By eM Life teacher Mike Engle
It Takes Practice
“Mike, can you come in here for a sec?” I can hear the tone of anger in my wife’s voice, and as I walk into the room and see her face I feel my stomach knot up in fear and my body tingle with defensiveness.
“Uh oh, I’m in trouble. Is she upset again? What did I do this time? It’s probably her fault anyways. Don’t let her push you around! Fight back! I’m always messing up. I understand why she’s disappointed in me. I should do things better, I’m always letting everyone down.”
All these thoughts swim through my head in a moment and immediately any clarity I felt before is gone, replaced by emotional thoughts of fear, defensiveness, hope to please others, wounds from previous experiences, and endless patterns of miscommunication, to name a few.
“Mike, I can’t keep cleaning up after you, I’m not your mother,” she says to me. Now the thoughts are coming up even worse, but I stay silent. Defensiveness rages and my body tenses into attack position, “That makes two of us, I don’t want you be my mother!” my mind screams, but I keep my mouth shut, knowing that this kind of reactivity doesn’t result in happy smiling times. Deep breaths. I notice the tension in my gut and the short breaths that I’m taking. I relax my body and let my breath go all the way down to my belly, and with my exhalation I relax my body even more. I keep looking her in the eyes and my attention is now split. Part of my mind is aware of her, what she says and what she’s communicating through her body language. The other part is aware of my own internal chaos, the adrenaline tensing my body, my emotions and thoughts run amuck. I direct that part of my attention to the sensations in my feet and take another belly breath, relaxing my body again as I exhale. Slowly, I begin to speak, “I can see that you’re angry right now…”
To be honest, I have no idea what to say at that moment and I’m terribly clumsy in any attempt to connect with the other while remaining authentic to myself. I switch between habitual patterns of defensiveness and emotional knots of trying to please. Sometimes I connect with a clarity underneath all that mental chatter, underneath the hopes and fears, the patterns and beliefs accumulated over my lifetime, but it’s hard to do in the moment.
These are the moments that we practice for when we sit alone in a room without distractions, allowing our thoughts to come and go without getting swept away by them. We learn to use the anchor of the breath in our practice so that the mind can stay grounded in times of agitation and emotion.
Slowly, by learning to be passive observers of the thoughts, emotions, and sensations that pass through our awareness, we begin to see the space and clarity underneath.
It’s in that space that we begin to connect with an authentic voice.
Here, by authentic voice we mean a voice that isn’t coming from hope and fear, that isn’t easily swayed by the host of persuasive thoughts cascading through our minds. So often we live in our heads and speak from there, we say what we think we should say. We say things hoping to gain approval from others or fearing to be rejected by them. Rarely do we bring our awareness down into the body and connect with our own intuition, our gut. Through practicing mindfulness, we can develop the capacity to break the chains of discursive thinking and drop down from all the confusing emotions and mental chatter into our own body, reconnecting with what it is we really want to say. We begin to speak from a space of confident grounded presence. We are able to see our thoughts without buying into them, and we gain the ability to question whether they are in alignment with who we are. When we learn to connect with the present and stop following the hopes and fears that drive us so consistently into ruin, we give ourselves the chance to interact with others and the world with wisdom and compassion. Of course, the times when your wife or husband is upset with you aren’t the easiest moments to find your authentic voice, but hopefully with some practice we can begin to speak from a better space when life presents its never-ending barrage of challenges.
Connecting to our authentic voice with mindfulness practice
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About the author
Mike has been passionate about training his mind since he was first exposed to mindfulness at the age of 16. Since then, his desire to understand and work with his mind has led him to earn degrees in Psychology and Philosophy, to research attention training in monastic education in Nepal, and to sit four and a half years in intensive solitary retreat. After finishing his retreat Mike began to teach mindfulness to others, and after starting his own family he became interested in bringing the benefits of mindfulness to parents, children, and families. He currently lives in Barcelona with his wife and sons where he spends his time teaching mindfulness, coaching, and working in the field of Tibetan translation.
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Also published on Medium.