Meditation for Letting Go

Sometimes we can become consumed by anger and be captured by the thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations that accompany anger.  Meditation provides a way to let go of anger and its associated ill-effects.

The catalyst for your anger may be that someone did or said something that you considered unfair.  It may be that what was said or done frustrated your ability to meet your goal of helping other people to achieve something important.  You could feel aggrieved that the thought, effort and cost that you incurred for someone were unappreciated and/or devalued.  It could be that comments made by someone else are patently untrue or distort the real picture of your involvement.

The harmful effects of sustained anger

The problem with anger is that it is such a strong emotion, that we tend to hang onto it – we do not let it go.  We might ruminate endlessly on what happened, providing justifications for ourselves – our words and actions.  We could deflect the implied criticism by denigrating the other person’s intellectual capability or perceptual capacity.  We could make assumptions about their motivation and even indulge in conspiracy theory.

An associated problem with indulging in angry thoughts and sensations is that it harms both us and our relationships.  We are harmed because the negative emotions consume mental and emotional energy, distract us from the present moment (and all that is good about the present) and destroy our equanimity.

Indulged anger can lead to retaliation that harms the relationship with the other person.  It can also contaminate our relationships with other people who are important to us such as our partner, a friend or our children.  As a result of our sustained anger, we may appear aloof, critical, grumpy or unsympathetic to these important people in our life.

A meditation for letting go

Diana Winston offers a meditation podcast on letting go.  She emphasises the fact that when we indulge a strong emotion like anger, the bodily manifestation of this can be experienced as tightness, tension or soreness – a physical expression of holding on.  We can even experience shallowness of breath as we hold the negative emotions in our bodies.

The first level of release through meditation is to focus on your breath – the in-breath and out-breath.  This mindful breathing can be viewed as letting go with each out-breath, releasing the pent-up thoughts and emotions that make you uptight.

As you progress your meditation and begin to restore some semblance of relaxation, you can then address the “holding on” in your body.  Through a progressive body scan, you can identify the parts of your body that are giving expression to your anger – you can physically soften the muscles (facial, back, shoulder, neck or leg muscles) that have become hardened through holding onto your anger.

Once you have become experienced in meditation, you can then begin to reflect on your response to the negative trigger that set you off.  This opens the way to look at how you responded and whether there was an alternative way of responding other than defensiveness or attack (flight or fight).  You might discover (as I did recently) that active listening would have achieved a better outcome, an improved level of mutual understanding and reduced stress generated by angry thoughts and emotions.

Taking this further, you could explore a powerful mindfulness meditation that can help you overcome ongoing resentment by enabling you to put yourself in the position of the other person to appreciate how they experienced your interaction – to understand their perspective, their feelings and their needs in terms of maintaining their identity (their sense of self-worth, competence or reliability).  The Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (SIYLI) recommends this meditation practice for handling residual emotions and resentment resulting from a conflictual interaction.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and reflection we can practise letting go of anger and other negative emotions by focusing on our breath, bodily sensations, emotions, thoughts and behaviour in an interaction.  Through the resultant self-awareness, we can improve our response ability.  By exploring the interaction experience from the position of the other person, we can also increase our motivation and our options to behave differently for our own good and that of the person with whom we have interacted.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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How Does Mindfulness Impact Our Behaviour?

Research on mindfulness suggests that through meditation practice we become more connected with ourselves and more in control of our thoughts, emotions and resulting behaviour.  In particular, mindfulness improves the frequency and quality of our paying attention in the present.

Research by scientists on the outcomes of mindfulness point to the development of compassion, reduced sense of isolation, increased resilience and ability to handle stress – all of which impact our behaviour.

Exploring how mindfulness impacts our behaviour

We have to ask ourselves how mindfulness practice changes our own behaviour.  Do we stop ourselves from writing that cutting email when we become angry at an email we received?  Do we immediately retaliate with counter accusations when criticised by someone else?  To what extent has our awareness and understanding of another’s pain increased our empathy and become reflected in compassionate behaviour?

One of the challenges we face in translating mindfulness practice into changed behaviour is that our habituated behaviour is very difficult to change.  Even as we develop mindfulness through reflection and meditation, we will still have to deal with negative thoughts and emotions that arise spontaneously despite our best intentions.  However, our capacity to deal with these challenges should develop so that our response ability increases and we can overcome our habit of responding inappropriately to words or actions that trigger us.

If we do feel agitated, we can have the presence of mind to stop and take a breath, observe what is happening inside ourselves and use the gap between the stimulus (the trigger) and our response to manage our behaviour better.

We can begin to see that we are moving towards more kindness in our interactions with others – it could be that we notice people more, stop and talk to people who seem lonely or depressed, demonstrate more thoughtfulness towards others we encounter in daily life.

A meditation to explore the impact of mindfulness on our behaviour

We can explore for ourselves what impact our meditation practice is having on our behaviour by way of checking our progress towards achieving the equanimity of mindfulness.  We can review how often we have used mindfulness as a form of self-intervention to prevent us from saying or doing something that we considered inappropriate.

Tara Brach asks some penetrating questions about the ways in which mindfulness has positively impacted our behaviour.  In the related meditation podcast, Tara encourages us to let go of the past and attend fully to the present moment.  This meditation is particularly useful if you have reviewed your behaviour and found that you did not act mindfully.  It is a calming meditation that is strongly situated in the present moment and in what you are experiencing within and aware of in your immediate surroundings.

As we grow in mindfulness through reflection and meditation, we can begin to see clearly observable changes in our behaviour particularly in moments of stress or when our negative emotions are triggered.  We begin to notice our capacity to control our thoughts and emotions and increase our response ability – to respond in more appropriate ways that build relationships rather than damage them.

 

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Getting in Touch with Your Wounded Child

Sounds True provides a wide range of mindfulness-related resources that can be viewed online.  These include podcast interviews with experts in mindfulness and online training courses including the audio learning series by Terry Real, Fierce Intimacy: Standing Up to One Another with Love.  The transcript for each free podcast interview is accessible online and the interview itself can be downloaded as an mp3.

Tami Simon, the founder of Sounds True, recently interviewed Terry Real, the author of a number of books including, The New Rules of Marriage: What You Need to Make Love Work.  In the podcast interview, Terry introduced one of his concepts which he called “the wounded child” – our automatic response when our sense of hurt is triggered.

As Terry pointed out, we all have a “wounded child” persona which is part of our make-up.   Our wounded child is easily triggered leading to reactive, thoughtless, compulsive, automatic responses that result from an emotional flooding that Terry describes as the “W-H-O-O-S-H, like a wave that overcomes you”.

The trigger that sets off your wounded child might be criticism, real or perceived.  You might have experienced criticism, blaming or accusations as a child from one of your parents.  This negative experience contributes to the development of your wounded child – in this case, identified as a sensitivity to criticism which leads to defensiveness on your part.  Even to this day as an adult, you may continue to experience criticism from a parent in relation to your clothes, your choice of a partner or your location, thus reinforcing your wounded child and related response.

We each have a wounded child that is easily triggered in a close relationship.  For me, “feeling abandoned” is my wounded child – I spent 18 months in an orphanage as a 3-4-year-old and 12 months in a boarding school, 100 kilometres from home, when in Grade 2.   These circumstances were beyond the control of my parents – my mother was seriously ill at the time and my father was overseas in Japan as part of the occupation forces.

Getting in touch with your wounded child

Through your meditation practices .you can become aware of your wounded child and how this persona is manifested in your emotions and behaviour in your close relationships.  You need to be able to reflect on what triggers you and how you respond.

In this regard, the SBNRR (stop, breathe, notice, reflect, respond) process may be helpful in-the-moment or subsequently when you reflect on what happened when you were triggered.

Michael Robotham, in his psychological thriller, The Secrets She Keeps, provides a perfect illustration of a wounded child in action (Meghan) and the response elicited from her husband, Jack (who was also operating from his wounded child persona).  Meghan describes the interaction:

Jack and I [Meghan] had a blazing row about money, which was merely the trigger.  It began when I reversed the car into a lamppost, denting the rear hatch-lid.  It was my fault.  I should have admitted my mistake, but I pushed back when Jack accused me of carelessness.  We fought… Jack has a similar stubborn streak, charging into every argument, wielding accusations like a bayonet.  Wounded I went low, almost begging him to overreact.  He did. (p. 47, emphasis added)

If both parties operate from their wounded child personas, the argument escalates, and the hurt is intensified.  One reaction leads to another, as the conflict deepens.  This is a lose-lose situation and the relationship itself suffers.

As we grow in mindfulness and reflection, we can become aware of our triggers, the nature of our wounded child and the responses we typically make to “what sets us off”.  Beyond self-awareness, is self-management and this requires another set of skills, including “relational mindfulness”, which I will discuss in the next post.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

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Forgiveness Meditation

Forgiveness meditation embraces three aspects of forgiveness – forgiving ourselves, forgiving someone else who hurt us and asking for forgiveness from someone we have hurt.  These can be combined in one meditation or undertaken as separate meditations because of the level of emotion potentially involved.

A combined forgiveness meditation is offered by Diana Winston who provides this half-hour meditation through the weekly meditation podcast series produced by the Mindfulness Awareness Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).  Diana is Director of Mindfulness Education at the Center.  The combined approach to forgiveness meditation could be appropriate where you have been involved in a divorce or relationship breakup – where both parties have hurt each other over time, culminating in the ending of the relationship.

Diana’s meditation, as with other forgiveness meditations, flows through a series of phases – mindful breathing, body scan, silent meditation – before focusing on each of the aspects of forgiveness.  These initial phases are designed to lower the level of physical and emotional agitation experienced when people are practicing forgiveness meditation.

Whether we are forgiving ourselves or others who have hurt us or asking for forgiveness from someone else, our physical and emotional responses are heightened.

Forgiving yourself

This is often the hardest forgiveness meditation to do, however, it is the foundation of giving forgiveness to, and seeking forgiveness from, others.  We carry so much baggage in terms of “beating up on ourselves” for past actions, thoughts or omissions.  This self-blame and self-loathing can undermine our sense of calm and equanimity.  The starting point is to acknowledge that being human means that we will act or think in ways that will hurt somebody, whether consciously or unconsciously.  It is not possible to go through life without acting or thinking in ways that we later regret because of their adverse impact on someone else.

We can remain stuck in the mire of self-loathing or acknowledge that we are human and will make mistakes. The “forgiving self” meditation enables us to express the simple statement, “I forgive myself”.   This may take time, and frequent meditations, to be experienced as real, but persistence pays and we will gradually be able to tone down our negative thoughts and feelings.

Forgiving others who hurt you

The focus on this aspect of forgiveness meditation is on clearing the resentment, or even hatred, towards another person who has hurt us by their words, actions or omissions.  We can carry this hurt like a virus that infects our daily life and manifests itself in unpredictable and undesirable ways.  Resentment can eat away at us and erode our self-esteem, our self-confidence and effectiveness in whatever role(s) we have in life.

Sometimes resentment towards others for past words or actions can be projected onto another person who acts as a trigger to set us off a train of negative thoughts and feelings.  One example of this is where we have been subjected to constant criticism by a significant person in our life, which makes us super-sensitive to criticism by others, whether real or only perceived.

When we fail to forgive others for past hurts, it is as if we are carrying the past forward to today and contaminating the present.  We keep the hurt alive, and even intensify it, by not letting go.  In an article on forgiveness, Elisha Goldstein quotes the famous statement by Lily  Tomlin, Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.  In the forgiveness article, Elisha also offers a brief forgiveness meditation practice designed to help people to let go of hurt and resentment.

Seeking forgiveness from those you have hurt

Invariably, we have hurt others by our words, actions and inaction.  We can carry around the burden of guilt or do something to release this burden.  Forgiveness meditation gives us the opportunity to address this guilt and awareness of the hurt to another person.  By focusing on our feelings and being empathetic towards the person who has been hurt by us, we can release ourselves from the chains of guilt, while acknowledging the hurt we have caused.  Otherwise, we will be burdened by the guilt and our life will be weighed down so that we are disabled in terms of experiencing the freedom of the moment.

A “seeking-for-forgiveness” meditation entails focusing on the person you have hurt and the pain you have caused them, while saying the words, “I have hurt you by my words and actions, I now seek your forgiveness”.  While engaging in this meditation, it is important to treat yourself with kindness (no matter how much you have hurt the other person, consciously of unconsciously).  You do not have to say the words to the other person who you have hurt – the readiness to do this may occur a lot later or the opportunity may never occur.

For each of the forgiveness meditations, you can get in touch with what is going on inside you – your thoughts, feelings and bodily reactions.  As you grow in mindfulness, and persist with the forgiveness meditation practice, you will have an increased sense of calm, happiness, freedom and peace. You will also experience greater empathy towards others and be kinder to yourself.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of kalhh on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.

 

How Mindfulness Undermines Cravings and Addiction

Melli O’Brien recently interviewed Dr. Judson Brewer (known as Jud) who is Director of Research at the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts and author of The Craving Mind.  Jud is an acknowledged international expert in training people in mindfulness to overcome addiction.

In the interview Jud explained the basic cause of addiction and shared neuroscience research that explained the impact of addiction on the brain and the counter-impact of mindfulness.

How addiction develops

The concept of “operant conditioning” developed by B.F. Skinner provides a fundamental explanation of how addiction develops.  Basically, certain behaviours lead to what we perceive as rewards.  So, if we continue to engage in those behaviours and receive the associated rewards, we positively reinforce the behaviours so that we are more inclined to repeat them – thus leading to cravings and addiction.

The craving and resultant addiction can be related to anything, e.g. food, sex, shopping, spending money, drinking alcohol, gambling or consuming drugs.  We unconsciously link the rewarded behaviour with something that is unpleasant – e.g. if we are stressed we may over-eat or drink alcohol excessively.  What we are attempting to do is to substitute something pleasurable for something that we find unpleasant, e.g. we eat dark chocolate (pleasure) to overcome the unpleasantness of stress.  So, stress acts as the trigger for our craving and addiction.

We consolidate our belief in the utility of dark chocolate to help us deal with stress by reminding ourselves of the latest research that shows the positive benefits of dark chocolate – thus we not only receive a physical reinforcement (pleasant taste) but also an emotional reinforcement (positive feelings for “eating what is good for me”).  Of course, we overlook the fact that the research on dark chocolate stresses the moderation required in eating the chocolate so that the positive benefits are not outweighed by negative impacts such as the amount of saturated facts consumed.

Mindfulness undermines addiction through a process of substitution

Jud pointed out in the interview that addiction activates a part of the brain that is called “the posterior cingulate cortex”; whereas, when we engage in mindfulness practice, the opposite happens – that region of the brain becomes deactivated.   Through mindfulness, then, we are substituting excitation of the brain (generated through craving and addiction) with restfulness.

Mindfulness for overcoming addiction works on two basic levels – firstly, as we look inward, we increase our awareness of the body sensations associated with our craving; and secondly, we sever the link between our addictive behaviour and the rewards we ascribe to that behaviour.  We effectively undermine the reinforcing link between the behaviour and the reward.

Substitution occurs on three levels:

  1. pleasant feelings associated with our addictive behaviour are replaced by the pleasure experienced when we are curious about, and investigate, the bodily sensations generated by our cravings and addiction (we are substituting one form of pleasure for another);
  2. seeking to have, or do more, is replaced by the act of noticing what is going on for us (we replace uncontrolled seeking with patient noticing of the bodily sensations experienced in craving something);
  3. temporary happiness derived from satisfying our craving is replaced by the realisation of more sustainable peace and joy.

In the final analysis, mindfulness breaks what Jud calls the “habit loop” of addiction with a new and rewarding “habit loop” – habituated behaviour whose rewards grow exponentially.  Jud reiterates that developing new habits, such as mindfulness, requires “dedicated practice every day”, which is one way to overcome the barriers to changing our behaviour.  Sustaining mindfulness practice, then, is critical to undermining cravings and addictions.

As we grow in mindfulness, we gain a better understanding of our craving and addiction and learn ways to use mindfulness to undermine the hold that cravings have on our thoughts and emotions.  We can learn to make more conscious choices in the process.

By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)

Image source: courtesy of  whekevi on Pixabay

Disclosure: If you purchase a product through this site, I may earn a commission which will help to pay for the site, the associated Meetup group and the resources to support the blog.