Flash Mindfulness

Mastery of emotional balance can be yours with a simple technique and plenty of practice

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You’ve been there, buried in work with rapidly approaching deadlines. Or the car breaks down on the freeway. Or the furnace goes out in the dead of winter. Or the kids run screaming through the house, markers in hand as you trip over a toy, spilling groceries across the kitchen floor. Real life: raw, frustrating and painful.

I’ve spent a lot of years reading spiritual texts and practicing numerous meditative and contemplative techniques. I like the meditative frame of mind, I like the anchor it provides to deeper places and I enjoy the occasional transcendent experience, but life can throw you off balance.

Life is work and family and chaos. Every day my sanity is tested. Every day I need to reach in and find calm and emotional balance.

I integrate centering moments into my day with a technique I call Flash Mindfulness.

I started the technique years ago as a mason laborer.

Masons 3

I spent one hot summer carrying brick and bags of cement over job sites, mixing mortar and keeping a crew of masons supplied as they worked.

The job paid well but it was brutal. Every day was a physical challenge and an emotional gauntlet. From dawn to evening I had a gang of blue-collar guys screaming at me, cursing me and berating me in fantastically crude, imaginative ways.

When my anger and frustration rose toward an unmanageable level, I began a purposeful practice of taking several deep breaths and changing my perspective. It worked. Everyone lived through the summer. I never broke a shovel over anyone’s head, despite the daily temptation.

At the end of the season, the crew even bought me beers, toasting me as one of their best laborers. It was a hard experience but I walked away stronger and learned to stay calm one brick, one exercise at a time.

I kept working to control my temper. Every time I let anger overcome me, I later reviewed my failing and continued refining the technique. As the technique matured, I used it to combat stress, anxiety and other emotional obstacles.

The technique boils down to four simple steps:

  • Trigger

The trigger is the most important part of the technique. Emotion tends to narrow the focus of your mind, blotting out everything but its focal point. You have to remind yourself again and again to pay attention to your emotions and notice a coming storm.

When you’re becoming angry, stressed or emotionally overwhelmed, note the moment by naming the emotion. Say Angry, Stressed or Worried to yourself. Naming the emotion gives you power over it. With that power you trigger the technique.

  • Breath

Take two or three long, deep breaths as you imagine your mind’s eyes rising through the air. With every breath, a single point of awareness ascends into the sky or to the ceiling.

  • Perspective

From above, imagine yourself looking down on the scene. See yourself and others standing about small and fragile, squabbling and crying like children or bugs or bunnies or whatever little thing you wish.

See it for what it is: nothing in the greater world, nothing worth fighting, crying or worrying over, just tempests of emotion.

Exhale. Imagine the emotion blowing away,

Inhale. Imagine a cool stream of calm and strength flow in.

  • Descent

Imagine your mind’s eye descending, holding that higher perspective.

Roll your shoulders, shake your head and move on with the day.

That’s it.

Play around with the components. Find what works for you. If you learn to recognize the rise of an emotional storm and pull the trigger, you’re most of the way to mastery.

The whole exercise should take less than 30 seconds, yet with it you can remove the clutter of hampering emotion, regain your balance and earn more space for calm and happiness.

You might even save a few lives.

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6 Responses to Flash Mindfulness

  1. Jennifer says:

    Your practice of “rising above” the fray is one I’m going to use when one of us is losing it here at home. As a yoga instructor with lots of women’s voices/teachings about how to get over anger, I appreciate a man’s view, esp. as it makes it a visual (not verbal) practice. My son may do better with this than all my yammering.

  2. Monica says:

    Throughout my life I have struggled with recognizing how my emotions play a part in my life and in the lives of those around me. I have also struggled with catching those emotions in their act. It’s like I have blinders on, which is a hard thing for me to admit. We recently moved into a new home, so when life’s craziness combined with mountains of boxed chaos….well, let’s just say emotions went everywhere. In my own way, I have followed your exercise. Everyday, my goal is patience, my process or trigger is to pause before I speak or react, and my technique is to let the small things go. This post has reassured me, and I feel stronger knowing that, like me, people do need some emotional checking. :-)

    • Markus says:

      I know that struggle all too well.
      Sudden, hot emotions like anger are hard to catch before a fire starts raging. It’s all so natural and so sudden – emotion just happens. And most people just let it happen.
      Being aware of your emotions and knowing when to trigger the Mindfulness Technique is usually the hardest part to master. If you practice watching your emotions when things are easy and relatively calm you’ll carry some of that awareness when hotter emotions are at play. From there you keep getting better.
      Emotions make life more meaningful, but a little mastery can stop the “fires” that do more harm than good. If you’re working at it, you’re already better off than most.

  3. Darrin says:

    I can relate to your example, Markus. There aren’t many jobs as physically demanding. Upon reflection I think the bricklayers were so cruel for a few reasons:
    1. That’s the way they were “trained.”
    2. With such grueling work, making you angry makes you work harder.
    3. The work is boring and it’s entertaining ganging up on the lowest employee.
    It’s amazing how people intentionally try to “get your goat” on a daily basis. I watch people “lose” it with restaurant servers, store cashiers, etc. I’m sure its done as a show of superiority they feel watching you lose your cool. If others’ minor errors or disrespectful rudeness causes you fall of center; How are you going to handle life’s true challenges? Upon reflection I’m thankful to those guys on the worksite. They taught me how to tolerate my spouse when I got home and then my children, especially when they became teenagers. It is still a bit of a struggle and I’m going to try your techniques (especially while driving).
    Thank-you.

    • Markus says:

      Darrin, thanks for your feedback and insight.

      There is certainly some merit to surviving the blue-collar gauntlet. I found myself physically stronger and mentally stronger – just as you’ve found that strength yourself.

      Men can be very hard on each other while building powerful relationships. I’ve always thought there were evolutionary roots to this. For most of our history men had to form tough bands of hunters or warriors for the sake of survival. The male group gauntlet was a hard but effective means of creating hearty, enduring groups. That process lives on in military units, sport teams and construction crews. Clint Eastwood beautifully illustrates the cultivation of toughness and making men in the movie Gran Torino.

      And I hope, like you, I can deal with my kids when they hit those teenage years.

      • Darrin says:

        You seem to be in touch with the essence that has molded men for eons. Your response reminded me recent physical altercations (with coworkers) I’ve been involved in. Immediately after the latest one I couldn’t help but smile (through the pain of my split lip) thinking to myself that I’m still bonding with other men, in such a way.
        Of course we shook hands the following day and comfortably work with each other to this day. I hope my grandson’s generation can grow from such experiences without “hard feelings.”
        (By the way: Grand Torino is an excellent example.)

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