Our thoughts arise like waves in the ocean and are constantly in flux. Our psychic landscape changes from moment to moment. Thoughts reverberate as emotions, sensations, impulses, and other stimuli.
Often we push away our emotions choosing to avoid discomfort or pain. This makes total sense: why focus on something that is unpleasant or difficult?
Rather than focus on the feeling, we can put our attention on the awareness that underlies it.
Slowing down to watch the breath, and staying neutral as we attend to our thoughts/emotions/sensations, provides us with the reference point of awareness. Like water which can change from liquid to solid or gas but remains water, awareness never loses its essence.
When we react to an experience, we can get caught up and identified with what’s arising. If our experience is positive, we feel elated but when we’re having a hard time, reactivity can take us into a downward spiral.
The rationale for being mindful is that witnessing without reacting ultimately gives us freedom. Freedom from pain, paradoxically, actually occurs when we don’t avoid it, but slow down, and allow ourselves to feel what is in a mindful way.
Going slow is not just physically slowing down, it’s being kind and patient with ourselves. As we cultivate the ability to pause, we can resist knee jerk reactions that would have us rush to please others, or become defensive.
Triggers challenge our ability to pause, and refrain from reactive outbursts. A trigger is emotionally charged, and is usually associated with a developmental wound that shows up in negative beliefs about ourselves. Beliefs such as “I’m no good”, “No one is here for me”, and “I don’t deserve love” are painful, and when hidden can perpetuate negative cycles.
The experience of being triggered is often accompanied by a physical response such as tightening, hardening, and either speeding up or slowing down as one prepares to either defend or withdraw.
In this reaction mode it’s easy to blame others.
Here’s an example…
A woman asks her sister for help her with child care. Her sister, feeling overwhelmed with her own situation, and wanting to help but feeling unable to, responds in an abrupt tone. Part of her wants to say yes, even feels that she should say yes, but she really needs to say, “no” so what comes out is delivered in a defensive tone.
Her sister, triggered by the belief, “No one’s there for me”, feels angry. Her body hardens, her movement quickens but underneath her reaction is sadness, and she withdraws.
Instead of getting recruited into her angry reaction, she can choose to soften into the anger which over time may give her insight into the sadness underneath it.
Something entirely different could transpire if the two sisters could step outside their reactions, recognize the vulnerability that underlies it, and communicate with each other in a mindful way.
For this to happen both of them need to pause, slow down and communicate without judging and criticizing, which will reduce defensiveness, and enhance their capacity to listen in a meaningful way.
When we slow down, and give our experience permission to be what it is, we develop compassion for ourselves and for others. People can influence how we feel but when reactivity takes over, we are ruled by our triggers. Mindfulness practice allows us to be present with difficult feelings. It helps us to build neural pathways that privilege awareness, provide freedom from pain, and allow us to enjoy more joyful and fulfilling lives.
Tara Brach’s web site, rich source of resources for emotional healing and spiritual awakening through mindfulness