the challenge of mindfulness

Mindfulness is much more than a word.

As I begin my journey in graduate school I also begin my journey into becoming more mindful. Neither of which are easy, and although I have only just begun each, I already know that practicing being mindful will be as great, or a greater, challenge in my life.

I see mindfulness as being present in the moment and being aware of my own feelings and the needs that instigate them.

As I begin this journey I feel I’m lacking the tools necessary and/or the helpful exercises that can assist in managing the moments when emotion exerts its influence.

Sometimes it’s not too difficult to single out the need/feeling relationship. Often times, however, an emotional tidal wave hits me and knocks me far off course.

Over the past few months I have attempted to observe myself in detail. What is happening inside before that tidal wave comes? It’s a complex and somewhat obscure process that has required much observation and reflection.

If I were to explain these difficult times in words, it’s as if my chest is a nuclear reactor. Atoms are buzzing around inside of me, creating an immense energy. When certain incidents occur those atoms pick up speed and the energy they produce grows. For the sake of this analogy, those incidents can be seen as the reactors control rods. As different things happen control rods are withdrawn, which allows the atoms to buzz around faster, thus creating more energy.

As the day carries on that energy stays with me. Sometimes that energy feels almost hidden. If I am not watching myself very carefully, it is like that force isn’t with me any longer. However, when something else happens, it comes roaring back with more ferocity than ever. When too many control rods are taken away the reactor overheats and melts-down. When that happens the failsafes to my control room (ie brain) are cut. I might as well be a walking, headless ball of emotion.

When I return to equilibrium I can assess the damage. Finding empathy and compassion for myself at this stage is near impossible.

The more I ponder all of this the more I wonder how others feel? Surely everyone experiences emotion differently. It would be hugely helpful to hear how others handle the intensity of emotion.

If you have a few moments I would love to hear your answers to the questions below.

What concrete exercises or measures can we take when powerful emotions seek to control us?

How can we empathize and be compassionate with ourselves when we fall down, especially over the same hurdle, time and again?

How do your powerful emotions effect you?

Sitting down and observing myself and my emotions has been an eye opening experience. I feel like I have seen myself in a whole new light. I feel as if there is a whole new world for me to explore.

Truly, mindfulness is so much more than just a word.



6 thoughts on “the challenge of mindfulness

  1. Pingback: Response: the challenge of mindfulness | Karuna Care

  2. Hi John,
    This is a wonderful description of one of the most powerful emotions. When reading I can feel what you feel when ‘the control rods’ are being gradually taken away. You call it ‘tidal waves’, I’ll give it an umbrella term: anger (though I realize his might not be totally accurate). It’s interesting that you say that you can feel anger in your chest first. I’ve been thinking about the location since yesterday when I read another post of yours. I’d say that I feel this emotion in my head – and the signs is that my face goes red and I also feel that my eyes reveal everything at that moment (hence ‘red with anger’, ‘see red’). If the emotion is really strong, my head feels like it’s going to explode. The worst thing is that I immediately realize that my anger is visible – that it has materialized itself – and I can’t escape anymore. I can’t so anything about it but wait until I calm down. But it’s already happened and left its fingerprints and damage all around.
    Honestly, I don’t think I can do anything about the manifestation of anger when it’s already there. I think I have to prevent the emotion from coming at all and this is my mission; to work on ways of not allowing anger to be felt. I think anger has a lot to do with one’s ego. I have to keep reminding myself that what others do and say is NOT about ME. It’s about them and I should care about what I do and say.
    But this is such a complex problem that I’ll probably need all my life to accomplish this goal. But as you say, mindfulness is what may help us, poor creatures, struggling with all the negative emotions.
    Thanks for sharing this.

    • Hi Hana,

      Thank you so much for opening up your world and sharing a little bit of it with me. Your detailed account of the “red mist descending” is very enlightening. I found myself nodding along with you when you mention…

      “Honestly, I don’t think I can do anything about the manifestation of anger when it’s already there. I think I have to prevent the emotion from coming at all”

      Since youth I have felt these powerful emotions in my chest. When I came to realize they controlled me in those moments I made a vow to myself to control them. Over the years I have improved, but through much anxiety and self flagellation when I let myself down in this regard.

      In the past few months, as I have started to work with mindfulness, I have begun to realize that the emotions in my chest certainly include anger, but they also are so much more. I have always been so ashamed of the feeling that I never allowed myself to truly observe what was happening!

      One thing I keep reading when looking into mindfulness is the idea that no emotion is bad and that one should not try and stop oneself from feeling one way or another. This blows my mind and I am really struggling to get myself out of the “control” mindset and into an “observe and understand” mindset. I wonder, is there a place for both, control and observation? If so, how do we accomplish it?

      So much discovery, thank you for helping me along my own path to growth. Your insights and experiences have served as a great aid.

  3. Great, forthright post! I also appreciate the comments showing that emotions are experience differently by different people. Me too. My problem was that I was never angry. Well, I was actually angry often … you might even say perpetually … but I denied it so strongly that I actually couldn’t say what the emotion felt like! It took mindfulness over some years to get to the point where I could feel anger as it was happening and notice what it felt like. So I’m kind of grateful to feel anger when it arises, because that means I’m awake. What to do with it? Don’t act on it, or try to control it, but just observe how it feels (which you’re already doing, great!). Over time, you may notice some changes in frequency, intensity, etc. My favorite quote in that regard comes from Jon Kabat-Zinn: “You can’t control the waves, but you can learn to surf.” My favorite self-compassion comment (said with wry humor, if possible): “there I go being human again!”

    • Hi Kathy,

      Thank you very much for your kindness and support. I love the comment you shared from Kabat-Zinn and can assure you it’s gone straight in my reflective journal!

      I find your experience with feelings very intriguing because, while they are quite different from mine, I can connect with you. That connection brings insight, understanding and growth for me. So I’d like to thank you for opening up in that way.

      I have indeed noticed, even over a VERY short time, a momentous change (of which I can make a second assurance, it will be blogged about 😉


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