We all have the capacity to choose our thoughts and emotions. We just haven’t been taught how to access this ability, especially when we’re under duress.
I am trying to learn how to do this. I see it an everyday, my-little-life way to help shape the solution to our nation’s ills. I invite you to consider joining me. Below is my first attempt to describe the process.
1. The first step is to feel yourself getting triggered. This is easy! It’s hard to predict when it’ll happen, but you know when it does. BAM. Heartrate increases, thoughts speed up, eyesight narrows. We react habitually instead of with care. Welcome to fight, flight or freeze.
2. Inventory the thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations you’re experiencing. This is hard because you will want to FEED them, not look at them. But this step is critical because it helps you see that thoughts, emotions and physical sensations are just aspects of your experience, not the full reality of who you are.
I like to approach this like a shopkeeper doing an inventory of products. “Let’s see, what do we have here…my mouth is dry, check. I keep thinking about how unfair this situation is, check. I also feel scared about what’s happening to our country. Ok, hm, anything else in there? Well, my feet are cozy in these wool socks, and that’s actually kinda nice…” Etc.
3. Expand awareness. This step is likely new to you. Ask yourself, what else is “me” beyond the triggered thoughts, emotions and sensations I just inventoried? What remains of my experience when I’m not racing to solve this problem in my mind? Do I disappear? No, of course not. So imagine there is no problem to solve. What is it like to just experience what remains of me?
4. Connect with “what remains.” I like to look into the space around me, soften, my eyes and just sit for a while. I tap into the experience of my own plain and amazing sense of being alive right now. This is basic awareness. It’s always there, and it’s always there for all of us. It’s a relief. Maybe a miracle. With practice, we can learn to respond skillfully from this grounded awareness, instead of react habitually to our thoughts, emotions and physical sensations.
5. Ask some heartfelt questions: how does my most calm, clear, and grounded self want to respond to this? What would it look like to act with courageous compassion? How can I bring my natural caring creativity into this situation?
6. What possibilities for response can you imagine now? Decide whether there’s any action you would like to take from this more grounded, calm and caring aspect of yourself.
That’s it! The shift from this exercise can be a compellingly mix of subtle and transformational.
I’d love to hear about your experiments with using it. I encourage you to share about your experience on social media to help spread the word. Please tag me somehow…I’d appreciate your help as I try to grow an audience as a writer and increase awareness of my consulting work. Thanks!
*My understanding of this process is indebted to the teachings of many. I want to especially thank Loch Kelly, who shares many wonderful exercises for expanding awareness in daily life, and Steven Boman, whose integration of mindfulness practices and other self-development tools have made a big difference in my life. Please check out their work!