Sometimes observations aren’t so gentle. Sometimes observations invoke pain and discomfort. This is when our mindfulness practice goes to a deeper level.
When as a therapist I sit with a child in my office and see the damage an adult whom she trusted has done to her…. When I see my own children hurting after someone they trust has betrayed them… When I am forced to interact with someone who is malicious in their actions…When I see an animal that has been neglected and abused… It is very difficult to “just notice”, to gently observe without having emotion arise.
A good friend of mine called me recently to tell me about the tragic death of her 19 year old niece. Her experience sitting with the grieving mother was profound. Feelings of helplessness, and deep sadness of her own were overwhelming. Talking with her about this experience inspired me to consider how to explain the practice of mindfulness in such cases.
Mindfulness is not about being void of emotion. Mindfulness is about feeling fully and honestly and being present with the emotions in a way that is authentic. Mindfulness is about holding a space for ourselves and for others to feel without allowing the feelings to completely engulf us, hook us and lead the mind and body to react, to act out, to lash out, thrash about and gnash our teeth in ways that might be harmful to ourselves or others.
So, there is a gentle, fine line to be walked here. We observe some tragedy, some atrocity or some harm that comes to us or others. The observation triggers emotional reaction internally. The temptation is to burst forth in reaction to the wave of that emotion. This is where the practice comes into play.
In mindfulness practice, we must allow ourselves a physical space, a lot of room for breath, a softening of the body while we feel the emotion. Sometimes the body needs to move, tears need to flow and vocalization needs to occur in order to allow berth for the emotion to flow.
There must also be a time to return to neutral, not allow the thoughts to spin out wildly riding the wave of emotion. There is a place within us that is cultivated through regular practice we can return to. The internal nest we have feathered through regular meditation practice, yoga practice, mindfulness practice.
This process is a delicate balance of allowing what is to flow with a healthy dose of gentle discipline. There must be flow and there must be ebb. Feeling authentically while also returning to the internal nest, the center, the breath, the present moment is the key.
Lynn Louise Wonders
Thank you for these brief but very helpful insights. I have experienced much emotional engulfment/fusion most of my life, so it’s miraculous to be able to create a little inner space so that self-care, choice, and self-compassion can have some “root-room”.