Mindfulness is simply being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different; enjoying the pleasant without holding on when it changes (which it will); being with the unpleasant without fearing it will always be this way (which it won’t).
I’m grouchy! My mind is racing with shoulda, woulda, couldas. I’m agitated. And I can’t sit down. So I stop and take a deep breath. I think my exercise today is not to be in control, but surrender to what I’m feeling, then being discerning in how I approach those feelings. Being discerning is exercising the ability to judge well and then respond, or more precisely, delaying responding to what’s bothering me for a more opportune moment. Even as I write these words, I’m glad I’ve kept my mouth shut so far today because I’m starting to see that getting mad because Sébastien didn’t take the dogs out to pee before going to work is hardly worth the heartache and pain I could have made it into. Yes, it’s that little and that embarrassing.
And not only was it not really that big of a deal, but in fact if he had of taken the pups out as usual I would have missed out on a lovely morning. I’ve said it so many times, but things have a funny way of working out just as they should. The softly dawning light, the gentle breeze on my skin and the sensation of the rising summer temperatures turning the morning drew from liquid into vapor would have passed without my being the wiser. Nope I would have missed what may be the loveliest part of my day cooped up in the house. But isn’t that exactly how it goes? We get triggered by some inexplicable something and it’s everybody else’s fault. As it turns out what was required was looking inward, checking in with myself. There are three things that were made clear—yet again—this morning:
- There is value in recognizing how I feel when I feel it (paying attention in the present moment).
- It is invaluable that I purposely pay attention to how I feel.
- And it is a good thing to accept how I feel without judgment or criticism (non-judgementally).
Looking to these three practices, just a moment and giving myself space, I found what discernment looks like today. In this very moment, I feel a lot less grouchy as I watch my body calms, my emotions fade and my mind settle back down.
As my day began, I was all wound up with little reason. But in the heat of the moment, I stopped and looked at my feelings in the face and just looked at them. I didn’t ask why or how or what it meant. I appreciate that there is value in being grounded in the here and now, especially in the heat of the moment. But it wasn’t always this way. I realized that when I was young I was often detached from how I felt, so it often took a while for my feelings to register. Because of this delay, I was often incapable of articulating my feelings in the moment. So naturally when my feeling were hurt by something someone said or did, I wouldn’t say anything. Then with the passage of time, I would explode over the smallest of things. My eventual responses were often disproportionate to the offense precisely because I wasn’t responding to what was happening in the moment, but all of the last several days, weeks or months of offenses. Later I learned to speak up something immediately, before I was about to explode, when some did something that hurt my feeling. It was an important and good step when I began to stick up for myself before I was fed up. But I was often quick to jump the gun. I was reacting without thought or intention instead of responding consciously with attention and awareness.
As it turns out those often fierce, strong emotions were clues leading me to the understanding of what was going on. They pinpoint what I like and don’t like or when my values have been stepped on, for example. Today I watched my emotions do what they do. I listened carefully to the thoughts that accompanied the feeling. It is clear that there’s value in paying attention to my emotions as well as the thoughts that come with them. Still fine-tuning my ability to listen to the messages, I’m actually surprised by the sorted assumptions and complex stories that played out in my head. I was distracted by how I interpreted the events and the meaning I assigned to them. As it turns out, there are only a few things I know for sure. I was in bed, Sébastien wasn’t, I didn’t ask any questions to verify or confirm why he didn’t take the dogs out as usual and I just got mad. Dr. Brad Klontz Psy.D., CFP, Associate Professor of Financial Psychology and Behavioral Finance at Creighton University Heider College of Business in his article “Don’t Always Believe What You Think” says, “Unfortunately, we give our automatic thoughts too much power. We rarely notice, evaluate or challenge them, yet we let them create our experience in the world. Often, they are inaccurate, only part of the story, unhelpful or just one of many possible interpretations.” Yet still, stopping and listening to what was going on in my own head, was the first step to being present. The passing of those random thoughts in my head was exactly what was happening in that moment, so listening to them grounded me in the moment.
Taking a moment to look my feeling in the face, without trying to control them, I found space to sit with them sort them out just as they were. I saw real-time, perhaps for the first time, that I’m not my emotions. But to reach that understanding it was necessary to accept my emotions and my thought without reacting to them. While they are indicators of what is going on and certainly have a valuable function—they are not me. They come and they go. They are the movie and I am the observer. Movies are projections that change from week to me. But I am always here, available to observe what is playing in my local cinema. So using Anne Hill’s words from her novel The Baby and the Bathwater, listening to all of the information given to us by and through our bodies, without judgment, we are “ability to tell truth from fiction, to know when we have lost our center and how to find it again.” Accepting how we feel in the moment; and even more that that declaring how we feel, loud and clear, is a great place from which to start finding ourselves.
Realizing that mindfulness is a practice that never stops leads the way toward eliminating the need for perfection, then the only think left is to “surrender to what is. Say ‘yes’ to life – and see how life starts suddenly to start working for you rather than against you (Eckart Tolle). I like how Dru Edmund Kucherera describes the process as being “so focused on being happy, improving yourself and being better than the person you were yesterday that you hardly realize what’s going on with other people around you…” And I’m finding that it takes a great deal of trust and faith in myself to let the process do what it does. We all have our own internal guidance system. And if I really and truly believe that we are able to guide ourselves then I must give myself the space to tap into the part of me that knows what is right. Today, I’m encouraged by the changing faces of my imperfection because as Soren Kierkegaard said we can only attain our desired outcome by passing by its opposite.