Anyone else feel like an oppressive wave of suffocating gloop is bearing down upon them and choking out all hope of hope? Me neither.
Like a few billion of my dearest friends, I have been sheltering at home for what feels like multiples of dog years. Overall, I think I am handling the whole pandemic-thingy rather well. But it turns out that I am human after all, and in the face of a global pressure cooker, a small irritation has been known to turn me into a weapon of mass destruction.
I have never been through a world-wide shut down before, and I need to regularly remind myself to go gently, because I have a lot to learn.
Now that I am safe in my hermetically sealed bubble, I have more time to see how my unease with uncertainty can turn me into a fireball from space. Bizarrely, this is good news. With mindfulness as my companion, I am learning to catch habit patterns muscling in on me. And once I notice, I can take a nice deep breath and offer myself kindness and compassion, even when my behaviour is less than peaceful.
Life was not a box of chocolates, it was more like a tube of toothpaste and I could feel pressure and uncertainty squeezing my dark, sensitive interiors.
For example, the other night, after our gazillionth day of being shut-ins, my Dear One made a joke that the food on my plate resembled the mountain in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and I went KABOOM. His comment set off a wrathful storm of negative thoughts and emotions, and I didn’t keep them to myself.
Normally, he makes me laugh, but things here on earth are currently not normal. And that was important to notice. Life was not a box of chocolates, it was more like a tube of toothpaste and I could feel pressure and uncertainty squeezing my dark, sensitive interiors.
Use Awareness to Rein In Your Response
When I have a strong negative reaction, my response can feel like a team of wild horses racing out of the gate. Even with a regular mindfulness practice, there might still be times when freaking out happens. But after many years of practicing, sometimes awareness helps me temper my temper. Awareness can help me notice when I feel like a trapped tiger. It helps me stay gently alert to times when there’s too much noise, not enough space, and many opportunities for misinterpretation that might trigger my inner flame-thrower.
Our mindfulness training is the practice of being with whatever shows up. Over time, this will include a mix of terrible and terrific sensations. You won’t like some of these sensations. You will want more of others. Be present to it all.
You have the right to a full range of emotional responses, they’re going to come with or without your permission. When you can stay present during inner lava spurts of rage and frustration you open a path that can free you from the tyranny of reactivity. See it. Feel it. Hold yourself as gently as a butterfly and let yourself experience what presents itself, without always needing to act.
With a mindful approach, you can navigate uncertainty with gentleness, knowing that the greatest skill of all is in being kind with all that we encounter.
Take note: even when you can notice yourself about to become a living fire-storm, you might still feel helpless to do anything except watch yourself burn. That’s OK. Sometimes we have choice, and can calm the fires before they start to rage, but sometimes pressure and habit come together so quickly that you only have the opportunity to notice after the fact. When that occurs, breathe, and when you are ready, invite compassion in as you continue to make your way through this unfamiliar territory.
A five-step practice for grace under pressure
- When you notice yourself boiling over for any reason, turn your attention to the sensations arising in the body. You don’t have to like or want what you are feeling – just have a close encounter by meeting what is already here.
- If possible, allow yourself the simple recognition that you are experiencing a moment of suffering. It’s just how it is.
- Now breathe in the recognition that suffering is part of the human experience and that you are not alone.
- Soothing touch can bring physiological calm: allow your hand to rest on your chest, or tenderly allow one hand to caress the other, or find a way to gently offer yourself kind physical contact.
- And offer yourself these words or change them as you require:
May I be peaceful
May I be safe and protected
May I know what I need to be well
Join Elaine May 25 at 3 p.m. ET on Facebook for a live show interweaving mindfulness, playfulness and expert advice on ways to stay healthy and well during a global pandemic.
With special guest Patricia Rockman.
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