Some days are more difficult than others to practice the things that I help others to practice in their own lives. When everything is flowing along smoothly in my life and going as I want it to go, practicing mindfulness is as simple as breathing. But when I receive an unfair parking ticket, or a family member behaves in a way that is hurtful or irritating, or I feel like I am fighting off the flu, or my house seems really out of order, or the bills pile up, or a person treats someone I love without care, or I am experiencing anxiety while driving on the freeway, or I am running late- practicing mindfulness becomes much more challenging.
You might have similar things that occur in your life that make it really difficult for you to stay present and not get caught up in looping, habitual thoughts. When I notice that I have gotten upset or irritated or anxious, what I immediately notice is a real difficulty getting outside of my head. Again and again I catch myself caught up in thinking about what the person did, how I feel about them, how I feel, what kind of person they are, what is going to happen, what I am going to do, why this is not being done right, how I am going to respond to them, I am going to get in trouble and on and on and on and on. Sometimes pulling myself out of the endless loop of thoughts and the accompanying emotions, feels like a battle I am really struggling to win.
But what I notice when utilizing mindfulness techniques when times get tough is that they work- even if just for a minute or two at a time. The second I am able to pull myself away from thinking and instead focus on my breathing, take in my immediate environment and relocate myself in the present moment- I begin to feel immediately better. My chest lightens, my blood pressure drops, my mind clears and everything starts to feel ok again. It almost feels like taking off a really heavy jacket and putting it down someplace else.
The more and more I am able to practice this, what I notice is the more and more the hurt, irritation, anxiety, anger and all the accompanying looping thoughts decrease and eventually go away. It is like being set free and returning to living my life the way I want to live it (happily and with as little stress and emotional duress as possible). But in order for this to happen in a way that does not end up taking up my entire day and/or end up causing someone else unnecessary emotional suffering- I have to continually be aware of when I am caught up in ruminative negative thinking and then let it go by returning to the breath.
One of the greatest discoveries in my life has been becoming aware of the fact that there is a way out of hurt, anger, depression, anxiety, stress and all the other difficult emotional states that once held me hostage. For example, I used to be an excellent stonewaller. I would get hurt and angry and then engage in stonewalling- sometimes for days. I did not choose to do this, it just seemed like a habitual reaction to feeling hurt. It felt like carrying around a hundred pounds of brick in my chest and my body responded by developing health problems. This behavior would also hurt the person that I was in a relationship with. Not a healthy behavior to be caught in because it sucks all the joy right out of life.
I’m happy to report that I do not stonewall anymore but I still do get hurt, angry, sad, anxious and irritated from time to time. What has made all the difference in the world is becoming aware of the fact that I have been triggered and knowing that as a result am caught up in all kinds of negative thoughts. The next step is to no longer identify with those thoughts and I do this by returning my focus to the present moment (again and again) through the technique of mindfulness. What used to take an entire day or days to come out of now takes about ten minutes or so at the most. Phew.
You do not have to physically and mentally suffer as much and as long as you do just because you might be feeling hurt, angry, sad, afraid, stressed out, depressed or irritated. All you have to do is identify that these states are perpetuated by being mindlessly caught up in negative thinking. You can let the thoughts go by just noticing that you are lost in thought. Return your attention to your breathing. To the present moment and then get on with enjoying the day and all of the wonderful potential that exists in your life right now. It is there waiting- all you have to do is become aware of the negative thoughts and then let the thoughts go.
This is what I practice doing, sometimes twenty or thirty times on a tough day. I do it because it works. Now I get what one of my mindfulness instructors meant when he continually referred to mindfulness as a kind of superpower that we can carry around with us wherever we go.