A Greater Sense Of Freedom
By Jim Pescud
I was catching the lift up to the office, I pushed the floor number button and stood facing the door. I thought, ‘how many times have I done that?’ It got me thinking about how we operate in such an automatic way, through most of our day, most of our life. We tend to operate within the square, rarely stepping out to question our behaviour, let alone do things differently.
This of course applies to our responses to situations which we find upsetting. Someone says or does something we find upsetting and we are immediately on a conveyer belt, being pulled along by particular thoughts, feelings and behaviours, which come fairly automatically, and seem to be an appropriate fit to the upsetting situation at hand. But we don’t have to operate like that. It is simply habit and cultural norms playing themselves out, and blinkering our perception at the same time.
What would happen if next time someone cuts us off in the traffic, or pushes in front of us in the bus queue, or yells at us – whatever the upsetting situation may be – what if we just smiled within ourselves, and let go of the usual reactive way of dealing with things? You might think that this is impossible, and anyway, this ‘rude’ person deserves a verbal ticking off. Well first of all, it is possible to do, and the sooner we get out of the emotional straight- jacket of thinking that people deserve this or that (and this includes ourselves), the calmer life will become. Note that I’m talking about our emotional response here. If something needs to be said or done to rectify a situation, then go ahead and do it. But I’m referring here to the collateral damage done to ourselves when we include our emotional reactivity, our righteous indignation, hate, anger and so on. It’s like picking up a red hot stone to throw at someone. You not only hurt the other person, you also hurt yourself in the process.
So how can we manage to do this, how can we make life a little more peaceful?
The problem is the ‘story’ in our head, the story we tell ourselves about what has happened. We tell ourselves how they shouldn’t have done or said X, how unjust it all is and so on. We need to drop this story, not enter into it.
Focus your attention into your body. Feel where in your body you are reacting with strong emotions. This could be a tightness in the stomach, tension in the neck and shoulders, a screwed up face, any and all of these and possibly many more physical reactions. Let go of the story and open to the physical sensations in the body. You aren’t feeling into your body as a way of making these sensations go away, you’re simply allowing them space, but without feeding them more fuel to burn from your emotionally driven thoughts.
After a while of doing this mindful practice, you may be able to start catching yourself reacting at a very early stage of the process, and this can be quite a pleasant surprise.
A few weeks ago I was cut off by a driver and my arms flew up in the air in exasperation. As I saw my arms come up it alerted me to what I was doing. I let them gently fall back onto the steering wheel. I felt so good at having caught myself, a smile came on my face and I mentally thanked the driver in front for giving me the opportunity to be mindful, to be consciously responsive, rather than unconsciously reactive. Instead of feeling a sense of rage for the rest of my journey, I felt a sense of freedom.
Dealing with upsets in a different and less reactive manner is great and it reduces our stress levels. However there is more to this way of operating and perceiving. How about all the other times through the day when we are not upset? Can we allow these times to be less tightly scripted, less habitual?
Maybe we can start playing a game with ourselves, allowing the potential of any situation to arise without jumping in and closing it down with our usual thoughts and behaviours. To do this we need to allow space to be there – allow things to just be, and to relax.
This can be difficult. We have very strong ingrained habits established through years of conditioning. We need to be practicing mindfulness as much as we can, then we can be aware of what we are doing. We can step back and see what is happening, and make conscious (as opposed to unconscious) choices about how we think and act.
When we come from a mindful state of mind, life becomes richer, options become more accessible, and believe it or not, our heart opens out in a kinder way to others in the world. We see that all of us are caught in our narrow habitual conditioning. When we see our conditioned habits playing out in ourselves, and also in others, we are less inclined to blame and be angry. There seems to be more space in our life, and this space has a quality of softness, kindness and freedom.
Try it and see!
ARTICLE - A Greater Sense Of Freedom
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