Several days ago, my mom seemed bent on picking a fight with me.
As she stood in my doorway, I looked at her and realized that I was simultaneously experiencing multiple thoughts and emotions. I was perplexed about how my picking up three cigarettes off of the stairs could have elicited her reaction. I was thinking about all of the mean things I wanted to say to her in response. And, I was feeling the physical heat of irritation rising inside of me.
I willed myself to stay quiet.
I stared at her silently until she closed my door and walked down the stairs.
I didn’t say anything, because, although I felt totally justified in my thoughts, I also knew that any words I would have spoken would have been used with the sole purpose of causing her pain. In that moment, there was a part of me that wanted to make her feel bad and I knew precisely how I could do it.
But, I remained silent. I refrained from talking because I knew that I would have regretted anything I would have said approximately 0.3 seconds after the words left my mouth. And also, because I knew that the reasons for her behavior had nothing to do with me and everything to do with frustrations she was feeling due to situation unrelated to me.
I finished changing into my running clothes, while muttering to myself all of the things I wanted so desperately to say to her but wouldn’t. I was also stuck feeling the incredibly uncomfortable, unsatisfying sensations of unreleased anger that were percolating throughout my body.
It was definitely not an enjoyable experience, but it is one I’ve grown accustomed to dealing with. I have been practicing mindfulness for years, so I am used to observing undesirable emotions.
Mindfulness can, at times, feel wildly unsatisfying, because it forces us to hold back from unleashing frustrations in ways that would be imminently relieving—(it feels good to get anger out of our system)—because we know we’ll feel worse if we say something we will later regret.
The practice of mindfulness creates the pause that allows us to intentionally choose how to act. We train ourselves to refrain from giving into our immediate, knee-jerk impulses.
This is a positive, of course, because we find ourselves having far fewer interactions we must lament, but it doesn’t always feel particularly satisfying in the moment.
We still feel all of the anger or irritation, but we stay with it. We feel it.
The emotions and sensations don’t just disappear because we refuse to act on them. In fact, they almost seem to intensify, because we are so totally aware of their existence and, due to our focused attention, we feel acutely how desperately we’d like to catapult them away from us.
Yet there is an unparalleled feeling of empowerment that comes from understanding that we are not bound by our thoughts, emotions, or habitual reactions—and that we can, in fact, decide precisely how we’d like to act.
My foray into mindfulness began for this very reason. I was tired of continuously snapping back at my loved ones when they angered me, because I saw that it always made me feel worse.
It wasn’t an easy practice to begin utilizing. I can still see myself sitting at the table in silence, staring at my father—with palpable anger rolling off of me—the first time I refused to give into the desire to retort in my habituated way. It was excruciating, but I remained quiet.
Luckily, over time, this whole process becomes less difficult, though, I’m not sure feeling unwanted emotions ever becomes enjoyable.
Mindfulness can be hard, because we are often forced to face thoughts, beliefs, and emotions that feel uncomfortable—and watching them, rather than ignoring them or reacting unwittingly out of pure habit, can, at times, feel almost unbearable.
But it’s worth it. It’s worth it because when we realize that we have the power to control what we say and how we react, we understand that we have the ability to shape how we experience the world.
When I got home from my run the other day, I saw my mom standing at the dining room table, getting her things ready to go to the grocery store. The instant my eyes fell on her, all of the irritation I’d felt burning earlier—even just seconds earlier as I opened the door to walk inside—dissolved. The hardness melted.
The filter of my irritation fell away and I was left with nothing but the purity and softness of the image before me. It was just my mom, whom I love, getting ready to go to the store to buy the food that we’d eat for dinner that night.
That’s why mindfulness is worth it even when it can feel totally unsatisfying in our moments of restraint.
Because, at the end of the day, all of our emotions, including our negative ones, are temporary, and when they pass, we are left with the only thing that really matters: the core essence of the other person standing before us.
Author: Lisa Erickson
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Lisa Erickson is a writer, dreamer, thinker, and recovering over-analyzer. She is enchanted by nature, and when she is not trying to string thoughts into cogent sentences, she enjoys spending her time taking long walks, practicing yoga, or binge watching something she’s probably becoming far too emotionally involved in. Follow Lisa on Instagram.Browse Front PageShare Your Idea
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