Undeniably, sooner or later, we all have to deal with life’s realities — those hard surprises and “unknowns” that can literally change everything in less than a nanosecond.
Imagine you’ve just been fired. Many of us would react to this situation in at least some of the following ways:
“I should have seen this coming.”
“I’ll never find another job in this economy.”
“Am I going to be homeless?”
“I’m a failure.”
Reactions like these reflect a fear-based survival framework for viewing the situation: We filter the external facts through the internal lens of thoughts, feelings, beliefs and body sensations. In this way, our fear creates our reality, locking us in anger, powerlessness, and blame.
Recontextualizing and Reframing
People are not afraid of things, but of how they view them. — Epictetus
It’s understandable why we might react from fear when facing challenging situations. Mindfulness, however, is a powerful tool that offers the opportunity to make a radical shift in orientation.
Mindfulness is the practice of bringing our awareness to what we are experiencing in the present, both internally and externally, without judgment (Kornfield, 2009). It is a wakeup call to become conscious of the ways we perceive and respond to life’s situations.
Here’s a traditional, easy-to-follow mindfulness exercise (Klau, 2009). Mindfulness takes time to develop. It is an ongoing process. Be kind and compassionate to yourself as you follow these instructions.
Sit in a quiet room where you won’t be disturbed.
Close your eyes and focus your attention on your breath.
It’s natural for your attention to become distracted. When that happens, simply return to your breath.
While focusing on your breath, allow your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and body sensations to enter your awareness as you perceive the external situation.
Now ask yourself: What are the facts of the situation? What are my thoughts, feelings, beliefs and body sensations? How am I responding?
With practice, this exercise can bring us to our calm, reflective center. This safe haven, in which we can rest and see more clearly, holds and contains everything arising for us in the present. From here, it is possible to deconstruct, recontextualize and reframe our original fear-based feelings and reactions, honoring and embracing them without being their victims. (This discussion shares much in common with neuroscientist and clinician Dan Siegel’s work on the concepts of “differentiation” and “integration,” which he views as the key to well-being.)
For example, let’s return to the original situation, where you’ve just lost your job. Rather than automatically reacting with fear, mindfulness helps you realize and accept: “The only fact about this situation is that I don’t have my job right now. Everything else— my self-judgment, my fear, my blame, my anger, and the tightness in my body— is my feelings.”