In an instant life can become hectic and chaotic. Just when we think we have life all figured out, and our path forward appears to be straight; adversity happens! All the talk of mindfulness, living in the moment, and meditation seem to fall short in light of the adversity and chaotic realities of life.
Platitudes are not my message. My life has had its share of ups and downs so I will not trivialize the impact adversity plays on a person's thoughts and feelings. My message relies on my own experience of mindfulness and it's ability to lead us to finding and living with inner peace, regardless of what life may throw at us.
Mindfulness is a word I often use in my writings and in my life coaching sessions with my clients. One of the pioneers in the mindfulness movement, Jon Kabat-Zinn, defines mindfulness as: “a means of paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”
The two phrases in this definition which I focus on are “on purpose” and “nonjudgmentally”. To find and maintain inner peace we need to consciously make the choice to spend time every day focusing our attention on what is happening around and within us. Our focus is not meant to judge what is happening, but to notice it. As we become aware of our surroundings and our inner self, we become aware of life’s joys and potential, along with life's sorrows and adversities. In this state of focused awareness, we are enabled to see solutions; to see hope.
Although it's important to learn mindfulness before life throws its adversities upon you, mindfulness is not a practice which avoids or negates the negatives in life. We need mindfulness regardless of how we are feeling about ourselves and our situations. In fact, I would say that we need mindfulness even moreso during times of difficulties in our life.
Western society tends to devalue pain and suffering leaving us with the false sense that we can avoid all pain and suffering in life. Speaking from my own experience, and I'm sure you can relate, I have yet to find a way of living life which avoids all pain and suffering. Therefore, society provides us with a false hope, and increases our stress and anxiety when we fail to achieve a life without pain or suffering. The Buddha, in laying out the Four Noble Truths indicated that the principle cause of suffering is desire. In this case, the desire is to avoid all pain and suffering.
Mindfulness is a practice which teaches us how to live and cope with the joys, pains, and suffering we endure. We do not negate anything in life, rather we non-judgmentally accept what is happening and learn the best ways of coping.
Here are my six tips for practicing mindfulness when upset:
- Acknowledge that the emotion you are feeling exists. We do not want to ignore or deny any of our feelings and emotions. What we feel is what we feel. Spend time in quiet simply acknowledging what you are feeling and sit with that feeling. We do not judge the feeling as either good or bad, we simply acknowledge and name what we are feeling.
- The next step is similar to the first step of acknowledgement. In the second step we accept what we are feeling. We do not beat ourselves up that we are feeling this way, nor do we attempt to change how we are feeling. We accept that what we are feeling is our reality. A phrase which needs to be removed from our mind and speech is “ I shouldn't feel this way.” This phrase creates anxiety since we are scolding ourselves for the reality in which we find ourselves. Who are we to say what we should or shouldn't be feeling when the reality is we are feeling it! Right or wrong is not the issue, what is happening in the moment is what’s important. Accept how you feel in the moment and understand that this feeling is a part of you. For example, if you were feeling extremely joyful would you question that you shouldn't be feeling that way? Of course not! So why do we judge any other feeling besides those which we say are positive?
- Once we acknowledge and accept the feelings as they are, we move to the next step of understanding that emotions are fleeting. Emotions come and go, sometimes quickly sometimes slowly, but feelings do not last forever. Therefore, experience your feelings in all of their intensity recognizing that you will never again feel this exact same way. Feelings, in their exactness, cannot be felt again. Sit long enough with your feelings and you may find that they pass during your sitting. When I worked with people struggling from cravings while trying to live in recovery from their addiction, I would ask them to sit and either look at a stopwatch as the time passed, reminding themselves that they are still in recovery, or I would refocus their attention to anything other than the craving. As a behaviorist I understand that most cravings, and even feelings, when not encouraged only last about 15 or 20 minutes.
- Investigate, within yourself, where these emotions and feelings originate. We don't ask “why” we are feeling these emotions for the answer only leads down the path of judgement. Understanding where the feelings are coming from begins the process of learning what we are to do with the emotions. It's not a matter of understanding why, but of understanding “what”. The answer to “what” enables us to learn and grow whereas the why simply gives us information which may or may not be helpful to our taking action. Mindfulness and meditation is not just an intellectual act, it’s a process which enables us to learn about ourselves and how we can act in a way that maintains our inner peace.
- As we examine our emotions avoid the urge to catastrophize the possible outcomes. Our mind is an imaginative storyteller, yet these stories tend to make the situations worse than reality. it's important for us to keep focused on realistic outcomes for the future rather than imagining outcomes way worse than might be possible. A technique you can use is to ask yourself the question “what is the worst that can happen?” Then ask yourself the question “if the worst does happen what can I do about it?” Consider all the possible actions that you, and with the assistance from others, can do to cope with even the worst case scenario. Understanding that the worst case scenario is probably not going to happen, if you have a plan for the worst case then when reality happens and it’s not as bad as what you imagined you will find peace in knowing that you can cope with the situation.
- The last tip for practicing mindfulness when upset is to learn from the situation. After following steps 1 through 5 you now have the ability to step back from the situation and reflect on what you have learned from what has happened. Learn from the actions that you took which worked and learn from the actions which you took that didn't work. Learning where our emotions originate and how best to cope with those emotions gives us the power to tackle the same situations in similar ways. Future adversity will no longer be a stressor for us since we have learned that we not only can survive the adversity but what we also can do to minimize future adversity.
Practicing mindfulness when upset empowers us to act and to cope with situations which we may feel we are unable to handle. Mindfulness does not take away negativity in our lives, rather mindfulness teaches us the power that we have within to handle and survive whatever life may throw at us.
If you're ready to explore life coaching, I would be honored to help. You can read more here about my life coaching practice or call me directly at 301-850-2177. ... continue the conversation here or on social media ...
If you're ready to explore life coaching, I would be honored to help. You can read more here about my life coaching practice or call me directly at 301-850-2177.
... continue the conversation here or on social media ...