Gaining Power Through Mindfulness: Thoughts, Feelings and Actions
“What worries you masters you.”
– Beam, “Ten Mindful Quotes…”
Aaron Sherman, long-term partner in the Pages program and teacher at ACPA, asked me a few months ago to visit his class, creatively themed around power. He wanted me to present/co-teach a lesson on gaining power through mindfulness over various aspects of one’s life.
We explored this topic in three different areas:
Power over thinking– In this part of the two-day lesson we explored how focused attention practice, such as focusing on the breath, can allow students to get distance from their thoughts enough to decide with which thoughts they would like to engage.
Power over feeling– In this part of the lesson, we focused on practices for dealing with negative emotions due to overwhelming stress via heart-focused breathing meditation.
Power over actions– in the final section of the lesson, we focused on how loving-kindness meditation can be used to feel more compassion and connection for others
Part I: Power Over Thinking
Our thoughts are unstoppable; this is the nature of the mind. However, becoming aware of how our thoughts influence us, whether they are true or not, is a step toward eliminating the “false stories” about ourselves and others with which we all engage.
Focused attention meditation helps to reveal the nature of thoughts because we are able to see how we can bring ourselves back to the breath over and over, creating space to examine whether those thoughts are worth following to their sometimes illogical conclusions.
Part II: Power Over Feeling
Feelings, like thoughts, are unstoppable. They are also many times helpful physiological reactions that allow us to examine our intuitions. However, at times, our feelings become detrimental, especially when they revolve around future or past events that cannot be controlled. It is easy, when thinking about a conversation that went badly or pondering a future circumstance that may or may not happen, for feelings to become overwhelming and less than helpful to appropriate action.
In these moments, heart-breathing is a meditation strategy that can be used as an intervention. It contributes to calm and peace so that one can get a little breathing room. One thing I like about this strategy is that it can be done anywhere one happens to be and no one else has to even be aware that it is happening.
Part III: Power Over Actions
One of the best results of being more mindful, in my opinion, is how it changes my interactions with other people and my ability to connect and understand the circumstances others might be facing. Loving-kindness meditation is this same benefit strengthened.
In a loving-kindness meditation, one goes through phases of wishing different people well- beginning with ourselves, then a loved one, then a stranger, then someone with whom we struggle, and then the whole world.
This is especially helpful in circumstances where it is easy to attribute negative characteristics to those who are “doing us wrong.” I get cut off in traffic and think, “What a jerk! Can’t he/she see I have kids in the car!” Then I remember that I maybe did the same thing only a few weeks ago on accident (or when I was running late to an appointment and was in a panic) and I can be more forgiving.
It is based around this concept: we all wish for the same things: health, happiness, and wholeness. We all avoid the same things: pain and discomfort. When we understand this it is easier to forgive and be compassionate.
These ideas and tools are helpful for students, and they are also helpful for people in general. Aaron’s students reacted well to the ideas and to the lesson. He told me that some of his students are practicing these strategies on their own now.
What do you do when you are feeling overwhelmed by thoughts, feelings, circumstances? Are these strategies helpful or harmful?
I’d love to hear from you. Please participate in the conversation by leaving your comments in this post.