Wow! I’ve just really been noticing a lot lately. But when I say notice, I’m speaking about mindful noticing. So that means mostly noticing how present moment experiences land in my body with sensation, emotions, and thoughts.
I must say it’s been extremely uncomfortable. For me November triggers memories of a childhood tragedy. A friend of my passed away a week ago. My youngest moved out on his own. Add to that the volatile and uncertain nature of the recent election and actually, uncomfortable is an understatement.
Sometimes just noticing how our bodies and minds are being affected by an experience is not enough, even when it’s done with kindness. Sometimes feelings and sensations from experience can be overwhelming. And if we are in a fragile, or open state of heart and mind, we can become consumed and even cause more suffering for ourselves.
I want to offer a mindfulness strategy that may be of help if you find yourself in this situation.
- First notice that you are open and vulnerable. Sometimes that’s the hardest thing to do because the mind wants to protect you from it. And it may begin protective measures such as denial, anger, shutting down. NONE OF THIS IS WRONG! This is your nervous system’s way of protecting you. It’s telling you that you are overwhelmed. So it’s wise to see these coping mechanisms as a possible cry for help. Pay attention to them.
- If and when you notice this cry then SOOTHE. What is soothing exactly? Well what is it to you? Music, walks, baths, crafts, massage, crying, being with friends, nurturing food, going in nature, cat videos, hugging yourself, a day off. During a sit, soothing can be noticing your anchor (your breath, the sensation of being supported by your seat, sounds, etc.). I can’t overstate the importance of this! This is not being a baby or a woos. This is skillful self care. Do some soothing. And very importantly, feel how the soothing is experienced in the body. Notice if and how the body is responding to the soothe. Pay attention because it may be very subtle. This is important. You want your system to register this nurturing effect. It’s called soaking in the good. It counteracts the overwhelm effects on your body. But what soothing is not, is reading all the inciting posts that the social networks and media have to offer. That is a distraction, again, one that is trying to protect you, but one that is not addressing your overwhelm. It’s not bad, it’s just not helpful. Please care for yourself in gentle ways. And know that you are caring for yourself.
- When you feel soothed and stronger, then you can mindfully tap into the vulnerable, difficult feelings that you are experiencing. Remember to try and feel them in your body. Note the difference between how they feel in your body and the thoughts that come with them. Do this only to the extent that you can. It could be a few seconds or a couple of minutes. If you find yourself getting overloaded come back to the feeling of soothing. Do this as many times as needed. You can do this during your formal sit or during your daily routine. Little by little, you are caring for yourself by allowing the feelings to come up and by not allowing yourself to be overwhelmed by them. In this way they can move through and out of your system.
There will be time for action, political or otherwise. But this time comes after you’ve stabilized your nervous system. That way the actions you take will be responses instead of reactions. They will have originated from in a mindful body and heart. They will be thought out and caring.
I invite you to try these tips with an open mind and gentle heart toward yourself and all who may be feeling scared and overwhelmed. Be well.