Saturday, 5 April 2008

Ouch


I haven't posted in a while; I've been really stressed out. I've been challenged emotionally lately, particularly at work, and I haven't been dealing with it well. I've talked to my line manager... Overall, I've just been talking too much. Nothing has happened that can't be reigned in at this point. I just feel I have to curb my emotional response to things. I've always been emotional and an overthinker, but I must stop handing control of my life over to outside agents. I need to remember:

The only person I can control is myself.

The only person I can change is myself.

I can choose how to respond to things that upset me.

I can choose to care or not to care about a situation.


These sound great, but how can I put them into practice? I remember a long time ago reading (in Stephen Covey and later in Dr Phil) about a magic moment between stimulus and response, a sort of golden moment when you can make a choice about how you are going to respond to something. I have always had trouble identifying that moment, because I launch directly into my response. The resulting behaviour is often not at all what I would have liked to have happened. I later spend a lot of time ruminating and worrying over what I may or may not have said or done. What technique can I use to help myself slow down and find that split second before the response, so that I can make a better choice in what to do or say next?

I have read a lot in the last few years about mindfulness. In fact, the crux of this blog was meant to be about mindful living, but over the last several months
I have strayed from that and become embroiled in worries, doubts, fears, my own emotions and ego, and most damaging of all, I have clung tightly to the delusion of security and permanence. All the changes confronting me at the moment have revealed how I've never really let go of that delusion. The vain wish that things will stay the same, or that they can be perfect, has caused me much suffering of late. My teachers, Thich Nhat Hanh and Pema Chodron in particular, have told through their writings that I will be happier and more fulfilled if I stay mindful of the moment. If I detach myself a bit from my life and observe it. I have repeated this lesson to myself so many times, but I so often fail to put it into practice. When I feel an emotion, I am not meant to become that emotion but to observe that emotion. We say, 'I am angry. I am sad. I am happy. I am afraid.' It's just occurred to me that this language tells me that I AM the emotion. That there is nothing else about me other than that emotion. 'I am angry' is almost the same as saying 'I am anger' and it is certainly the case that when I am angry I do feel like the very embodiment of anger and I surrender myself to being anger, with predictable resulting behaviour.

Pema Chodron suggests that we take note of an emotion by labelling it. 'I am feeling angry. I am feeling sad.' Thich Nhat Hanh goes even further and uses language that distances us further from the emotion: 'I feel an emotion. There is a feeling of anger.' Both teachers advise identifying the emotion and taking detached note of the accompanying physical symptoms. 'There is a feeling of anger. My heart is pounding. There is a tingling sensation through my body.' It is at this point that we are taught to breathe deeply into the moment and watch ourselves feeling both the emotion and its physical effects. In all honesty, I have never, ever been able to take note of my emotions and, as Pema Chodron puts it, 'lean into them'. I have always, always leapt off the cliff face of an emotion into the turbulent seas of responsive behaviour.

But Monday is a new day. I think I will take a little statue of the Buddha or some other token to put on my desk to remind me of the techniques I have been taught by such wise teachers.

May all beings be at ease.

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