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Mindful : August 2013
Inflexible patterns of perceiv- ing inevitably prove too small, too confining, for all that our minds need to encompass and accomplish. Inflexible patterns of reacting squeeze the life out of us. Each of us has our own pet scenarios that chafe against our ex- pectations. When they pop up, they threaten to stir up jealousy, a nger, defensiveness, mindless striving, a nd a stew of other possibilities. We may end up saying or doing some- thing hurtful, something we’ll regret later and may have to apologize for. We leapt before we looked. Conversely, when we stop to examine how we typically respond to situations, we cre- ate space for more creative and flexible responses. Ultimately, as we build the habit of mindfully examining our responses in the moment, mindful awa reness becomes our new default mode. Let’s take an example that hopefully is not too familiar. You’ve been working tireless- ly with a coworker on a proj- ect, but when it comes time to receive accolades for the project’s success, your partner manages to take all the credit. You’re now entering that deci- sive moment when you have the cha nce to become master of your reactions. Or, to put it another way, to meet your experience. Becoming aware of the impact the slight has had on you is the first step. Separate yourself from yourself just enough to allow you to exam- ine, f ree from rote reactions, how your body, emotions, a nd thoughts are combining to gear up for a response. By decoupling what ’s hap- pening from your reaction to what’s happening, odds a re you will prevent yourself from simply being carried along by the experience and instead will prove yourself capable of getting ahead of it. In examining your thoughts, you’ll probably see a story forming, something along the lines of how you heroically brought the project to completion, only to have it stolen away at the last minute. Once you can see this narra- tive open out before you like a book—once you have become the reader of the story instead of its protagonist—you have put yourself in position to let it evaporate. You may notice how the pounding heart, sweaty palms, a nd tightened shoulders you just experi- enced slip away along with the storyline you just let go of. You gently shift to a state that is more relaxed and, as a result, more confident. States of being, which can seem so perma nent and monumental, are not in fact static. They shift moment to moment, and they can cha nge in response to our awareness of them. It’s amazing how easily a grimace ca n morph into a smile. There’s no need to assume that mindful self-examination means you have to allow your coworker to take credit where credit isn’t due. Rather, its goal is to allow you to respond in a new way that frees you from old, ing rained, automatic patterns. → Put Some Space Between You and Your Reactions You may notice how the pounding heart, sweaty palms, and tightened shoulders you just experienced slip away along with the storyline you just let go of. in practice August 2013 mindful 73 insight