A new day, a new year and a new decade have all just dawned. From my place, I see very little of this new world around me due to the low clouds and blowing snow. My view out the window is made small by the weather, hardly the glorious awakening of intentions set in honor of all the potential a new decade can bring, but that is only how it is right now. I can turn my attention to the cozy comforts of this cabin, and I see the weather outside differently than I did a moment ago.
The sunrise of another day has the potential to cast a magical glow of gilded conifer and the snow-covered glades that are shrouded in clouds right now. This glow is offering the possibility of almost anything I dare to imagine, and that is how it will be right at that moment. Same scenery with different conditions creating a unique understanding of how it is right now — lifting us up or holding us down — and without attachment, we can move onto the next moment.
What about those times when our emotions are triggered by something more significant than the weather, like anger, loneliness, sadness? Experiences we tend to attach to — feeling like this is how it will be forever — a time when we aren’t able to see a guiding light out of a bottomless pit of despair? These are times when we can practice recognizing the difference between the experience of the emotion and the rumination we are engaging in.
Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, neuroanatomist and author, writes that the physiological effects of emotion last, on average, about 90 seconds. That is the release of adrenaline, increased heart rate, increased vigilance, and the other biological responses to the “Fight or Flight” response. Philippe Verduyn and Saskia Lavrijsen’s study of the duration of emotion point out it is rumination that extends the experience of emotion beyond the physiological response. It is the story we attach to the feeling, often in an attempt at self-preservation, that lengthens our painful experience. That is not to say you should avoid the sensation of emotion; they are a normal part of living a full life, however, notice if you are perseverating on the emotion by reliving the story over and over again — potentially embellishing or judging. Scratching at or maybe even pouring salt on a wound. Ouch, ouch, ouch!
Vinny Ferraro, my teacher, introduced me to the perspective of “this is how it is right now.” He challenged us to consider how open-hearted we could be to our needs or that of a loved one whose feelings were spilling into our awareness. A compassionate response to their “right now” can soften their hardness at a critical time; the same goes for yourself.
Mindfulness Practice for “This is How it is Right Now”
1. Sitting or lying down comfortably, notice the sensation of your breath moving in and out of your body.
2. After a few moments of anchoring on your breath, expand your awareness to sensations within your body. These sensations may include tension, relaxation, or possibly no sensation at all. See if you can become aware of the physical sensations occurring right now.
3. Broaden your awareness to include any feelings you may be experiencing. Can you name them? Release the notion of creating a story around it. If it is helpful, visualize your thoughts about these feelings becoming the shape of something that you can allow to drift away like a balloon or a feather.
4. Return to the sensation of your breath.