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Changing the Way You Feel and Saving Yourself Suffering Through Mindfulness

The soil in which the meditative mind can begin is the soil of everyday life, the strife, the pain, and the fleeting joy. It must begin there, and bring order, and from there move endlessly… You must take a plunge into the water…   ~ J. Krishnamurti, Meditations 1969

Consider a day in the life of Christina, who grew up in a large, chaotic household where she routinely felt ignored. She emails a well-crafted proposal to her boss for a project she cherishes. Her boss, overwhelmed with a recent medical diagnosis amidst pressing and relentless work deadlines, does not respond for several days. In her boss’s silence, Christina’s enthusiasm downgrades into a malaise of habitual thinking… that she’s always invisible, that she wouldn’t register on the boss’s radar anyway, that she was foolish for even trying, and on and on. She is subsequently short with her co-workers. She is impatient at the grocery store. She is irritated with drivers on the road. At home she snaps at her partner and tosses in her pitiful sleep. When her boss eventually replies, and to her surprise replies positively, she realizes she could have saved herself a lot of suffering if she could have somehow dodged that mental rabbit hole she’d fallen into, which wasn’t based in reality after all.

The reason to practice mindfulness is that it gives us the power to change the way we feel. Applied mindfulness breaks the thrall of emotional patterns by teaching us how to recognize when our mind has slipped into judgment and conclusion and how to bring it back to the objective moment. The practice of mindfulness is a kind of Jedi training, a mental discipline intended to draw the awareness over and over back into presence. We often assume that what we’re thinking about an experience is the experience itself, yet presence is the actual, unfiltered experience, prior to impressions or conclusions. We experience presence when we release our story, the personalized meaning or interpretation of what is unfolding each moment—and this is a decision we make moment-to-moment in order to recognize what is, right now, rather than defaulting into habitual cascades of disturbed emotion.

The next time you catch yourself feeling upset, try these steps to begin changing the way you feel:

1. Place yourself on pause. By the time an emotional reaction has taken hold, you can be sure a host of unproductive thoughts have gathered. It’s important to take a beat in order to avoid falling into the trap of misinterpretation and overreaction, at which point suffering has already begun. The capacity to self-arrest stops this cascade before it goes any further and in itself makes mindfulness possible.

2. Take a deliberately deep breath. When the emotional train is derailing, the breath inevitably follows its path of destruction. The sages of old knew that when we change the breath, we change our consciousness. Shallow, rapid breathing tells the brain and the body that a threat has arisen and revs us up into defense mode. When this breathing is chronic, our system never relaxes and our overall health is sabotaged. When we practice taking slow, deep breaths, we signal to our body that all is well, we promote release, and we tap into an immediate store of spaciousness.

3. Give yourself permission to feel whatever you’re feeling. As an act of self-compassion, acknowledge what you’re feeling. Personal suffering is enhanced when we judge ourselves. When we judge particular emotions as being off-limits, we create a degree of alienation from ourselves and perpetually deny the reality of our sensibilities. When we stop rejecting our feelings, we open to our intuition and access more options for approaching the situation at hand.

4. Ask yourself what led to your upset. When caught in the tractor beam of emotional reactions, be assured an underlying story of some sort is charging that reaction and likely has more to do with your history than the unfolding event itself. Inquiring into the charge of your feelings diffuses their intensity, and practicing curiosity in an ongoing way yields insight into the pattern of your triggers and reactions.

5. Consider changing your position or dropping it altogether. Our charged emotional reactions are inevitably linked to a stance we have chosen either intentionally or by default. All our stances are informed by beliefs about the way things should or shouldn’t be and put us at odds with the world when it’s not going our way. Identifying the position you’re taking can help you assess its value and accuracy in order to decide if it’s the best one for you to take. In doing so, you save yourself anguish and learn to be easier with yourself and others.

Ready to learn how to meditate and become more mindful and peaceful? Call (505) 249-4981 for more information on True Self Coaching.

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