Mindfulness Practices that Help to Settle the Emotional Brain – Step 9 (slide set 2)

**The ideas contained in this post are the opinions of the writer and communicated without reference to supporting documentation. Any uses of “she” or “he” in the communication of ideas are not intended to covey sexual bias. Breakaway MHE Disclaimer

Author: Peter Miller

The mindfulness exercise depicted below in the first slide is one that I use myself on a regular basis to enhance both emotional stability and self-awareness. Since remaining relatively consistent with this very exercise (making attempts almost every day), I believe my ability to notice and settle difficult emotions common to Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) has increased a lot. For instance, emotions such as guilt, shame, rejection, worthlessness, and fears of abandonment don’t seem to “pack the same punch” as they used to, or have me instantly reacting unwisely – not to say that working through these emotions doesn’t remain hard, because it does. Nonetheless, I can see better what’s happening when it’s happening and take better emotional responsibility.

Similar to other mindfulness exercises, this one is straight-forward in regards to the “how to”, but still requires a sincere willingness to practice both honestly and consistently to reap the rewards. All that is required is to place your focus on one thing (such as your breath moving in and out of your nose) and then wait for your mind to wander and your body to produce feelings and sensations. When the mind wanders, all that is required is that you observe where it went, describe where it went, and then gently return your attention to your breath.

For instance, as I am focusing on my breath I may observe that my mind wanders off into a thought about finances, or kids, or politics. Making the observation is therefore to just notice that the mind wandered off, and the description is about placing the thought into a category. And after I do this, I gently bring my attention back to my breath. I follow the same process with feelings, images of past events, and sensations that get experienced in the body. I don’t expect to observe and describe every single thing that happens during my mindfulness practice, but I do expect to follow the process for at least a portion of that which passes through my mind and shows up in my body.

I recommend starting with a short duration of this mindfulness practice (about 5 minutes) because once you try this out you will realize just how busy the mind actually is. It can be stunning to realize how much busyness is going on inside the mind, and how the body reacts when even a little time is taken to just pause and be the observer. You can increase the duration gradually as you get more practiced.

Similar to other mindful practices, it is common for people to start judging themselves or the practice itself, and then to give up on it. If the judgments start happening, I recommend that you practice observing and describing what you see (your judgments), and then gently return attention to the breath. It is always up to you!

The thoughts that go through your mind as you practice mindfulness can be looked at as train cars passing you one by one. The very common issue in Borderline Personality Disorder, however, is to “get hooked” on powerful emotions associated with the thoughts that arise, and then to “hop aboard” the thought train… with one thought leading to another, and to another, and to yet another, etc. And likewise… with one powerful emotion leading to another, and to another, and to yet another, etc. This is like going on thought and feeling tangents, or getting all “tangled up” in thoughts and feelings irrelevant to the present moment, rather than practicing being the objective observer. This is also when things can get very toxic because the suffering person may start reacting to the buildup and pressure of thought and emotion.

The sad part about all this is that a person with BPD usually doesn’t realize what he is doing to himself as he goes on all these unnecessary thought/feeling tangents, meaning that he is unable to effectively work through present moment issues because he is so preoccupied with issues irrelevant to the present moment. He is also probably reacting in some way to all the irrelevant thought/feeling content, or perhaps holding it all in like a powder keg that will eventually blow its top. Either way, instead of making things easier on himself and those he associates with, he makes it unnecessarily hard and complicated. It is a tense and stressful way to be in this world. But if you have never been guided in processes to become self-aware and taking “internal responsibility”, then how would you ever know any better?

When we as humans “get on the thought train” and start feeling all the emotions that go with those thoughts, our first tendency is to simply believe everything we experience without a doubt. I believe this is true for any human being, but especially for those who experience their emotions in very powerful ways. It’s as though the more powerful the emotional experience is, the more the person tends to believe without question his various thoughts (and feelings) to be FACTS, rather than just thoughts and just feelings.

Now imagine how many conflicts have been waged between people because of this very real human tendency to rush to conclusions and believe thoughts (and feelings) without question. People end up fighting for their assumptions due in large part to their inability to be self-aware, take ‘internal responsibility”, and to support each other in conversation to settle the brain down. People also very commonly experience internal conflicts and immense emotional pressure because they are looking at their thoughts (and feelings) as FACTS, rather than just thoughts and just feelings.

But someone might say… “I wouldn’t be feeling so strongly about this thought if it wasn’t a fact”. To that response, I would say “that is a very human connection to make”, and “it is very understandable that you might come to that conclusion, because humans do that”. But then I would inquire… “Have you ever realized that the situation was more complicated than you thought after talking things through a bit more?” I might also inquire… “Have you ever realized that you jumped to conclusions or misinterpreted a person’s actions after talking things through a bit more?” If the person answers “yes” to either of these questions, then there is a very good chance that he is looking at his thoughts and feelings as FACTS, and therefore not taking enough time to take “internal responsibility” and process things sufficiently.

Humans in modern culture are very often rushed, impatient, and afraid of loss. Humans in modern culture are also HIGHLY unskilled in taking this type of “internal responsibility”. Other matters (perhaps monetary gain?) appear to have taken supreme precedence over these mental health matters. If humans in modern culture were actually skilled in taking this type of “internal responsibility”, then there would be much less need for mental health services and educational programs like this, wouldn’t there? I believe it makes perfect sense that much of the human population would end up suffering with all sorts of mental, emotional, and personality disorders with the priorities arranged as they are. We have set ourselves up for illness.