Author: Michael Decaire
In honour of Star Wars day (May the 4th be with you!), FLEX is featuring a look at mindfulness trainings in popular culture throughout the month of May. And the series continues ...
Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. - Yoda (The Phantom Menace, 1999).
Like a true teacher, Yoda provides us with a few different ways to interpret this statement. In essence, there is more than one lesson here.
The first is the idea of "autopilot" or as I like to refer to it the "chain of thoughts and emotions". As human beings we are surprisingly unattuned to how our behaviours, thoughts, or emotions arise. Most of the time we are swept up in a chain of events, where the previous moment dictates the next one and the current moment dictates the next. At very few points do we step out of this chain and simply observe what is truly going on in this moment and make an informed decision on how to proceed on the basis of that information alone. This is one of the anchors of mindfulness training and is also the primary component of many other successful psychotherapies (e.g. CBT & REBT are text book chain breaking exercises for you therapist folks).
An example: A student who has exhibited poor behaviour at school tells me that he "hates" his teacher. We explore why he feels this way and he relays that he is "angry" that his teacher has given him several lower than expected marks of late. That anger is further explored and is connected to a "fear" that he will not make the honour roll this year. This is in turn linked to another "fear" regarding overall performance and then eventual success. In the end, we have a lot of actions, interpretations, emotions, and behaviours that are connected to each other with very little conscious examination of this "chain" having occurred prior to therapy.
Mindfulness practice provides an opportunity to do a couple of things here:
(1) Observe the chain - Simply observing one's thoughts as they arise during either a formal mindfulness practice (e.g. sitting and meditating) or an informal one (e.g. mindful moments throughout the day) can provide valuable insight into what preceded the current moment and what resulted from that thought, behaviour, or emotion. This insight can be quite valuable as it may allow us to recognize when these "triggers" happen in the real world and then we can ...
(2) Break the chain - Being aware of the chain may allow us to step outside of this previously unconscious series of events. Simple awareness of the triggering events, thoughts, or behaviour can provide the opportunity to make a deliberate decision to act or respond in a different manner. It does not mean that we will always make that choice or that we will not experience a strong emotion, but the likelihood that we can act in a manner that reflects our own decisions (and not the chain's) is higher.
Recognizing the chain is the first step. It is my hope that you will choose to return here in a few days to pick up the next lesson from this great Yoda training. Who ever said there was nothing redeeming about The Phantom Menace!
Art Credit: Navdeep Raj (San Jose, CA - http://bit.ly/1ewNXSJ)
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