Tag: mindfulness

Understanding Emotion with Mindfulness

Understanding Emotion with Mindfulness

With mindfulness practice, not only are we able to look at and understand our thoughts, but we can also similarly look at and understand our emotion. When we watch the arising of our emotion without judgment, we can learn a lot about how emotion arises and unfolds.  

Some people find that watching our thoughts is more challenging than watching our emotion. This is because thoughts are swift and fleeting. On the other hand, emotion is usually more intense and obvious. So, emotion becomes a useful window into understanding our inner world. 

The Origin of Emotion 

What gives rise to our emotion? Emotion arises with thoughts. These thoughts may be something that we are consciously aware of, or they may be just below our conscious radar, in our subconscious mind. When we observe these thoughts further, we learn that they are not just any thoughts. Specifically, they are thoughts of wanting – wanting things to be in a certain way. They are our desires.  

When we want things to be in a certain way, and we expect to get them in the way we want them, then we feel hopeful. On the other hand, when we want things to be in a certain way, and we expect not to get them in that way, we feel fearful and apprehensive.

So, both hope and fear are projections of future outcomes. 

It is said that hope is expecting what is desirable to happen, while fear is expecting what is undesirable to happen. Both are almost identical. The only difference is what you choose to focus on. When you focus on the positive, hope arises. When you focus on the negative, fear arises.

Types of Emotion 

We can group emotion into three categories – positive, negative and neutral. 

A positive emotion is what makes us feel good, pleasant and hopeful. A negative emotion makes us feel bad, unpleasant and fearful. Neutral emotion neither make us feel good nor bad. In general, we do not have a problem with positive or neutral emotion. Our problem is with our negative emotion. Thus, learning to understand and manage our negative emotion is essential to our well-being and happiness. 

The most fundamental of all negative emotion is fear. We can say that fear is the mother of all negative emotion. Fear manifests itself in a great variety of ways. It can give rise to small irritation and frustration. It can also give rise to anger and rage. It is the cause of our anxiety and worry, and our depression. It is the cause of our obsessions and compulsions.  

So, to manage our negative emotion well, we must learn and understand fear. We must be willing to face our fear, befriend it and be totally familiar with it. Only then can we do something about it. If we deny it, or hide it, or push it away, we will not be able to confront it and know it well. We will be denying ourselves a great opportunity for transformation and growth. 

Understanding Fear 

We are often told that fear is an acronym for “false evidence appearing real”. This is a simple, yet accurate description of fear. Why? Because fear is not real. Fear is an illusion. It is a creation of our own mind. This is not to say that danger is not real. Danger may be very real, but fear is still optional.  

Fear arises when we feel threatened – physically or psychologically, or both. When we sense a lack of safety or security, we feel fearful. That is why safety is one of the human needs listed by Abraham Maslow.  

Fear manifests itself in many ways. Fear is mind-made, so it manifests itself as unpleasant sensation of the mind. When it is mild, it may manifest as mild irritation or discomfort, frustration, or a lingering sense of unease. As fear grows, this sense of unease becomes more obvious and troubling. We may even direct it outward, putting the blame on an external person, thing or event. This may show up as anger, or in severe cases, rage or hatred.  

Unmitigated or uncontrolled fear is costly. Psychologically, it is painful and unpleasant.  

We often express fear in unhealthy ways, in the form of anger and hatred, thus damaging or even destroying important relationships and friendships. When we deny fear or suppress it, fear may be expressed physically in the form of physical discomfort, pain and even disease. Fear, or any negative emotion that is not expressed properly in a healthy way is toxic to the body and mind. So, it is important that we learn to express our negative emotion in healthier ways. 

Managing Negative Emotion 

The way to manage any negative emotion, including fear, is to first acknowledge its presence. Do not deny it.  

Denying it or avoiding it only makes it more difficult for us to resolve it. Running away from our problem is never a good solution. We may need to step back once in a while to give ourselves some space to recover or to regain our strength, but we can never avoid a problem indefinitely. At some point, we must find the courage to confront it. 

When we are faced with our negative emotion, there are two options for us. One option is to confront it as if we are going into a fight. Our adrenaline is flowing maximally, our muscles all tensed and ready for a fight. The other option, which is a better one, is to face the negative emotion with compassion. This means we do not go into the confrontation ready for a fight. Instead, we go in with an open mind, with a compassionate mind, with an attitude of learning and understanding the emotion. In this way, we become more relaxed, not tensed. We become more accepting and allowing.  

Often, this second option of facing negative emotion is itself very therapeutic and healing. It allows us to recognize and acknowledge the negative emotion, and to allow its expression. A lot of pent-up energy can be released in this way. 

Pent-up negative emotion needs an outlet, preferably one that is neither harmful to self, nor to others. One simple way to do this is journaling. Journaling offers us a few benefits. Firstly, when we write in a journal, we have time to reflect, analyze and understand our emotion better. Writing it down provides clarity. It is also a gentle way to release the pent-up energy.  

On the other hand, some people may prefer a more overt physical expression. This is especially true if we have pent-up anger or frustration. Some people find it useful to release their tension by doing physical exercises, such as running, boxing or other physically intensive sports. Others release this energy by punching a bag or screaming out loud in a controlled and often private environment. Yet others may benefit from attending workshops that are designed for this very purpose of releasing pent-up energy, guided by an experienced facilitator. 

Best Time

When is the best time to manage emotion? Well, the best time to manage emotion is before it arises, at the point when your thoughts arise. The next best time to manage your emotion is when it first arises, before it gathers momentum, and especially before it explodes out of control.

Let’s use an analogy of the river.

Imagine that you are in a paddle boat that is floating slowly in a calm river. Then you notice that the boat is picking up speed on its own. Now you begin to hear the roar of a waterfall up ahead. At this point, it is easy for you to divert the boat to the bank with your paddle. However, as the boat picks up speed, it becomes harder to do so, and you will reach a point of no return if you leave it too late to divert your boat. When that point is reached, you cannot avoid falling down the waterfall as the momentum of the boat is now too strong for you to fight against.

In the same way, our emotion is like the boat in the river. If we can note its arising early, we can easily manage it. We can change our thoughts, replacing them with something more positive or useful. We can also divert our attention to a different topic, situation, person or event. We can distract ourselves. In this way, we can diffuse our emotion.

If we leave it too late, we may reach a point of no return with our emotion. By then, the inevitable outcome is that the emotion will burst or explode out in the open for all to see. Often, this complicates an already difficult situation.

In this way, mindfulness is an essential and useful tool in managing our emotion as it allows us to be aware of the arising emotion as early as possible.

Summary 

In short, mindfulness is a great tool to help us understand our emotion. It allows us to observe, reflect and analyze our emotion, and to bring about an understanding of how our emotion arises and unfold. It helps us to face our fear, to befriend it and to finally be free of it. 

As Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Fearlessness is not only possible. It is the ultimate bliss.” 

Using Mindfulness for Personal Transformation

Using Mindfulness for Personal Transformation

What is mindfulness?  

According to Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, non-reactively, to the unfolding of our experience moment to moment. Mindfulness is done purposefully, with a conscious decision, to be aware of our present experience. It is also done non-judgmentally, non-reactively. This means we merely watch the unfolding of our experience. We do not add on to the unfolding experience with our habits of dramatization, exaggeration and fantasy.  

Dr. Gordon Coates in New Zealand has a simpler definition for mindfulness. To him, mindfulness is the constant, non-judgmental awareness of our body, feelings and thoughts. 

Two Layers of Reality

Mindfulness practice helps us to unclutter our mind. To be more specific, mindfulness helps us to unclutter the content of our mind.  

It helps us to see that there is a layer of reality that we are experiencing, and then, there is another layer of reality that we have added to the first layer. This second layer is the result of our mental habits, our conditioned mind. Our everyday mind has the habit of adding to the first layer of real experience through dramatizing and exaggeration – habits that come from our conditioned mind.  

The problem is that we get lost in the drama of our own creation without even being aware of our own role in creating it. With practice, as our mind watch purposefully and mindfully, we begin to see these two layers of reality. We begin to understand our own role in creating and maintaining these fantasies in our life. Our joy and our pain are all our own creation. 

What mindfulness is not

Mindfulness practice is not about the thoughts. It is not really about the content of your thinking. It is more useful to understand your own thinking process – how your thoughts come about, and more importantly, how you react to those thoughts. With enough practice, you will soon realize that you do not have to believe in those thoughts. And once you stop believing in them, they no longer hold any power over you.  

Mindfulness is also not about not thinking. We are not asking you to stop thinking. It is not necessary to do that. All you need to do is to train yourself to become more aware of your thoughts and your reactions towards them. Understanding and insights will come gradually.  

Mindfulness practice is not a mean to escape from reality. In fact, when done properly, you actually train yourself to see things as they really are – free from your own drama.  

Mindfulness is about attention and focus, but it is not just about attention. It is also about awareness.  

Mindfulness is not about getting rid of unpleasant thoughts and emotions. It is more about understanding your unpleasant thoughts and emotions, how they arise, and how you react to them. 

 Lastly, mindfulness is not Buddhism. It is not religious. It is a mental practice, a mental skill, that anyone can acquire, learn and master.  

Looking inward for personal change

So, with mindfulness practice, you learn to look inward to your own body, feelings and thoughts. You learn to be more aware of them in a way that is non-judging. You train yourself to merely watch them as they unfold in your experience. In this way, you are able to now differentiate facts from fictions that you have created. You learn to see things as they really are, and this leads to insights and self-understanding. 

As you learn to become more mindful, there will be some useful insights rising in your experience. You will realize that your mind can only focus on one thing at a time. This is an important insight. It means that if you can train yourself to focus only on the positive, you can free your mind, and therefore yourself, from the sufferings and pain that follow negative thoughts.  

You will also learn that whenever your mind wanders to the future or to the past, you can always bring it back to the present moment by focusing on your body, or body sensation. Why? Because your body is always in the present. It does not exist in the past or in the future. So, this is a neat trick to easily bring your mind back to the present moment.  

You will also observe that there are actually two types of feelings or sensation – one arising from the body, and another arising from our thoughts. Unpleasant, and even painful sensation from our body may be inevitable. However, mental suffering from our thoughts is optional, meaning that we do not really have to create that mental pain once we can master our thoughts. When we are unaware of this fact, we often have no choice but to suffer both physical as well as mental pain. Once we know this, however, we do have a choice. We can learn to endure or tolerate physical pain without dramatizing or exaggerating the pain with our thoughts – a habit we often inflict on ourselves without realizing.  

Common Mental Habits

The more we learn mindfulness, the more we begin to understand ourselves and our mental habits.  

For example, we realize that we pay too much attention to what is happening outside of us, and not paying enough attention to what is happening inside of us. And we learn that paying attention to what is happening inside of us offers us more insight and self-understanding.  

We also notice how we often personalize experiences, meaning we misinterpret experience to be about us even when they are not necessarily so.  

We also make a lot of assumptions and jump to conclusions without verifying the facts. We are often not able to differentiate facts from fictions we have created ourselves. Our mind also has the tendency to focus on the negative, rather than the positive, and is often judging, criticizing, belittling and blaming – ourselves and others.  

We make a lot of generalization that may not be true. Our mind has the tendency to proliferate, fantasize, dramatize and exaggerate things. It also has the habit of looking into the past or the future, rather than staying with the present moment.  

Mindfulness is a potent tool for personal transformation

So, we can see here that mindfulness is a potent tool for self-understanding. With mindfulness, we become more aware of our own mental habits and beliefs, many of which are no longer serving our present needs. This awareness allows us to change ourselves, our mental habits and our beliefs.  

We can also use our emotions as windows into our own inner processes. However, be aware that looking inward is a journey for the brave. It requires us to adopt the policy of being honest with ourselves. We must learn to accept 100% responsibility for our own life. Although this journey of personal transformation may be full of challenges and difficulties, it is still a journey worth taking as we are likely to come out stronger and better in the end.  

As Sun Tze used to say – Know thyself. Know thy enemies. In a thousand battles, win a thousand victories. In this case, the enemies that we need to confront is not outside of us. Rather, they are our own inner limiting beliefs and mental habits that are no longer serving us well.  

Mindfulness is therefore an essential tool for personal transformation. 

Living Skills: Mindfulness and Letting Go

Living Skills: Mindfulness and Letting Go

Living skills are skills that help you to live your life better. Unfortunately, living skills are often not taught or emphasized in schools. Thus, most people acquire living skills from the “school of hard knocks” – through experiences in life.

There are many living skills. Two of the most important and useful skills are mindfulness and letting go.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is effective in noting the arising of our thoughts and in recognising the contents of our thoughts and beliefs. It is particularly useful in changing the self limiting beliefs we have that is preventing us from unlimited possibilities. Since changing these unconscious self limiting beliefs requires that we first identify them, mindfulness plays a crucial role in this identification process.

When we are mindful of the thoughts and beliefs in our mind, we can then work on replacing limiting beliefs with wholesome and life-enhancing ones.

How can we increase our mindfulness? We can do that through meditation.

Meditation, when done on a regular basis, increases our mindfulness and allow us to gradually peel away layers upon layers of negative mental and emotional imprints, and creating rooms for new positive and life-enhancing beliefs and imprints. This process is often compared to peeling the layers of an onion. Some compared it to tending a garden.

Another way for us to identify our self limiting beliefs is through the Option Method, which was created and introduced in New York City around 1970 by Bruce DiMarsico.

Bruce had studied psychology and philosophy. Years later, while working as a psychotherapist and human relations consultant, he developed the Option Method as a self-help tool for people to become happier in their everyday lives. Option Method uses a series of questions to help you identify and clarify what exactly is bothering you. The questions that follow then expose the belief behind your emotion or bad feeling. As the questions open the door to your heart, your true feelings will become evident.

Letting Go

The ability to let go complements mindfulness. Mindfulness allows us to be aware of our negative thoughts, beliefs and feelings. With the awareness and insights we can then let go of them.

Since we spend almost every waking hours seeking, acquiring, grasping and clinging on to things, we have the tendency to resist letting go. In fact, most people find it extremely difficult to let go of anything and particularly of feelings and beliefs. This is because we have learned to identify our feelings and beliefs as ourselves. We think we are our feelings and beliefs. Thus we fight and struggle to keep these feelings and beliefs in an effort to preserve our SELF, regardless of whether they are useful or harmful to us.

One method of letting go is through mindfulness itself. When we are aware of our negative thoughts and feelings, which often hide in our subconscious mind, we can then decide to let them go. So mindfulness and letting go come hand-in-hand.

Another method of letting go unwanted feelings is to actually allow ourselves to feel the negative feelings, and then ask ourselves three important questions:

1. Could I let it go?
2. Would I let it go?
3. When?

The answer to the first question is always a “Yes”. We can always let go of anything, even long standing and major mental and emotional imprints.

The second question is more personal. “Would I let it go?” is intended to give yourself the permission to let it go. For some people, it may take a while to give a “Yes” answer to this question. It is perfectly alright. In fact, this step cannot be rushed so take your time. You need to convince yourself (and no one else) and when you are ready and willing, then say “yes” to it. In some cases, going through and completing the forgiveness process is essential to finally allow yourself to let go.

The last question, “When?” gives you a time frame. The best time is of course “NOW” but this again depends on whether you are mentally and emotionally ready to let go. It is perfectly alright to choose a time that is most appropriate for you.

This method that I have just described was created by Lester Levenson.

How to speak mindfully

How to speak mindfully

words

There are two components to communication. There is the speaker and there is the listener. So when we talked about mindfulness in communication, we must remember that mindful listening is equally important, not just mindful speaking. Since we have covered mindful listening in a previous post, today we will cover mindful speaking.

Just like mindful listening, when we talk mindfully, we should start by dropping whatever it is we are doing and just focused on what we want to say. Again, it is important to establish good eye contact with the listener.

In addition to these two points, here are a few extra tips to speaking mindfully.

1. Clear your head of all assumptions

It is always a good idea to clarify what the listener already knows instead of making assumptions that he already knows it. Then it becomes easier to tailor your speech to what is relevant to him. Likewise, the listener should also make it a habit to verify and clarify any points he is unsure about. Making unnecessary assumptions can lead to misunderstanding.

2. Before you speak, pass it through the Triple Filters test

Whenever we communicate something, it is important to reflect first before we say it. The Triple Filters test, attributed to the wisdom of Socrates, is a good way to reflect on what you want to say. The first filter is TRUTH. Is what you say true? If it is not, do not say it. Even if it is true, we then need to filter it at the next level.

The second filter is GOODNESS. Ask yourself, is it beneficial to the listener? Will it do him good, or otherwise? If it will not benefit him, or may even harm him, what would be the wisdom of saying it to him? On the other hand, if it is true and good, then we pass it through the third and final filter.

The third filter is APPROPRIATENESS. For appropriateness, we need to look at whether it is appropriate in time, in place and in person. Is it the right time to say it? Is this the right place for it? Are you the right person to say it, or is this the right person to say it to?

Passing your speech through this Triple Filters test will make sure that your motive for speaking is good and not due to some hidden selfish agenda.

3. As you are speaking, be mindful of a few things

The first thing to be mindful of when you speak is to notice whether the words you choose are appropriate and accurately send the message you intended. Next, watch the tone of your voice. Is it friendly and warm, or hostile? Is there any hint of criticism or judgment? Be mindful also of your body language, gestures and postures. Remember that a warm friendly speech is always more welcoming than a harsh speech, and the listener is more likely to be receptive to it.

It may be difficult to be mindful of all the above when we first practice mindfulness in speaking, but as with all skills, with constant practice it will become easier. Once you have become good at it, you will notice the transformation in your relationships with others in a positive way.

Thoughts and Happiness

Thoughts and Happiness

The principle for happiness is surprisingly simple to understand, yet difficult to attain. Just as when a sage was asked by a king about the guide to happiness, the sage explained that happiness can be achieved simply by abandoning evils, doing good and purifying the mind, whereupon the king exclaimed, “This is so simple that even an eight year old can understand it”. “However,” said the sage, “even an eighty year old man cannot practice it well”.

This is not to say that happiness cannot be attained. It can be, but only with proper cultivation of the mind – and herein lies the challenge. It is simply not enough to abandon evils and do good, without cultivating the mind, for the cause of your happiness is your thoughts, as illustrated in the diagram below.

thought-feeling-actionIn fact, the cause of all your emotions – both happy and sad – is your thoughts. Like it or not, you have to gain mastery over your thoughts in order to gain the happiness you seek.

 

Seek First to Understand How Your Mind Works

Understanding how your mind works is crucial to mental cultivation. To understand how your mind works, you need to be able to look within your mind and be aware of all the thoughts that arise. This means you will need to be mindful of your thoughts and feelings.

  1. Mindfulness is an indispensible tool for self understanding. So, start training yourself to become more mindful – meaning to become more aware of your body, feelings and thoughts, and watching them in a non-judgmental or impersonal way. As you watch your body, feelings and thoughts, see how they affect each other. Examine their relationships with one another.
  1. Satisfy yourself with the accuracy of the observation that your thoughts affect your feelings, which in turn move you into actions (as shown in the earlier diagram). See how every positive emotion is preceded by a positive thought, and how this is true also with negative thought and emotion.
  1. Notice also that although external objects (people, things or events) may trigger an old memory or mental habit, it is your present state of mind that determines whether they may affect you in a particular way or not. This is called conscious living or living in the present moment. In karmic lingo, it is said that what you experienced outwardly is old karma, and how you experienced them inwardly is new karma. In short, you must recognize that while you cannot control what is outside, you can be in full control of what is inside – your thoughts. This insight puts you totally in charge and fully responsible for your own happiness (or sufferings).
  1. Recognize also this very important principle – what you feed becomes stronger, what you starve becomes weaker. This principle is what you will use to strengthen wholesome mental habits and weaken unwholesome mental habits. How do you feed your mind? You feed it by choosing what to focus on. Focus on what is wholesome, such as unconditional love, kindness, generosity, compassion, altruism, fair play. Discard what is unwholesome, such as fear, worries, anxiety, habitual speculation or making assumptions. It is important to recognize negative mental habits and remove or replace them with positive habits.

 

Some Observations about Thoughts

After you have examined your thoughts for a while, you will start to realize some things about your thoughts.

  1. Your thoughts come and go according to certain causes and conditions. Specifically, thoughts are triggered by association between what you are in contact with now (people, things and events) and your past memories or experiences about them. From there, it proliferates according to your mental habits. Thus, the state of your mind when the impression or contact is made can greatly influence the outcome of your present experience.
  1. Thoughts are NOT created equal. Some thoughts are more important and useful to you than others. However, you have the habit of treating all thoughts with the same urgency and importance, giving them equal weightage and attention. You need to change this habit.
  1. In the ultimate sense, thoughts are empty of any intrinsic values except what you give to them. Thoughts are simply thoughts. They become real only when you believe in them.
  1. There is no one to own the thoughts. They simply appear when certain causes and conditions are met. You personalize your thoughts and everything else in your life when you claim ownership over them.

 

What does it mean to take full responsibility for your life?

What does it mean to take full responsibility for your life?

When you said that you are taking full responsibility for your life, it must not be said only as lip service. Instead, it must come with a real change in mindset. A person who takes full responsibility for his life has a certain attitude towards living his life.

He understands that everything that he experiences is a result of his own thoughts and manifestations. He understands how his thoughts create his experiences. He also understands that how he experiences his life depends on his perspective, or how he sees things.

Thus, his own state of mind – whether happy or sad, good or bad – depends only on himself, on how he manages his mind. He sees the importance of having a greater degree of mastery over his mind. He sees the need to work with his mind.

He begins by discarding any old mental habits of criticizing and judging others, or even the tendency to do so. He then applies it on himself as well, meaning that he also stops criticizing and judging himself.

He realizes the importance of looking within to further understand himself better. Therefore, he learns to be mindful, to be more aware of his thoughts and feelings. He observes how his mind works, without judging it. He simply witnesses the unfolding of his thoughts and feelings as they occur, fully accepting them, embracing them. He drops all resistance, all fears through understanding and through confidence in the benevolence of the universe.

He understands that his present experience is the results of his past thoughts and mental habits. He realizes also that how he responds to his present reality becomes the seed for his future experiences. Thus, he consciously chooses his responses, thereby changing his present and future experiences.

This act of conscious choosing gives him a greater degree of mastery and control over the outcomes of his life. It is indeed empowering to know that one has the ability to determine one’s own destiny.

This is in sharp contrast to one who is unaware of all this, and simply reacts to events through his conditioned mind, out of old mental habits. Life seems out of his personal control for one like this.

He who takes full responsibility for his life also knows that he is fully accountable for his decisions and choices, and he takes on that responsibility knowingly and willingly. This takes courage and honesty.

One who takes full responsibility for his life is one with such a mindset. With the absence of judging, with greater understanding and acceptance through mindfulness, he begins to experience a new and transformed life – one with greater peace of mind and contentment.

Mindfulness: A Powerful Transformation Tool

Mindfulness: A Powerful Transformation Tool

The word “mindfulness” is often used in association with meditation, and in particular with Buddhist meditation. Mindfulness in this sense is not simply awareness. It refers to a particular quality of awareness.

We already have awareness in our daily life. After all, we do not go through life in a coma. We know that we are aware of many things. For example, we are aware when we cross the road. We are aware when we eat or watch a movie or play a game. So what is the difference between this form of awareness and mindfulness?

There are two important qualities in mindfulness. The first is knowing, which is also present in our everyday awareness. However, it is the second quality of non-judging and accepting it as it is that makes mindfulness different from our everyday awareness. And this is an extremely important difference.

When our everyday awareness knows something, it immediately or habitually analyzes it, evaluating it, judging it. Then it decides whether it is something it likes or dislikes, and it reacts accordingly. What it is attracted to, it wants more of it. What it is averse to, it wants to run away from it, hide it, bury it or ignore it. So, in this sense, our everyday mind is constantly doing something or looking for something to do. This has become such a powerful habit that the everyday mind actually finds it difficult to “not-do” anything.

Mindfulness, on the other hand, is non-judging, accepting and allowing. It does not personalize the experience. When we practice this form of awareness in our daily lives, we will soon see a difference in the quality of our lives. Life becomes less of a struggle, more joyful and peaceful. Stillness of the mind actually becomes possible. Fear gradually diminishes and loses its power over us.

To quote Thich Nhat Hanh, “Fearlessness is not only possible, it is the ultimate joy”.