3 Minutes Meditation, a really useful way to take some space on a daily basis.
Step 1, acknowledge your thoughts, emotions, body sensations, where you are at.
Step 2, narrow the attention down into the breath, focus on being present with the breath.
Step 3, expand the focus to your whole body.
Neuroscience supports the idea that developing reflective skills of mindfulness activates the very circuits that create resilience and well-being and underlie empathy and compassion as well.
The Brain has different components:
– The limbic part of the brain, essential in survival, is the part which holds our emotions (when we are stressed this area of the brain triggers a release of cortisol which mobilizes energy by putting our entire metabolism on high alert to meet the challenge). This response is great for short term stress, but can grow into a problem in the long term if it is continual, then cortisol levels may become chronically elevated. Amygdala is an almond shaped part of the brain which responds to primitive emotion. It will help you hurl your friend out of the way of a speeding car or stop you dead still when faced with a bear in a forest. The hippocampus is a sea horse shaped part of the brain, which is like the filing cabinet when memories have been processed and ordered.
– Luckily we have the pre-frontal cortex part of the brain, which enables us to reflect and modulate the responses of this limbic area. Finding empathy for others, gaining perspective, taking a breath, being mindful of our normal emotional reactive loops, getting aware of our reactions, all open up the possibility of choice, to respond rather than to react.
Our fight/flight/freeze patterns are activated whenever we sense danger. The limbic system is continually assessing environment for possible threats. Regulating your own emotional reactions and attuning to intentions and feelings of others is essential. Get intimate with your difficult feelings. The ability to be spacious inside even in times of stress increases the possibility of creativity.
With focused attention we can change rigid neural pathways. Through tracking our responses and increasing self-awareness we bring choice into the equation. Key to this is the breath.
Window of Tolerance
It is different for all of us. I may have a high tolerance for sadness and a low one for anger.
Within our window of tolerance we remain receptive; outside of it we become reactive.
[Mindsight by Daniel Siegal]
The challenge for us is to widen our window of tolerance so we can hold elements of our internal world in awareness without being thrown into rigidity (depression, cut-offs, avoidance) or chaos (agitation, anxiety, rage). Then we can experience fullness in our lives with more acceptance and clarity.
Exercise: Take a piece of paper and draw your own window of tolerance. What is at the edges, what pushes you over?
You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf
Approach vs Avoidance
Buddhism, the two arrows. We suffer twice:
– Primary suffering, the basic pain of existence that is unavoidable (the first arrow)
– Secondary suffering, resistance and the contraction of mind and body to avoid this pain. We CAN do something about this (the second arrow)
A core quality of all mindfulness based approaches is acceptance… helping people to recognize how the understandable drive that we all have to push away the painful and unwanted aspects of our experience, becomes exactly what causes distress and suffering
[Jodi Mardula, 2009]
Mindfulness enables us to see and feel our responses, and noticing this response in our bodies is the first step of being able to break habitual reactions. We can then choose how to respond rather than habitually react.
There is an acceleration between the trigger moment to the explosion of anger. If you can become aware that you have been triggered this may help you slow your reactions down and give you more choice. What do you notice when you have been triggered? Speech? Thoughts? Body Sensations? What can alert you to this window of opportunity to take some breath here? What actions will help you calm the situation down?
Anger is like a howling baby, suffering and crying. The baby needs his mother to embrace him. You are the mother for your baby, your anger. The moment you begin to practice breathing mindfully in and out, you have the energy of a mother, to cradle and embrace the baby. Just embracing your anger, just breathing in and breathing out, that is good enough. The baby will feel relief right away.
[Thich Nat Han, 2001]