The other day I wrote about stoicism and control. While I was reading about stoicism I was also learning about mindfulness, and I found some really interesting overlapping ideas. In that post I had written;
We control our reaction to others. We control how we feel about the world around us. We control whether we allow others to hurt us. We control how we let everything outside of us change us.
One obvious counter to this would be “I don’t control how I feel about something. I can’t make something not hurt me.”
Actually, you’re right. Good point!
I can’t control how I feel about something. Not exactly. I can’t make myself love something. I can’t wave my hands and make sadness go away. But I can control how I let my feelings affect me and my own decisions.
This is exactly what mindfulness trains us to do.
The mind is an incredible thing. It can look at something, analyze it, and decide how to improve it. Even more amazing is that the mind can reflect on itself and its own processes and work to improve them. We can literally think about and analyze our own thoughts and feelings.
Mindfulness teaches us to be aware of our own thought, our own feelings. Pay attention to what is happening in our minds.
For example, one of the practices in mindfulness is learning to notice our own emotions. And if we are feeling stress, we just acknowledge it and say to ourselves “This is stress. This is what stress feels like.” Or “This is anger.” Or “This is frustration.”
I recognize that this sounds new-age-y, hokey, and stupid. I grew up in a small town in the Midwest. I get it.
But it works.
I’ve really found that acknowledging “this is stress” has helped me to put my current feelings in context with the rest of my life. This is a thing I am feeling now. It’s understandable. I won’t always feel this. And I don’t need to let it drive me.
In effect, we are creating a separate identity within our own mind. The observer, which can contemplate and consider ideas separately from the part of our minds that responds with emotion.
It requires some vulnerability and openness, but with practice this observer can critique our own thoughts and feelings, find flaws, see our own oversights and biases.
By recognizing these emotions, recognizing how they make us feel, how they make us think, we shift our point of view to the rational observer. And it gives us a greater level of control over ourselves.
So, no, I can’t exactly drive how I feel about something. But I can take more control over how my emotions drive me. And this is a powerful tool to take control of my own life.
Disclaimer: I am not an expert in mindfulness meditation. I’ve just read some books and have used some apps. I’ve found calm.com to be a really good mindfulness app if you’re interested.