We have seen that mindfulness is fundamentally about living life in the Present. It is about paying attention on purpose to your own unique experience of the present moment as it is. In last month's tip we discussed how this requires both concentration skills and a willingness to accept the full range of your inner experience without judgement or manipulation. Sometimes your experience in the present is calm and peaceful. Sometimes it isn't. This month we will discuss in greater detail how you can skillfully manage WHATEVER you might find when you turn your full attention to the present moment as it is.
As your mindfulness practice deepens you will discover that the present moment is primarily composed of three things - thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. Beyond these events is a field of silent witnessing or pure consciousness that will be the subject of next month's tip. Each of these three types of experiences - thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations - has an almost infinite number of possible expressions. Thoughts can be pleasant, reflective, logical, and wise or they can be delusional, scary, and lacking in reason. They can be ego-driven and superficial or they can be an expression of sincere compassion and deep insight. The same is true of emotions. Emotions can be positive, blissful, and inspiring or they can be impulsive, reactionary, or based on some negative unconscious past conditioning. Mindfulness is the practice of seeing each experience for exactly what it is. Cultivating the ability to accept this moment whatever it contains is the true beginning of a mindful way of life.
The first option we will discuss is one of getting lost in whatever is arising. This over-identification with the events in your experience often leads to impulsive decisions and blindly acting out. For example, imagine for a moment that you have had a fight with your boss. Perhaps they have been unduly critical of you or are not listening to your point of view. Sometimes when this happens it can be appropriate to get angry. But if you express your anger too intensely, for example by impulsively yelling at them, it is very likely you will lose your job. Getting carried away by your inner experience in this way or expressing yourself in an unbalanced or uncontrolled manner is rarely effective. Very often it just makes the situation worse.
The second option can be just as dangerous. Lets continue the example of getting angry at your boss. If you repress your feelings and just go on pretending everything is OK, it is quite likely your boss's unacceptable behavior toward you will continue. And you may even find yourself taking out your frustration somewhere else, perhaps on your children or spouse. It is our experience as practicing therapists that this type of strategy of repression and denial of your true feelings is at least as damaging as the more obvious problem of acting out. Prolonged repression can lead to chronic stress, psychological disorders like depression and anxiety, and even physical illness.
The third option is the mindful one, which in this case means being aware of and accepting your experience of anger consciously. Then you can use the energy behind this emotion as the important message and motivating force that it is. For example, once seen clearly and consciously, your anger might give you the motivation you need to have an honest and respectful conversation with your boss about the issues at hand. This type of calm and skillful approach has a much greater likelihood of success and will lead to an increase in confidence and self-respect.