The magic of Popcorn Meditation

In an exploration of emotions and how they interlink, don’t push your feelings and thoughts away — examine them, one at the time.

As I wrote about a while ago, I’ve been on a journey of being less in my brain and more in the emotional realm. “That’s all fine and well,” I hear you mutter, “But how the actual ever-loving hell do you even start?” One technique I’ve found helpful is what I’ve been describing as ‘popcorn meditation.’

It works best if I’m able to carve out a fair chunk of time — a couple of hours is perfect — because following these little morsels down the rabbit hole takes a bit of time. Find yourself a comfortable spot — I like a hammock, but whatever you usually do to get yourself comfortable for a while should do the trick. Close your eyes.

Imagine a pot of oil, with a couple of hundred corn kernels in it. A merry flame is heating your pan, and as you settle in comfortably, you feel an ever-so-slight tension. The first kernel is about to pop. When it does, and the kernel transforms into popcorn in a fraction of a second, it jumps out of the pan. With your mind, grab it out of thin air. The exercise has begun.

Each kernel is a different thing. It can be an emotion. A memory. A dream you had, perhaps, or a pain you’ve suffered. A challenge you’re facing right now, or a poem you’ve been struggling to get a handle on. Whatever it is, it’s there now, in your hand. And it’s the only popcorn you’re going to be paying attention to for now. Others may pop while you have this one — and that’s okay. For now, this kernel gets your full attention.

Note that you aren’t trying to grab a hold of thought — thoughts happen all the time, and they aren’t the realm we’re dealing with at the moment. This is an exercise of examining emotions — or situations, and what emotions they evoked.

Rub your fingers and thumb lightly together. Roll the popcorn between them. What is the emotion? If you were to pop it in your mouth, would it taste the strawberry sweet of trust and love or the acrid singe of suspicion? Does it have the lightness of joy and happiness or the odd, salty heaviness of grief or sadness? Would the flavor surprise you, or bring on a gentle wave of anticipation? Would it have the metallic smell of anger or the clamping, immobilizing sensation of fear?

Examining the popcorn kernel, I like to think about the things that happened before it. What other times have I felt that emotion? What other memories do I tie to it? And I try to examine my life today. What about today brought up this particular kernel? Am I still processing it? Is there something unresolved, uncleared? Is this thought or memory or emotion a one-off or part of a pattern?

Finally, I like to examine the ‘nega-popcorn.’ What is the inverse of the thing I have in my hand? If what came up for me was the fear I felt of leaving a job — what would the opposite feeling feel like? If I was thinking about the joy of something — was there any part of me that was angry? Scared? Apprehensive?

So many thoughts. So many meditations.

A lot of other meditation I’ve done so far has been about creating an expanse of space. Of gently letting the little puffy white clouds (and sometimes, I suppose, to stretch this simile to its breaking point — the wall-to-wall thunder clouds raging through my mind) be and nudging them along when they make themselves known. Popcorn meditation is the opposite. It’s not an exercise of letting every thought and emotion in — but one of examining one at the time. Carefully, determinedly.

The magic in the exercise is in recognizing that your mind won’t let something irrelevant pop to the forefront of your consciousness for nothing. Examining the why helps figure out why this feeling is following you around, nipping at your ankles.

Once your popcorn kernel is fully examined, pop it in your mouth. Re-integrate it; it has done its job for now.

Take a deep breath. Wait for the next popcorn to pop, and snatch that out of thin air, too. If it’s the exact same kernel — nudge it aside. You’ve done that one. It’s time for another. If it isn’t the exact same, you’ll probably note that this corn kernel is probably related to the previous one in some subtle way. Fantastic. This is how we go down the rabbit hole of examination.

Bon appetit.

Haje is a pitch coach based in Silicon Valley, working with a founders all over the world to create the right starting point for productive conversations with investors — from a compelling narrative to a perfect pitch. You can find out more at You can also find Haje on Twitter and LinkedIn.

CEO of Konf, pitch coach for startups, enthusiastic dabbler in photography.

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