October 19, 2017

How Mindfulness Rescues Us (If we Let It) when we Almost Lose it.


I don’t get fazed easily.

Worrying is not my habit, and anxiety is not in my book. Being single and without children, I live a stress-free life in a remote place.

Over the years, I have slowly made headway on the path of patience, acceptance, and being non-judgmental. I understand perfectly that circumstances and other people can never be blamed for my unhappiness. I am known for my equanimity and permanent smile.

Yet, yesterday, I found myself on the verge of an anxiety attack. I was about to cry hysterically and yell at people, and at the same time, wanted to run away in panic, fleeing from the overwhelming situation that I found myself in. I was freaking out.

“All systems overloaded” would be an accurate description, the resulting explosion or implosion soon to come. I was about to lose it in every possible way.

Then I caught myself—or rather, mindfulness caught me before I went over the edge.

Most days, my mindfulness practice is a fun practice, an almost continuous game in which I focus on the details of each moment, see the beauty of everything, and make all ordinary moments more intense. In return, I am offered a state of peace and equanimity. Walking around with a beatific smile on my face is great, but doesn’t really seem to have more purpose than making me feel good.

But yesterday, mindfulness came to the rescue. All of a sudden, it was my magic sword to fight off hysteria, to slay anxiety, to conquer my fear. I was utterly grateful to have a mindfulness practice.

How did that work?

The situation that had upset me so much seemed purely circumstantial, which always makes it too easy to start blaming others for our discomfort. Most of us would lose it when, at 7:45 a.m., a big diesel generator would start roaring and belching fumes into our little beach house from the back, while at the front doorstep, two screeching power tools were planing boards non-stop.

It’s one thing if all that noise and mess and stink is for renovations on our own property, but when it is for the neighbour’s, our patience, acceptance, and surrender might run short, especially when we’ve had already a rough week of unexpected personal set-backs and physical exhaustion.

And then, on top of it all, we realise that this is a two-month-long project.

Would you have lost it there? I certainly almost did.

But mindfulness stopped me from getting hooked by the upsetting situation. It made me take a deep breath (or 10) and step back, so that I was able to see what was really happening.

Mindfulness makes us the observer of ourselves, helping us to notice the fight-or-flight reaction about to kick in; mindfulness is the calm voice in our head that tells us to take a time out to regroup and recoup.

And so, I did.

When we’re upset, we’re out of balance—we’re beside ourselves. When we’ve been pulled into an upsetting situation, and we want to calm down, we need to come back to ourselves and find our balance again. Until we are calm and centered, we will struggle to find solutions.

Here are a few things that can help us recoup:

>> Prepare ourselves some nourishing food or drink—the healthy kind.

Eating and drinking equals comfort for most of us, and when we choose the healthy options, it becomes an act of self-love—of soothing and taking care of ourselves. I made a colourful bowl of fresh fruits, poured myself a cup of fragrant jasmine green tea, and took that to a quiet place, away from the mayhem.

>> Listening to some relaxing music or just the sounds of nature, while we do some deep breathing, can help us find our peace of mind as well.

For me, the sound of the waves, the birds, and the wind rustling in the trees is my soothing tune of choice.

>> Write morning pages.

Writing morning pages can help us calm the mind (get the sh*t out), see things more clearly, and come to terms with whatever it is that’s been upsetting us. I took my morning pages to a beautiful spot nearby, where I could hear the waves again, instead of the power tools, and wrote it all out of my head. Writing can be like a brain-purge. A friend recently called her morning pages “yoga with a pen.”

>> Some exercise, like yoga, a walk, or a swim can help us to get out of our head.

It also increases the feel-good hormones in our brain, which we need when we’re so upset. Borrowing my neighbour’s deck (they are on vacation), I had a lovely, slow, long yoga session. By stretching my body, I was stretching my mind as well—preparing it to find solutions for the two-month pickle I had just found myself launched into. Relaxing in savasana at the end, I allowed myself to doze off.

Yes, I allowed myself several hours to recover from that crisis. It was what I needed, and I gave it to myself.

When I finally felt calm again, both physically and emotionally, I sat with the remnants of those upset feelings for a while longer, observing them and allowing them to dissolve completely. I learned several things in that moment.

First of all, I realised that it wasn’t circumstances that made me lose it. I had not been writing for almost a week and had been looking forward to a nice, long creative session that morning, when the screeching power-planers shattered those expectations.

We get upset when things aren’t going the way we planned.

And, knowing that the construction was going to go on for two months, I realised that I was going to have things not go the way I planned for much longer—which was, of course, an upsetting prospect: out of my comfort zone for two months straight, ouch! That’s guaranteed to cause most of us fear.

I was upset too, because I had been postponing so many things until the slow months of October and November. In the moment that the horrible cacophony started, it immediately hit me that this would continue until the end of November. I knew the construction was scheduled for these months, but I had totally failed to take that into account when making my plans.

In that moment, I was mad at myself for procrastinating so much and for being in denial about having to deal with two months of construction going on at my doorstep. I was mad at myself for being unprepared, for having underestimated the impact of the project, and for letting myself be overwhelmed by the unpleasant surprise.

What probably pushed me to the edge was the thought that I could not be in my own house with those fumes blowing through. I had immediately fallen for the easy temptation of victimising and pitying myself. Poor me, banned from my house like a proper refugee. Looking back now, I laugh at myself that I even came up with that! Such a counter-productive reaction.

When we (almost) lose it, it is often because of our own expectations, our own procrastination, our own bad planning, mistakes, fear, unpreparedness, or self-pity. We have created and are the owners of the uncomfortable situation, but we yell at innocent people, blaming them for it all, and then run away crying hysterically because it’s all their fault.

I’m so glad mindfulness caught me.

The best part is that since it was all my own doing, I can also resolve it on my own.

I cannot change anything about the construction situation that will continue for about two months. That work just needs to be done. But I can change my plans, my routines, my expectations, and my mindset about noise and other disturbances.

Knowing that I cannot have a quiet moment at home between 7:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. for the next two months, I just have to work around that, don’t I?

Getting up at 4:00 a.m. and sitting down first thing in the morning to write will be a great opportunity to really get that daily writing habit down. My firmly established morning routines that have always come first will have to be shuffled around and get their turn only after I’ve gotten the daily writing out of the way.

My writing has to be done at home in peace and quiet, but I can take meditation and yoga anywhere, and I will find a spot to do that. And my hammock and a good book can also be carried to quieter spots. My deck is just conveniently close.

In fact, it will be refreshing to break some fixed habits and see how it all works when done in a different order and in a different place. I’m clearing my cobwebs! Getting out of my rut!

Being forced out of the house, I can actually get a lot of much-needed yard work done, plus the maintenance on my yoga studio was planned for these months anyway. The neighboring construction crew will have screeching planers going, so I’ll add to the tune with my power-sander and my hammering. We’ll make noise in harmony.

I realize now how thankful I am that mindfulness is helping me change my mind about this whole situation.

In our daily lives, most situations upset us only because we choose to experience upheaval; we choose to look at causes outside of ourselves for our discomfort. We choose to think that others are bothering us, and we choose to feel resistance to what is.

But once we realise that it is us, our perception, and our lack of perspective that makes the situation bad, we can let go of our resistance, change our perspective, and look at things in a less upsetting way.


Author: Leontien Reedijk
Image: apocalypsefictions/Flickr
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis

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