You might think that mindfulness is about suppressing your thoughts and emotions. That’s the conclusion I came to, anyway. But that’s not the case.
When you suppress your thoughts and emotions, you ignore them and their causes. Mindfulness is about observing your thoughts and emotions as if you were an unbiased spectator so you don’t get carried away by them. It’s a monitoring tool you can use to improve your character.
You might even realize that some emotions are “unskillful” for cultivating contentment in your life, such as anger, lust, and greed. If you’re able to be mindful of these emotions as they occur, you can let them go instead of allowing them to fester, which taints your future thoughts and actions.
An Example Of Anger
Say you’re out driving. You see a car approaching a stop sign on the street perpendicular to yours. You don’t think much of it, but then the car fails to stop and cuts you off. “What a fucking asshole,” you might think. It might even ruin the rest of your day.
A mindfulness trick I like to use in such situations is to change my perspective. After all, our thoughts and emotions are tainted by our own perceptions.
What if the asshole was rushing to the hospital because his wife was in labor? Or maybe his son was playing with a firecracker and blew off a couple of fingers. Or maybe he’s just an IT worker who needs to get to the office because a server went down, which is costing the company thousands of dollars a minute.
Don’t we, in similar situations, assume that others would understand and give us a break if they knew the circumstances?
We don’t know the entire story that led up to the person cutting us off. We have a very limited view, actually. Once you shift your perception, though, it’s much easier to let go of that anger.
By being mindful, you can witness the anger arise, and deal with it in a better way. Instead of letting it ruin your day, you can realize that the person really only cost you seconds of your commute by forcing you to slow down. You were probably speeding, anyway.
After you’re able to mindfully handle anger like this, you’ll come to realize how useless it really is. With enough practice, you won’t even need to go through the entire exercise. You’ll feel the heat of anger arise, know its source, and just allow it to pass away. Like the rising and falling of a wave.
Mindfulness isn’t about stopping you from experiencing your emotions. It’s about skillfully handling them so they don’t consume you, creating unnecessary stress and discontent.