The one underlying theme I’ve read and noticed across all people engaged in the practice of mindfulness is that it’s not a “state” that one arrives at. It’s an ongoing back and forth; the more modern parts of our brain are built for a good reason–think about what lies ahead and think about how to learn about the past. This is useful until…it’s not. Even the most experienced practitioners work hard to maintain thoughtful mindfulness and catch themselves being “hooked” (as Pema Chödrön might say) into old/unproductive patterns of behavior.
Converting an Annoyed/Annoying Bad Mood…
Yesterday I’d had a bit of a rough day and was generally grumpy. I was told by my lovely partner in life that I needed to head out into the dark, cold Vermont night and take care of x, y, and z for our teenage daughter because she’d forgotten a few things. The tasks weren’t herculean, but I was “settled in” for the evening and I didn’t particularly want to engage in or take care of tasks that I thought my daughter was fully capable of handling on her own. Did I mention that it was cold (tends to be here in Vermont in December!) and I wanted nothing more than to curl up and relax with my wife. I let it be known that I was none to pleased with the turn of events. My wife could tell I was unhappy with the state of affairs, and it felt as I’d created a cloud of annoyance and bloody mindedness that encompassed our entire living space. I’d seen this person before–tired, grumpy, a little self-obsessed, and clearly annoyed. I knew him well (as did my patient wife). I saw what “he” was up to and decided to do something about it.
…into a Mindful Good Mood.
So, ultimately, it was a decision: continue to dwell on the negative and indulge in angst, stress, and annoyance, or, in real-time, derail this train of thought that was doing no one any good (except perhaps my slyly smiling, patiently awaiting amygdala–!). I stopped myself with a mindful, thoughtful re-ordering of the importance of what was happening in the now. No longer was I being “tasked” to do some things I didn’t feel like doing, instead I was enabling my daughter to do some pretty productive things with her life. Rather than do the backstroke in an Olympic-sized pool of self-pity and whining, I realized that I wanted to actually do something nice for someone else (and for my wife, who was exhausted). Instead of focusing on my needs (which weren’t really needs, they were more “annoyances” than needs–it’s easy to redefine things though, especially in the moment).
That, it turns out, did the the trick. Just doing something nice for someone else when you’re feeling encumbered is a wonderful way to turn things around…
I gathered the materials I needed to deliver x, y, and z, and once I had realized how to feel about these tasks, I was changed. I was happy. I was grateful to be helping, to be giving–even these minor things. I felt a wave of grace and calm descend over me like a warm shower and, magically, I was no longer peeved. I was mindfully engaged and happy to help the people I love so much. And all it took was a few seconds of focusing on what was important. Of looking at what was really happening and not worry about it or fussing about it. Liberating. Not only was I being compassionate to those around me, I was being compassionate to myself. Angst, stress, frustration–none of these feelings were doing anyone any good. But I wasn’t just punishing others, I was punishing myself. Interesting how that works, but that is, in fact, how it works. At least for me (your results may vary!) I didn’t just feel better, I started to feel great. I was even smiling as I pulled out of the driveway, knowing what I’d just done. I’d taken some rusty, old neural wiring and twisted it a bit to change it’s polarity. If I had to translate my feeling into music, here’s what it’d sound like:
And that’s all it took: doing a mindful practice on a daily basis (I prefer calming guided meditations by Meditation Oasis, personally) helped me challenged old behaviors and turn them around. Stepping outside of my annoyance and into a state of grace. Simply. Quietly. Without drama. I had a choice. So you do you. In fact, we all have hundreds of choices in our everyday “decision trees,” about how we should feel. Here’s the way I see what happens during these decision events. Let me know if you recognize anyone you know!
The Decision Is Yours
Yours in Mental Hygiene,
The Ancient Brain and Modern Mindfulness