Zinn, 1944) is a popular technique on letting go. This method is based on meditation techniques focused on relaxation and ‘letting go’.

It is a form of meditation whereby the person is conscious in a non-reactive way of mental, emotional and physical sensations and of the here and now. Here, “not reacting” means nothing more than acceptance of what is happening.

In line with this meditation technique, a social movement has been created to try to develop an attitude towards life characterised by acceptance of an inevitable occurrence with negative or positive experiences. Acceptance of what is, what is happening as is known with the Buddhist teachings, the right recalling or the right conscious development. Acceptance of what contributes to happiness. Meditation is one of the thirteen things that, in the long run, contributes to people’s happiness (Dijksterhuis, 2015, pg. 58). Activities, such as meditation, that we practice daily, have the same effect. Contrary to, for example, changes in living conditions, which only have short-term effects. Basically, it could well be that meditating eventually makes people happier than winning the state lottery (“Money can’t buy happiness, but it does smell good…”, Dijksterhuis, 2015, chapter 2).

Mindfulness has recently been introduced into the world of psychology. The course engaged in this method is the Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT).

In MBCT, Mindfulness is taught as a skill to treat chronic and recurrent depression, but also phobias and chronic pain. Striking in this technique is that it does not direct attention to the issues that arise. Just accept it: ‘It is as it is.’ The idea behind it is that ‘you don’t object to the problem’, but search for solutions instead of continually seeking to change things according to your own wishes.

Meanwhile, there are studies that show that mindfulness significantly alleviates the recidivism of depressions (Ma & Teasdale, 2004) (Williams et al., 2014,; reduces disruptive sleep processes, such as worrying (Winbush et al., 2007), reduces pain intensity in people with chronic pain, such as lower back pain (Oskam et al., 2009) and other forms.

Other cultures have a similar kind of method, such as the spiritual healing method called Ho’oponopono (Bodin et al., 2014) in Hawaii. The Hawaiian dictionary describes this healing method as ‘spiritual cleansing’. Ho’o means ‘setting something in motion’; pono stands for ‘good’ or ‘correctness’.

One uses this method in combination with a short standard formula that is repeated in a self-chosen manner—aloud or to yourself; in a family gathering or alone. This formula is used in a conflict, a violent reaction, an accident or a traumatic experience; in fact, in every situation that appeals to negative reactions from the inside. By repeating this formula, inner peace should arise. The following is suggested:, ‘you don’t have to do or understand anything; merely repeat the formula’. By applying this principle, you empty your memory; old experiences emerge and may disappear. In fact, this means letting go of things from the past.

According to the book “A Course in Miracles” (ACIM, 2015), we may appoint letting go as ‘looking at situations in life differently’. The course uses two key concepts that are helpful in our healing process: miracles and forgiveness. Miracles are perceived as looking differently at yourself, the people and external circumstances. The course calls a consummated miracle a change in that perception. Forgiveness is recognising and taking back previous judgements and projections. It is a form of letting go whereby we are taught to stay in the now and not to react by what we have learned in the past. The similarity with Mindfulness and other techniques on letting go is clear: attending in a non-reactive way. What comes to mind: let go. Cleanse yourself from the past, of old experiences and of prejudices.

For whom are these letting go methods meant?

To get this question answered, we must first create a usable indication on the severity of problems to see with which these ‘techniques on letting go’ fit well and with which problems do not. A simple format in the psychology is the following: (1) people with everyday problems, (2) with clinical problems and/or (3) personality problems.

The first category speaks for itself. The hassle of everyday life that leads to displeasure without becoming ungovernable without the need for professional help. This in fact, holds true for every human being. The second category is more severe. One develops in the course of time—six weeks to three months—a clinical condition: a depression, an anxiety disorder, coercion, an eating disorder, sleep deprivation or trauma/PTSD.

Remarkably, particularly in the event of trauma, is that it can develop quickly in comparison to the previously mentioned clinical cases: an intense shock reaction without (conscious) emotional reflection. One stiffens and does not take time to process. PTSD is the consequence. Moreover, with all the mentioned clinical conditions, it is necessary that the person concerned receives professional help.

Personality problems (disorders) form an even deeper problem; these are described in the DSM-V “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual” (2013), the diagnostic manual for psychologists and psychiatrists. The personality problems/disorders described in the manual are part of the overall personality and require a very specific and intensive, often long-term treatment for change away from a rigid and durable pattern of thoughts, emotions and behaviour. These patterns clearly deviate from the expectations within the culture expressing itself on a wide range of personal and social situations. Sometimes a film, even if romanticised, gives a good impression of a personality disorder, such as the obsessive-compulsive writer, the lead character in the film “As Good as It Gets” (1997) with Jack Nicholson.

There is a suspicion that people searching for techniques to learn to let go, all fit in the three categories mentioned. Possibly research will show that here a normal distribution applies, which means that there will be a spread of, on the one hand, people without any major (daily) problems, and on the other hand people with severe (on a personality level) problems, who are looking for an effective method in letting go

Now the question is: are techniques on letting go suitable for all three mentioned categories of people? Is it wise to apply techniques on letting go if there are clinical problems? And what to expect with personality problems?

Most techniques on letting go have a relatively positive effect on everyday problems and develop a way of life that promotes your own mental and physical health. The problems are manageable and often do not lead to violent reactions. One can let go of the disturbing cases and enters a field of peace; just briefly want to ‘be’.

In case of clinical problems, this is slightly different. People in this category deal with problems on a deeper level. This means that these are more serious and have more influence than everyday problems. More influence in the sense that they are stronger than the person himself. A depressed mood on a mundane level can be fought with everyday over-the-counter tricks. This is widely known.

Clinical depression is anchored in the system and indicates that a change has occurred that is not reversible with tricks. The conclusion is justified that the underlying problems are stronger and yield a more severe reaction if released. In fact, there is a danger of exacerbating the problem if it is not correctly managed.

As previously stated, techniques on letting go have already made their appearance in the world of psychology. Therapists experiments with mindfulness and examines the impact thereof on of clinical conditions; the Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy. Led by a psychologist or other expert in this field, one learns to ‘let go’ of problems on a clinical level. What is nice about this is that people can professionally be taken care of in case what arises overwhelms the person.

In the clinical setting, the AWHA-A is often used: Allow, Welcome, Keep off, Anchor and Action. The first three concepts aim at accepting. The concept Anchor means ‘making yourself strong with a supportive thought, to be able to deal with that what arises’. The concept Action applies to all behaviour modifying approach (Kabat Zinn, 1990, 2006).

Is meditation effective?

Scientific articles wherein, with a certain reluctance, is spoken of the functioning of and results of mindfulness, are actually hard to find. Professor M. Puett (philosopher) in “The Path” (2016, page 93) points out: ‘Please note: paying attention to your emotional reactions is not the same as ‘mindfulness’, this popular concept is loosely based on the Buddhist teachings that we need to detach our thoughts and should not pass judgement. It is not a question of observing, accepting and then releasing your feelings to find inner peace’. He then proposes: ‘The resulting peaceful feeling disappears when we come into contact with the outside world’.

Clinical psychologist Dr. Catherine Wikholm (co-author of “The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You?”, Watkins, 2015) of the University of Surrey, proposes the following: ‘It is difficult to develop a balanced vision if the media is full of articles on the benefits of meditation. It is good to be aware that researchers usually exaggerate the positive effects, while studies reporting no effect are not picked up by the media. No one speaks of negative effects; (“Is meditation as effective as we are led to believe?”).’

From the previous we can derive that the mindfulness technique, aside from other techniques on letting go, has found its way in our society. Letting go is a hot item. The technique by itself is a clear and very usable method for people who just want to experience peace in their everyday life; just want to ‘be’.

For people with more serious problems, these techniques could be useful with the guidance of well-educated professionals working in health care. Guidance is certainly necessary with personality problems. How can they accept what arises? Somewhere there is a border between being able to accept and not being able to accept what arises. This requires a non-reactive response in meditation. Of course, these acceptation-borders depend heavily on the power of the individual who applies mindfulness, the contents of that which arises, the moment and the way in which these arise, as well as the mental and physical health of the practitioner. Finally, the question whether medication and/or disruptive stimulants are used. What is the effect of medication or drugs on practising mindfulness? Is there a reversed effect? Further quantitative research in the future shall possibly tell more.

The paradox of letting go.

The most common complaint in practising mindfulness and other types of letting go, is that the head does not become calm, continues to have racing thoughts, thoughts and/or emotions arise that are intense and one has the tendency to react to this/is unable to let this go. Nonetheless, the adage remains to ‘not react’, no matter what.

Here we end up with the paradox of letting go; thoughts and emotions impose themselves while practising mindfulness. In the case of people with everyday problems, these problems can be dealt with. They are not too intense. One can remain non-reactive. One can let themselves go. This is different in addressing clinical problems.

In clinical-psychological treatment, one of the most important things people learn is to respond to what is happening, to look at what arises and to reactively attend to it. Certainly, in the case of personality problems.

Experience shows that looking at the problem can lead to a solution if one is handed the right tools. These can be self-regulatory techniques, new beliefs and/or developing a different coping-style depending on the content of the problems and the personal characteristics. Letting go could be called dealing differently with internalised problems with the help of valid tools.

These are also forms of letting go, but in a clinical setting of a psychological treatment. Practical experience teaches us that this leads to improvement. Let’s stay with this group right now. The intention of this article is to emphasise that emotions need attention, and that this, in case of clinical problems, is also necessary to relax. With the mindfulness technique, the exact opposite is described. No attention to thoughts and/or emotions until they are ‘gone’. In case of everyday problems, this is feasible. Again, there cannot be any misunderstanding about this.

In case of more serious clinical and personality problems, the arising thoughts and emotions are the result of things that one actually cannot properly deal with. The coping-strategy does not suffice. Still, there is the notion that the mindfulness technique on letting go should also work for these more serious problems.

It is necessary to solve this issue to allow more people in the three mentioned categories to effectively use mindfulness. Emo-mindfulness is a suitable tool for this. A meditation method developed in practice that combines both antipodes (see A/B) according to the mindfulness principle: (A) giving non-reactive attention to (B) consciously by repetition of an impulse (intrusion) evoked reactions from the subconscious. The ‘mantra-operation’ of a specifically chosen problem replaces the ‘subconscious unleased’ in mindfulness. In describing the ‘practice’ of practising emo-mindfulness, later in this article, it will be become clear how.

Emo-mindfulness, an effective technique on letting go in practice. Theory and practice.

Applying the mindfulness technique means actually ‘becoming acquainted with your subconscious’. By being non-reactive, you discover the content of the subconscious in the flow of thoughts, emotions and physical impulses that pass by.

‘Our subconscious is the boss in the brain’, according to Ap Dijksterhuis in his book “The Smart Subconscious” (2005). ‘We let our consciousness guide us more than we think. Actually, that’s just as well, because our subconscious is much smarter, faster and can do a lot more (at the same time) than our conscious’. His research results are confronting. Our conscious thinking has a processing speed of about 60 bits per second, while our subconscious processing capacity can take on 200,000 times as much in the same time. Dijksterhuis defines this subconscious as ‘all psychological processes we are not aware of, but that can influence our behaviour (or our thoughts or emotions)’.

Mindfulness lets our consciousness on a non-reactive manner become acquainted with this subconscious. The subconscious, filled with stored information, good and bad information, and more.

Here we encounter the practical problem that is often heard of when practicing mindfulness: there will be no rest! Based on actual knowledge about the conscious and the subconscious, the statement seems clear: if we open ourselves to more information flow from the subconscious that takes up so much more than the conscious, there is no going back. We are awash with thoughts, feelings and physical impulses, especially when the issue is larger than everyday life, as previously mentioned. Especially unsolved cases impose themselves and disrupt the purpose of the meditation in a way that leads to many practitioners giving up.

Could this be the result of our westernised way of life? Could it be that the earlier/first practitioners of meditation lived in a manner whereby these problems occurred less? Would these people be in a state of ‘being’ quicker by opening up? We can only guess.

John Kabat-Zinn has introduced a valuable technique to the West; adapted to western life but actually, more for practitioners who function properly. There is an additional technique needed for people with more serious problems to be able to practise mindfulness and to find quiescence. As previously stated, the emo-mindfulness method uses the repetition technique to reach tranquillity. General psychology does work with repetition. Using scientifically validated techniques of repeating thoughts and emotions, to try to process and otherwise define it. An exponent of this is the EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) technique (Shapiro, 1989). The original technique, proven to be the most effective if the visual mode is applied (likewise the opinion of Professor Dr. Iris Engelhard, Psychology Professor in Utrecht), uses repeating stimulating eye movements with the fingers (Van den Hout, M.A. & Engelhard, I.M., 2012, “How does EMDR work?”), while the client is asked to stay with what is happening until there is a sensation of phasing out (desensitisation). This does actually happen. In many cases, this repetition technique is effective. What then, can we conclude from this?

We return to emo-mindfulness and Dijksterhuis. The conscious perceives only a fraction of what the subconscious discerns at the same time. A great deal is stored in the subconscious. Our consciousness can really only handle one thing at a time. Consciously recording and repeating a laden item, makes the subconscious reveal it’s information in a dosed manner. Everything that deals with the (negative) laden item, emerges out until there is nothing new. The ‘drawer is empty’. Contact with the subconscious, thus, can be reached through repetition. The cooperation between the conscious and subconscious through repetition still deserves further explanation.

Theory of repetition.

This is an aspect that is insufficiently dealt with in the psychology: the aspect of ‘repeating itself’. The consciousness lets us think about sensory impressions: see, hear, taste, smell and feel. If we do not want to see anything (anymore), we look to another direction. Even if we do not want to hear, smell or taste something, we decide to replace it with something more pleasant. But, what do we do when we do not want to feel something? With this sense, it works differently. Of course, we can try something different. Experience teaches us that we do not work that way: we try to deny. And if we deny, we try to tuck it away in our subconscious. It is there that feelings are stored.

By now we know that everything we hide away in our subconscious has not disappeared or is not inactive. The subconscious gives us signs. It indicates at a certain moment it is (too) full and suffers. These signs could be reoccurring thoughts (‘the music lingers on…’), emotions or physical impulses. These messages typically do not just stop from being sent. They present themselves in repetitions as long as we refuse to listen. The greater the tendency to deny, the greater the burden. This is how psychosomatic complaints are formed: diseases that seem to manifest themselves physically, but that clearly have a psychological factor, also known as psycho-physiological complaints.

The subconscious thus seems to use the repetition technique to make it clear to us that something is not going well: ‘I am letting you know the bucket is full’. The statement that “unpleasant images thereby blur” is retrieved in the ‘working memory theory’ which predicts that concentrating to a distracting repetitive stimulus (following the fingers of a therapist while recalling an unpleasant image) leads to the reduction of clarity and emotionality of a memory.

Repetition is also used by the described Ho’oponopono technique on Hawaii. A standard sentence from four different notices to be repeated are: ‘I am sorry, forgive me, thank you, I love you’.

We also come across repetition with James Pennebaker (1950). With his research, he has clearly shown a link between writing therapy and recovering from trauma and emotional despair (Psychological Science 8(3): 162-166, May 1997). His research focuses on the relationship between the use of natural language, health and social behaviour.

The therapy works as follows: agree with yourself to write for three or four days, about fifteen minutes per session. Continue writing, and if you don’t know what to write, repeat yourself. You do not have to share this with anyone. Research indicates that these relatively simple exercises have a positive effect. It reduces negative emotions and affects the health positively. We came across it more often: repeating and not necessarily sharing.

Back in time, Emile Coué, psychologist and pharmacist (1857-1926) used repetition as well. ‘The power of autosuggestion’ was used by Coué to overcome problems. A kind of positive thinking: ‘Every day and in every way, I am doing better and better’ (Tous les jours et à tous points de vue, je vais de mieux en mieux). By repeating the positive thoughts 20 times  he thought he would make himself stronger and healthier, both mentally and physically.

Later on, we see these techniques in the New Age movement (positive thinking) with Joseph Murphy, Erhard Freitag, Dr. Wayne Dyer and Louise Hay (“You Can Heal Your Life”, 1990). In his book “Happiness” (2005), most recently, the French writer and Buddhist Matthieu Ricard (1946) writes about ‘focussing your attention momentarily to’ an emotion such as rage/hate or jealousy. By doing this, the emotion disappears by itself.

The subconscious gives repetitive signs and seems to be more effective in ‘listening to repetition’. The repetitive technique to reach the subconscious knows three variations: (1) repetition of standard sentences to be able to process – letting go (Ho’oponopono); (2) repeating positive thoughts to reach an improved mental and physical health (Coué, Hay); (3) repeating a ‘problem’ to invite the subconscious connected to this problem so that there is peace (emo-mindfulness).

Repeating a problem.

The emo-mindfulness technique is based on this third form of repetition of an exact formulated problem: reaching the subconscious purely by repeating a directly disturbing thought, emotion or physical impulse. In practice, this leads to great relief, unlike with repetitions of positive thoughts: ‘I’m going to sleep without interruption until seven in the morning’ (Coué).

The subconscious will protest against this because it is full of pending matters. ‘First face/give attention to matters before peace can come’ is actually the notification. ‘If we keep our inner gaze on those emotions, that emotion will slowly but surely lose its force’ (Ricard, “Happiness”, page 223).

Thinking in models, we could call the emo-mindfulness technique the ‘Funnel Model’, which is thinking of an item, by repeating this through the funnel to the subconscious with the goal of letting go any related information. The data then returns in reverse order via the funnel back up and are released – are accepted. By taking a single exact formulated item, one is not overwhelmed by the enormous data storage from the subconscious. Furthermore, by not being reactively present, the emerging data is let go.

Referring to the Memory Theory at EMDR, we could say that with this repetition technique, by activating short-term memory, in turn, those networks are activated in the subconscious, which is involved in the operation of the long-term memory. In the long-term memory, there are representations including performances, images, concepts and events stored in a relatively passive condition. The stimulants in this case are not following the fingers of the therapist, but the inner repetition while focussing on the problem. Acceptance is letting go.


How are we going to accept? The technique consists of, as mentioned earlier, four steps.

Step 1.

Finding the right item to work on. This can be (A) a disturbing cognition, (B) an emotion or (C) a practical physical complaint.

Example A: My head is spinning, I am too fat, I need a cigarette, etc.

Example B: Sad, angry, aversion, fear, etc.

Example C: Lower-back pain, neck pain, stiff shoulder, etc.

In applying this technique, it is important to repeat the item as briefly as possible and preferably in colloquial language: ‘my head is spinning’ could easily become ‘full mind’. ‘Aversion’ could translate to ‘darn’ or ‘dirty’. ‘Lower-back pain’ becomes ‘back pain’. With ‘I need a cigarette now’ becomes ‘a fag now’ (fag =saffie, term in Dutch that already exists since 1937, Bolhuis). With repetition, there is a focus on the content of the item.

Step 1 usually takes about three to five minutes. The assignment is to continue until a void develops. This void is there if no other cases arise. ‘This drawer in the subconscious is empty for now.’

Step 2.

If there is a void, then invite the client to remain non-reactive in that tranquillity for twenty-one seconds. That is an empirical given. If the client succeeds for twenty-one seconds, then it usually stays that way. If it does not work, continue with step 1 with another twenty-one seconds of quietness afterwards. Step 3 follows afterwards.

Step 3.

In fact, the subconscious is not ‘empty’ in relation to the item. Now we give the subconscious a new assignment. The subconscious is temporarily unemployed and asks for this assignment. This assignment starts with the standard sentence: ‘Help me deal with … differently’, whereby you fill in the item used in step 1. This description should be the same verbally. For example: ‘Help me deal with “back pain”, with “full mind”, with “sad”, with “a fag now”’.

These steps, whereby repetition takes places, takes about one to two minutes. The assignment is to continue until a feeling of ‘zen’ is created, characterised by a smile. ‘The feeling that it is good the way it is.’

Step 4.

End the procedure with a thank you to the subconscious: ‘Thank you for helping me’, possibly followed by a ‘I love you’ while you put your hands on your heart.

It is essential to have adequate guidance when working in practice with emo-mindfulness for the first time. Applying the protocol correctly is important.

Practical instructions:

1. We close our eyes while exercising this technique and we sit comfortably.

2. If you are distracted and you notice you are distracted, return to repeating the item.

3. Be non-reactive present, let everything that comes up go by just like the clouds or a leaf on the water.

4. Even if it is intense, try not to change anything. At some point, it will stop.

5. You can ask something briefly, but keep your eyes closed.

6. Always sit down—don’t lie down—with this technique.

7. Usually applying this technique once a day is enough. More often is allowed. This technique is easy to learn and easy to execute alone. Clients experience it as pleasant and keep on using it even after ending the therapy sessions. It does not require a lot of time. The essence of the technique is finding the right item to work with.

Personal details.

Drs. N.J. Zimmermann (1950), teacher, medical pedologist, psychologist, remedial educationalist. Working since 1984 as an independent psychologist (NIP/BIG/LVVP). Started in 1975 with meditation techniques; 2007 (RINO) followed a relevant shortened course Mindfulness instructor. By now he has eight years of experience practising with emo-mindfulness, with items such as: ‘Quitting smoking’, ‘eating disorders’, ‘misunderstood physical complaints’, with good clinical results.

January 2016

‘Protected by copyright’

© 2016 – all rights are reserved to Drs N.J. Zimmermann


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