I was traveling the past week for work, which presented a great reminder of easy it can be to get swallowed up by irritation and general negativity when we step out of our comfort zones and hand over control (willingly or not) to external forces, in my case to flight crews, LA traffic, and packed schedules I didn’t set. All week on the road, I noticed myself and my companions complain about one thing followed by another, from flight delays to lack of bottled water. (First world problems, in other words.) Minor inconveniences can easily breed major disgruntlement if we let them, especially when we aren’t paying attention, which is to say the majority of the time. And most people don’t realize it, but the act of complaining only sows the seeds for more future complaining. (Do you think everyone’s out to get you? I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but unless you change something, that will only get worse for you.)
What if we didn’t say everything we thought and instead examined the source of our thoughts? What if we observed the ego instead of jumping to identify with it?
I recently read in Mental Floss magazine about Trisha Prabhu, a 15-year-old girl who designed a mobile keyboard called ReThink to prevent cyberbullying. The keyboard creates a pause for kids (and teens) to review and rethink their messages on every app they use before choosing to post live (or not). Mindfulness by technology. Such a cool idea, I thought, especially since the part of the brain that controls decision making capabilities isn’t fully developed until the age of 26, and there’s unfortunately a strong resistance to directly teaching mindfulness as a practice in most schools (the argument being that “mindfulness” has religious connotations). Early research shows that taking an extra moment to reconsider significantly increases the chance a user will choose to refrain from posting a negative post they had planned to share. Rethinking works.
But Trisha’s app wasn’t created for adults, thought there are certainly some adult trollers out there who could use it, and frankly not all situations can be intercepted with technology. So how can we instill a technology-free mechanism that allows everyone, child or adult, to pause and rethink our words and actions for just a micro-moment before we speak or act? We can all cultivate mindfulness through yoga and meditation.
Yoga allows us to create space and meditation teaches us to listen. Together, the two practices beget mindfulness. In yoga we create space by opening and lengthening and twisting and compressing to untie the energetic knots that hold learned behavioral patterns (such as notice discomfort —> complain) which live in our bodies. The body holds our stories and not all of these stories are very productive. (Most of them aren’t. And, anyway, life is more interesting when we see each moment afresh.) The skillful linking of breath and movement we practice in yoga allow us to detoxify of our energetic baggage so we truly experience the present moment in the moment. And the space we create in yoga extends to meditation, where we take things one step further by sitting in complete stillness to better observe the fluctuations of our own minds and the ego created by these. When we meditate, we listen. When we listen, we learn.
Our task, then, is to apply the space we create through yoga and the listening skills we develop through meditation to decision making in the real world. When we learn to practice pausing between stimulus (for example, discomfort) and response (for example, complain or embrace and adapt), we can choose to respond instead of react. The difference between responding and reacting is everything - in our online lives, in our offline lives, at home and on the road (where there might not be water bottles in every corner but at least there’s always a floor to sit on in stillness).
Mindfulness matters, more than we might realize, for both our own wellbeing as well as the general wellbeing of the universe. That’s why there’s so much focus in yoga and meditation on creating space. We create space so that we can pause at will. We lengthen and twist and compress to make room and detoxify. We tap into the breath to tap into the present moment and we sit in stillness to observe the fluctuations of our own minds. This is all to train ourselves for decision making in the real world. The goal is to cultivate the practice of pausing between stimulus and response, so that we can truly (mindfully) respond instead of simply react.