Just for a moment, indulge in the opportunity to imagine the infinitely blissed out benefits of being able to maintain your positive mind frame in pretty much any scenario. Exhibiting a quiet strength and dignity amid a sea of chaos. Keeping your cool. Leaving the ruffled feathers on the headless chickens, as it were.
Brain training isn’t just the game that jolly old people, celebrities and irritating children seem to, quite bizarrely, enjoy playing via small portable computers. Oh no.
Training the brain to achieve mental ‘equanimity’ ; we’ll go into this a little later, is an invaluable skill requiring only an open mind, a willingness to practice and an aversion to going through life getting dragged into judgemental, negative and unfulfilling mindsets.
Were you aware that it’s actually entirely possible to possess a Superman/Bruce Lee level of mental defence to the wearing, emotional impact of being continuously bombarded by stress/irritation/boredom inducing events faced on a day to day basis?
… well it is!
“But I don’t want to adapt to the situation – it’s not fair. I want the situation to adapt to me!”.
Tough shit. Unfortunately sunshine, life isn’t always that kind.
There will be occasions where things don’t go quite to plan, when circumstances beyond your control dictate fate and there’s not – physically – a great deal you can do about it.
So, what mentally can we do?
It’s all about perspective and how we perceive a given event/situation/set of circumstances.
The golden ticket comes when it hits home that while certain circumstances may be beyond our control, our emotional response is not.
It is in fact, something that can we can, with a little commitment, control to our own advantage.
But how? If I’m pissed off, I’m pissed off – right?
The message “I’m pissed off” is a decision you make, subconsciously. A decision you then choose to re-affirm both psychologically and physiologically; through your re-inforcing thoughts…
…and through your physical reactions.
Now it’s consciously possible to actually pause, take a step back, literally, if you’d been tempted to headbutt said source of irritation, and remember that your reaction is something you do have power over. That by reacting in a negative way, you won’t alter the past – a concept currently considered metaphysically impossible, you’ll simply be creating further unfruitful implications for the future.
Consider the last thing you got annoyed about enough to put you in a bad mood. Will it really matter this time next year? Chances are, probably not.
It’s a case of realising that any emotion, be it unbridled rage, loved-up contentment, euphoric joy; all have their time, they come, they stay a while and they go, giving way to some other mood or state.
The whole concept of equanimity is based upon not allowing these emotions to bring about too much in the way of knicker twisting.
The font of all knowledge officially classes it as;
Neither a thought nor an emotion, it is rather the steady conscious realization of reality’s transience. It is the ground for wisdom and fredom and the protector of compassion and love. While some may think of equanimity as dry neutrality or cool aloofness, mature equanimity produces a radiance and warmth of being. The Buddha described a mind filled with equanimity as “abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill-will.
“Life is never fair. And perhaps for most of us, it is a good thing that it is not.”, said Mr Oscar Wilde. And why ever not?
Because it’s through adversity that we discover out who we are, realising our strengths and what we’re capable of withstanding, without trials and tribulations, life would be boring.
Studies show that manageable amounts of stress can actually be good for us; motivating our psyche and boosting the immune system. So the next time someone cuts you up at a roundabout, don’t do the angry fist shake thing, instead give them a big genuine thumbs up. They’ve potentially assisted you in swerving a nasty bout of lurgy. Plus, their reaction will probably be comedy gold. If this wasn’t enough, you’ve also got the smug satisfaction of being the bigger person.
So all in all, practicing equanimity is not a case of trying to go through life in a robotic indifferent kind of way, more a conscious realisation that cirumstances and emotions are an ongoing process and by not attaching too much weight to moods and feelings, it’s absolutely possibly to live a much more blissful existence. The diamond sutra illustrates the point beautifully…
Thus shall ye think of this fleeting world:
A star at dawn, a bubble in a stream;
A flash of lightning in a summer cloud,
A flickering lamp, a phantom, and a dream.
*An absolute fabrication for the record.
…but there’s a reason why he’s grinning.
See the bad-ass in the bottom left? He is the actual Larry. And you too, can be as happy as him.
So why do too many of us spend a fair chunk of time feeling general miserable and dissatisfied?
Recent studies show that most humans spend around 47% of their waking hours in autopilot mode; roughly defined as a ‘cognitive state in which you act without self awareness’.
Essentially that means that for half the time, when you’re not blissfully unaware of life , busy
snoring, farting and blanket hogging recharging your batteries, you’re wasting precious time existing in a sense of purgatory, the lights are on but no-ones really in…
Instead, we’re busily introspecting – more specifically, focusing our attention on our internal narrative. You know the little voice reading this out to you in your head?*
That’s your internal narrative or monologue; also known as a stream of consciousness.
An ongoing sequence of thought, observation, query and muse, this little voice has a massive effect on your general outlook and mentality.
In a perfect world, it would be jumping up and down, waving metaphorical pom-poms and always encouraging, congratulating and generally having your back during the roller coaster of life, a hybrid of the best friend ever, combining the optimistic attitude of Buddy the Elf, wisdom of Albus Dumbleore and the invincible bounce-back-ability of Chuck Norris; the world’s most awesome mentor as it were.
Unfortunately, McDonald’s still don’t deliver, the snooze button will never fully satisfy the need for ‘…five more minutes’ and your internal narrative can, quite frankly, be something of a complete bitch and according to aforementioned study, most of the thoughts delivered to us through it end up making us feel pretty unhappy.
If you’ve ever suffered with depression, you’ll be aware that this little voice inside your head can, on times, become bogged down with bad vibes, leaving a feeling more like a canal of negativity than a stream of consciousness.
These bad vibes are often responsible for some of the
shittier less productive pearls of wisdom that our stream of consciousness has to offer; affirmations of negative self esteem, low self worth, lack of confidence; all of these things contribute towards a less than cheerful outlook.
Ever been warned about the dangers of over-thinking things? Over-analysing a situation? People tend to do this over relationship issues, often to the detriment of their own sanity, well being and – ironically, the relationship itself.
In this state, we become self conscious, evaluating and assessing ourselves and our circumstance.
Often, our findings see us falling short of preconceived ideals or unrealistic expectations; what we should look like, who we should be, what our lifestyles should be like, our relationships, aspirations…
A lot of the time, these unattainable concepts aren’t even actually desirable to ourselves, set forth by the media, reinforced by our friends, family and social surroundings, we find ourselves – in autopilot – blithely accepting them to be true. This can leaving us feeling inferior and unworthy – thus, endorsing the distorted negative cycle.
So, every now and again, it can be incredibly helpful to remove yourself mentally from the downer, returning tickled pink. Or at the very least with, a fresher and more productive perspective.
That’s all very well you say – but I can’t just turn it off.
As a matter of fact, you probably can.
For a while anyway.
With a bit of practice, there’s no reason why anyone can’t silence the mental chatter, step out of the auto-pilot haze into the sunshine and enjoy actually experiencing life rather than going through the motions.
And the best bit?
You can practice this – anywhere. You’ve got all the equipment you need already.
A nice quiet space is ideal, try and keep your back relatively straight while being comfy – we’re aiming for somewhere in between the slump adopted at the end of a night of alco-overindulging and ‘rod stuffed up your ass’. You may prefer to close your eyes, it’s entirely up to you…
Completely focusing on your breathing is a nice, simple way to start. It’s literally as straightforward as paying attention to the inhale and exhale process you automatically do thousands of times a day.
Employ all your senses in with this, try and focus entirely on taking a breathe deeply into your lungs, feeling the air entering through your nostrils – if taking a deep breathe feels a bit strange, try putting your right hand just below your bellybutton, it makes it easier.
Experience the sensation of your rib cage rising and expanding as it fills – and exhale, slowly.
The falling of your chest, the gentle release of breathe – listen to the noise.
You’ll probably find your mind wandering, don’t worry about it – be aware of the thought without following it, realise it’s passing, like the melting of a snowflake – and bring your attention back to the breathing.
Try counting ten intentionally, slow, rhythmic in-and-out breathes; it’s impossible not to feel calmer afterwards.
And – far from putting a dam in the stream of consciousness, so it all comes flooding out afterwards, this technique – with a little practice – can help drastically reduce the time we spend in our own heads getting verbally bashed.
Officially mindfulness is defined as; bringing complete attention to the present experience on a moment-by-moment basis. Basically, the opposite of zoning out.
Practicing mindfulness in this way needn’t always be a case of setting time aside either. In traffic, washing dishes, peeling potatoes, having a bath? The time spend on activity where your mind is prone to wandering can be used.
It’s been proven that mindful meditation in this way can have a hugely beneficial effect, both psychologically; positively impacting mood, memory and mental capacity – and physiologically; reducing stress responses, lowering anxiety, blood pressure and boosting our immune system and energy levels.
So now you know. Instead of playing the ‘…spotting people picking their nose game’ in traffic, take the opportunity to indulge in some light mental relaxation. The chirpy looking fella below, looking remarkably pleased with himself, does.
“How does one practice mindfulness? Sit in meditation. Be aware of only your breath.”
*I’m assuming you’re reading this in your head and you’re not being hand-fed grapes, under an umbrella whilst someone with dulcet French tones reads aloud to you. If this actually is the case, I’m really quite jealous. That sounds lovely.