mindfulness emotional balance by pam hausner

Mindfulness and Emotional Balance

mindfulness emotional balance by pam hausner

Art by Pam Hausner

Guest Post by Pam Hausner

“Why am I not getting more done?” “I can’t believe he said that to me!” “Can’t they see I know what I’m talking about?…wait, what if I’m wrong?” “This is too much!” “Why isn’t this working out?” “What if it all fails?” “I don’t think she respects me at all.” “I should be better than this.” “Why can I not get over this?” 

The stressors on our emotional system can feel relentless. In today’s world, it can almost seem like we are in a perpetual state of performance review, with evaluations pelting us both from internal and external storm clouds. This can lead to feelings of stress, anxiety, and overwhelm.

I remember a particular day a few months ago when within about twenty minutes it seemed like everything that could go wrong happened. I was about to lead an online meeting and was taking a few moments to get grounded and centered before opening the Zoom room. Then the electricity in my house started fluctuating and two different contractors showed up at the house for completely diverse purposes. One of the contractors had come to replace an old double door, which required removing the previous door. Did I mention it was a windy day and the temperature was barely above freezing outside? With the door removed, cold air began rushing through the wide hole into the rest of the house, bringing with it leaves and debris which got scattered and tracked in multiple rooms of the house. Both contractors wanted to talk with me about their projects, with pertinent questions needing immediate direction.

Fortunately, the electricity returned minutes before I needed to open the online meeting, and as I sat in front of my laptop listening to the hubbub of the contractors throughout the house, I could feel my pumping heart and the restlessness in my body, my mind racing with concerns that I would look frazzled and unprepared to my online guests, and ultimately let them down while additional, unwanted work was being created for me on the other side of my wall.

Wait… this is exactly what I have trained for. I took in a breath, feeling deeply into its journey throughout my body—in, and then out. I remembered that place inside where I am free to simply be.

Mindfulness meditation helps us to reconnect

Mindfulness is a practice that can help us cultivate emotional balance even amid the chaos of the present moment. During the thick of a situation when we are able to notice our thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations, all those hours of sitting with the breath, the body, and seeking insight show up to support us in tangible ways. We have learned how to connect to an inner state of balance, compassion, and clarity. With a simple breath (or three), we can reconnect to the freedom of a nonjudgmental way of being alive that allows us to expand and hold all of what is happening in the present moment.

In that reconnection lies the power—inherent in all of us—to respond rather than overreact with a fight, flight, or freeze reaction. We can now choose what will best serve us in the present moment.

I don’t always immediately recognize I’m being triggered. Sometimes I can be several minutes into a conversation or situation before my awareness kicks in, at which point mindful self-compassion also comes into play. The point is that it is possible to see progress in how we manage the upsets of daily life when we are diligent with our mindfulness practice.

5 “Powers” of Mindfulness Training

Recently I read an interview article about Cultivating the 5 Powers by Sister Dang Nghiem. The five powers (also called faculties or strengths) are faith, diligence, mindfulness, concentration, and insight. “Sister D” was taught these five strengths by Thich Nhat Hanh at a critical time in her life and she shares that little by little, she was about to touch more calmness and peace. Slowly, she gained trust that she could take care of herself. She says, “…the practice helped. Through mindfulness, I gained a little more concentration, a little more insight into my suffering, and I became more diligent because of that. And then I gained a little more faith, not just in the practice, but in my capacity to embrace the suffering.”

What stood out to me the most from Sister D’s interview was her explanation that as we practice one of these five powers, we are practicing all five. As with all of life, these strengths are interconnected. These five powers naturally bloom from the seeds we sow in our mindfulness practice. But do note—these are not superpowers. A superpower is something that is not available to everyone. The five powers are strengths available to all of us—we are each born with the capacity to cultivate and nourish faith, diligence, mindfulness, concentration, and insight in our lives.

A Simple Mindfulness Exercise

There are many different ways to practice mindfulness. If you are new to mindfulness, it is important to start slowly. You may want to start by practicing mindfulness for just a few minutes each day. As you become more comfortable with mindfulness, you can gradually increase the time you spend practicing.

Here are a few tips for practicing mindfulness:

  • Find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed.
  • Sit or lie down in a comfortable position.
  • Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.
  • Focus your attention on your breath (if bringing attention to your breath is not comfortable for you, feel free to focus your attention on another part of the body where you can easily feel sensations as you remain in a still, relaxed posture).
  • Notice the sensations of your breath as it enters and leaves your body.
  • If your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your breath.
  • Continue to practice mindfulness for as long as you like.

Attention to the breath or some other bodily sensation is a type of concentration practice. Even just a few moments of mindfulness can begin building resilience and a foundation for inner peace. Just like going to the gym and working out, the more you practice the stronger your mindfulness “muscle” becomes.

two octopi under the sun and moon by Pam Hausner

Art by Pam Hausner

The Emotional Benefits of Mindfulness

If you are looking for a way to improve your emotional balance and reactivity, mindfulness is a great place to start. Mindfulness is a simple practice that can have a profound impact on your life. Mindfulness has been shown to have a number of benefits for emotional balance and reactivity. Some of the benefits of mindfulness include:

  • Improved mood
  • Increased self-awareness
  • Enhanced focus and concentration
  • Improved relationships
  • Increased compassion
  • Reduced reactivity

Notice that in this list of benefits, it does not include the elimination of stressors and difficult life situations, nor does it suggest that suddenly all your relationships will be blissful and you will become the fountain of all wisdom. As long as we are alive, there will be tension in relationships, work, and life situations—much of which is beyond our control, and we will hopefully always be learning.

What mindfulness does is help you to navigate your way through the maze and uncertainty of life with greater insight and compassion—for both yourself and others. Last week, I was talking with a friend who has been meditating with me in a small group for a few years. His father recently passed away and he had to travel to a small, rural area in a southern state for the funeral services. His relationship with his father had long been estranged and a number of extended family relationships were complicated. Furthermore, returning to his father’s community would also emphasize the difference in beliefs about civil rights and social equity. My friend told me that he could see the profound impact of his regular mindfulness practice during his trip. He could not imagine going through this significant life event without the powerful, transformative gift of emotional balance and self-compassion he has developed over time through mindfulness.

How Does Mindfulness Develop Emotional Balance?

As we sit to practice mindfulness, we are bringing awareness to the breath. And then, the mind wanders off. We notice our mind has wandered, and without judging ourselves about it, we bring our concentration back to the breath. This happens over and over (and over) during the length of our dedicated time for practice.

collage with lotus lion trees by pam hausner

Art by Pam Hausner

We may notice that some of these thoughts carry an emotional charge to them, similar to the questions at the beginning of this article.“Why am I not getting more done?” “I can’t believe he said that to me!” “Why can I not get over this?”  Even a simple thought like what you are going to do after your meditation practice time has ended can be loaded with the egoic emotional charge of trying to look good because you fulfilled your responsibilities or perhaps concern about an upcoming conversation.

When you acknowledge that you have had the thought and bring your attention back to the breath, you are essentially training yourself to allow that those thoughts and feelings exist (without making them right or wrong, good or bad) but you are not going to engage with them at this time. Instead, you choose to bring your attention back to awareness of the breath and the sense of calm within.

Over time, you begin to notice these patterns of emotions and thoughts, and each time you choose not to let them take over driving your mind, you weaken their power to hijack. You are learning to create and hold space for all that life brings.

Sometimes, you may even choose to hold one of these thoughts or emotions for greater insight. This freedom of choice is possible now that you know how to put space around the emotional charge and you can look at it more objectively—even with playful curiosity.

I remember hearing Ram Dass say that in all of his years of working on personal development in academia, working as a therapist, exploring psychedelics, living in ashrams, being a guru, etc., he had never conquered even a single one of his neuroses. They were all still there but the difference was that his neuroses no longer had power over him. He had reached a point where he could see them, even greet them in a friendly, invitational manner, and make an informed, heart-centered choice about what to do next.

Support in Community with Mindfulness Teaching

While our practice in mindful awareness is held within our hearts and minds, it is still vital to have the support of a community that is also dedicated to the practice. Being in a community will organically and even quite innocently bring up thoughts and emotions that may be triggering. These are precious opportunities for you to grow and lean into what is arising for greater insight. Yet a mindfulness community offers so much more.

As humans, we are designed to exist in a community with others. When we can be with others who share a desire and dedication for self-exploration through mindfulness, we can see that we are all in this together, or as Ram Dass has said, “We are all just walking each other home.”

If you are looking for a mindfulness community, please consider joining the Midwest Alliance for Mindfulness. There are a number of ways to join and participate in their mindfulness training and community gatherings. Besides the ongoing community practices, they have book studies, themed lessons, nature connections, outdoor activities, and an unshaken commitment to social and environmental justice.

Join people who are making the world wiser and more compassionate, and improve your ability to hold a steady emotional balance through the rather bumpy road of life.

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