I invite you to imagine putting on a pair of sunglasses, metaphorically of course. These glasses have blue lenses that reflect judgement and criticism. While wearing these glasses you only notice how bad you feel, think how hopeless you are, and leave you wanting to push away uncomfortable feelings. It is really hard to notice anything good at all. These are the glasses our human brain wants to reach for first without too much thought about it.
Now I invite you to put on a different pair of sunglasses that help you look through yellow lenses of compassion and kindness. While wearing these glasses you still notice the ‘bad’ feelings, but they help you see its okay and it’s normal, and allow you sit in uncomfortable feelings with acceptance until they pass. You also notice feelings like joy and pleasure, and relish them. These are the glasses we can wire our human brain to reach for first, through the practice of mindfulness.
There are some problems in life that are hard to shift and might be out of our control. Mindfulness won’t make these problems go away, but it will change the way you look at things. From time to time, we are also going to have uncomfortable feelings arise like anger, sadness, jealousy, shame, guilt, pain and hurt. I don’t necessarily consider these negative or bad feelings. They are part of the human condition and serve a purpose. When they arise, we can choose to allow our brains to put on the glasses of judgement and criticism, or the glasses of compassion and kindness.
Mindfulness does not have to become a burdensome new thing you have to schedule into your already busy day. You can still keep doing those things but just wear a different pair of sunglasses doing them! But it does take practice because our human brain wants to default to the negative. You will have to consciously keep swapping glasses until your brain gets the message that you want to wear the yellow glasses right now not the blue ones.
So you notice an uncomfortable feeling arise. You start making judgements or criticise yourself for feeling this way. You realise you have the blue glasses on. Now what? How do we do this mindfulness stuff? Okay, time to put the yellow glasses on.
- Tune Out. At the first sign of an uncomfortable feeling or sensation in the body, it helps to become grounded. Notice what is happening externally in the environment around you. Using all your senses, explore what you can see, touch, hear, smell and even taste.
- Tune In. Now take your mindful presence inside by noticing your breath. Observe how the breathe moves in and out of your body. Notice what you feel in your body. What feelings or sensations are arising? Where in your body are they sitting?
- Stay With. Bring you awareness one at a time to each of these body sensations. How strong and how big is it? Does it have a colour, shape, texture? What temperature is it? Does it move? What else are you noticing? This is all about observation without judgement. Get to know this feeling or sensation as if you are a detective having to write a factual report on what you find.
- Breathe. Take a deep breath and send this air into this part of the body you are focusing on. Allow the air to create some space around this sensation. Keep breathing just observing what this does to your body.
- Notice. Keep focusing your awareness on this sensation as you mindfully breathe and simply observe what changes. Stay with the experience and see where it takes you. Do you notice a shift of some kind? How does it feel now? How is the whole of your body responding?
- Reflect. When you are ready, bring yourself back slowly from your internal focus of attention to the external environment. Use your sense of touch, sight, sound, smell and taste to bring yourself back. What are you noticing about this experience? What is different now or new? What have you learnt?
Warning: Please don’t despair, if you notice unhelpful or uncomfortable thoughts arising during this exercise. The brain will try many times to distract you. That’s perfectly OK. Just don’t get caught up in the thoughts or let judgement or criticism take over. Simply acknowledge the thought, allow it to float away and bring your awareness back to whatever is the current focus of your attention – be it your sensory experience, the breath moving in and out, or the sensation in your body. The more we do this, the more we develop our mind muscle so it eventually learns your preference for wearing yellow sunglasses.
My favourite place to practice mindfulness is in nature. The sound of birds, the smell of the salty sea or the touch of the grass on your feet can be beautiful focus points to ground us before stepping into the journey inside.
So next time you feel emotion rising inside, step outside.