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Lions Roar : September 2019
still have them. We’re not trying to use mindfulness to become mindful zombies with no affect. With disidentification we are present with and fully embodying our experience. Yet we have some space, some witnessing, and I daresay, some freedom. When we get disidentification, so much freedom arises. HOW TO ENLIST YOUR WISDOM MIND Traditional Buddhist mindfulness approaches are pretty strict: mindfulness is not intended to explore our psychologi- cal material and we must avoid analyzing the content of our thoughts and emotions at all costs. However, my experience is that in practice it is much more nuanced than that. Using simple investigative processes that are rooted in mindfulness, we can explore the nature and history of our patterns, reactiv- ity, and repetitive thoughts in helpful ways. First of all, when we are mindful of a thought or emo- tion, psychological understanding and insight may emerge quite spontaneously. We are sitting with our grief and then a memor y of our childhood arises. As we hold that memory in kindness and awareness, we realize that this may be why our present-day grief seems so enormous in comparison to the actual trigger. We can be proactive too. When our mind is concentrated, stable, and aware, a well-placed question can help us find some ease and understanding. For example, with strong, repetitive emotions like shame or self-judgment, we might ask ourselves: “What might be the wisdom within this judgment? Can I separate out the wisdom from the reactivity?” Or, “Is there a deeper need I am trying to fulfil? Can I meet this need in other ways?” Questioning in this way is very different from ruminating, analyzing, or trying to figure something out. It is also different from psychotherapy. Instead, it’s making space for our wisdom to emerge by dropping a question into our mind. It’s like drop- ping a pebble into a pond—we look for the reverberations. When I’m caught in an anxiety avalanche about my daugh- ter, I might ask myself, Is there a purpose this worry is serving? My wisdom mind might offer: I just want to protect her and keep her safe. Then I let myself feel the deep love connected to that desire. I hold that love in awareness, and sometimes tears come. As I feel the love and grief comingled with the worry, there is a loosening inside me, and the anxiety often subsides. Other skillful uses of thinking in the midst of self-judgment include asking ourselves, Is this really true? What part of this is true, and what part is worst case scenario? Am I globalizing here? Catastrophizing? Also helpful are simple reminders: This too shall pass. I will get through this. I call these practices “enlisting the wisdom mind.” Even in the midst of our neuroses, there is buried wisdom in us that we can learn to trust, listen to, and ultimately cultivate more fully, even when we’re utterly miserable. I remember once being caught in a cycle of shame I couldn’t release. I was feeling like a terrible mommy and blaming myself for my inability to hold a boundary with my daughter. In my distorted thinking, I decided I had ruined her for life, that she was going to walk all over me and would end up being a rotten adult. I knew I was globalizing and catastrophizing, but I couldn’t shake the deep shame that kept arising. As I sat with myself in the shame—and believe me, shame is awful to be mindful of—I held myself in awareness, felt the deep spikes and burning in my chest, and suddenly a thought emerged: It’s not your fault. Your neuroses were in perfect lock- step with her challenging behavior. If you could have done it dif- ferently you would have. At that moment my mind let go. I began to cry with relief and the shame evaporated. All that was left was compassion— for me, for other moms who suffer in this way, and for the ongoing co-triggering dance of mother and child since begin- ningless time. When you’re feeling horrible, a simple adaptation of Tibetan tonglen practice is to reflect on all of the people in the world who are feeling exactly the same way you are. As you take their suffering in a gentle way, you send out some compassion for all the people suffering like you are. You may feel the great relief of recognizing your common humanity, but stop if acknowl- edging all the suffering feels too overwhelming. HOW TO USE YOUR MINDFULNESS TOOLBOX We can work with all of the mindfulness-based tools I have described, one by one, or in combination. Some of them will work for you at different times. Some you will feel more drawn to; some will feel less useful. You can use them in meditation, or on the spot in daily life. Together, they form a comprehen- sive approach to mindfully holding challenging emotions. But remember to be gentle and kind to yourself in the process. Will these techniques free you entirely from self-criticism, shame, and guilt? Probably not, but sustained practice will give you significantly more freedom from them, especially when supplemented with self-compassion practices and a rec- ognition of your inner goodness. Personally, I have found that much of my core suffering has been transformed over time. I have significantly less self-hatred than I used to. I attribute that to my mindfulness practice (and other modalities like therapy). And when shame, guilt, and judgment do arise, like in the roller-skating fiasco, when you cultivate mindfulness and wisdom, you will find your (yup, I’m going here) footing, stay stable in the midst of reactivity, and experience (sorry) way smoother skating! ♦ LION’S ROAR | SEPTEMBER 2019 43