Managing Overwhelm (II)
In the last article we looked at scenarios where you find yourself becoming overwhelmed. That is you are at an event, whether business or social, and you start to notice a creeping sensation of exhaustion enveloping you. There might be pain involved, physical or mental, and consequently you have to muster all of your strength just to stay present.
If you have the opportunity to excuse yourself and leave, you are free. You can go home, take a walk, or do whatever you need to do in that moment to recharge. If however circumstances dictate that you have to stay around and be involved, you are going to need some resources to draw on - and I am not talking about a stiff drink, though some may choose that.
For the introverts reading this I’m sure that you can relate to this experience, though I am not just writing this for introverts among us. We can all find ourselves in situations where we are called to be engaged, but our body and mind are screaming for us to take a time out. In those situations, whoever you are, you need something to keep yourself afloat and present.
The last post looked at the meditation technique of “breathing through.” This article will look at mindfulness.
Mindfulness is about bringing a presence of mind to what you are feeling now - what is arising in this moment? However at the same time you are not getting involved with the thoughts or sensations that are here now. I mentioned last time about using breathing through in everyday situations, but also giving yourself some solitary practice time, quiet meditation. Here we will look at the solitary practice first. This is because the mind responds well to constant familiarization, indeed the Tibetan word for meditation, gom, means to become familiar with. Through this when you find yourself in certain situations you respond in a way congruent with a trained mind as opposed to falling back into old habits. That might sound dry, but that is what meditation is enabling you to do - to familiarize yourself with states of mind - focus, love, patience.
So find a quiet and safe place to sit where you will be undisturbed. Make yourself comfortable. Then start quieting the mind by bringing your attention to the breath. Not a forced breath, but the simple sensation of the breath entering and leaving the nose. The mind will wander, for sure, but don’t scold yourself, just gently bring yourself back to this awareness as though you are a silent observer. The observing mind will wander off with regularity - no matter, just gently come back to the breath.
When the mind has settled start to observe your thoughts. Don’t get involved with them, just watch. You are not aiming to silence the mind, though that might happen briefly, so don’t start setting yourself goals. Rather you are simply observing your thoughts. An analogy might be looking out of a window at the scenery; you are not involved, just watching. As you watch you’ll notice that all these thoughts follow a similar pattern - arise, hang around for a bit, and then dissolve away. With the mind being the precursor to all our actions, this familiarity with the nature of what is passing through the mind has implications for how we experience and act in our lives. We’ll explore this by looking at our overwhelm scenarios.
Transitioning back to our party or business meeting where tiredness is creeping up on you, ask yourself how is that tiredness manifesting - weariness, aching, heavy eyes, other? Notice those feelings. I’m sure that there are moments when you are not talking, when you are not so involved so that you have that space to be with yourself. Observe those feelings and thoughts, see their transitory nature and allow them to go. A second later they will probably show up again, but once more just let them pass by. Observe that feeling of overwhelm and let it go. Part of what causes us discomfort is feeling as though these thoughts and feelings are solid, but they are not. Moment to moment they are changing. Recognizing the nature of these sensations and their corresponding thoughts allow us to let go of them more easily. From this we can develop some mental space to be with that which we don’t like. In short, the situation becomes more workable.
I offer these two techniques, breathing through and mindfulness, in the hope that they can offer you some respite when life is becoming difficult for you. If you choose to try them out, don’t expect to see instant results, and at the same time don’t give up too easily. Our mind is habituated into ways of being and essentially we are trying to retrain it. That takes time. Be easy on yourself.
Having said all of that, do use common sense. If things are just getting too much, do what you have to do to make things right for you.