It seems these days, you can’t express an emotion (other than happiness) without someone telling you to ‘breathe’, or quoting the one or two phrases that they have come across on ‘Brainy Quote’ from Epictetus. The current trend for CBT and Mindfulness, and I am a fan of both things are for some people just that, a trend; Something that many people know a little about and are therefore experts and feel free to comment on your Facebook or Twitter feed whenever you express some form of irritation. Now you can probably pick up that I’m feeling ranty, about this. No one says ‘breathe’ when I post something exciting (do they do that for you?) no they respond positively, that emotion is OK to express, that emotion is OK because we don’t have to do anything about that emotion we can all just enjoy and share that one.
I sometimes hear, ‘You’ve just got accept that that’s [how or what]it is’! I’ve struggled with this idea of acceptance for a long time. I partially agree with it, accept what it is now, but do we need to accept that things are the way they are forever? I do accept that my being angry about a traffic jam on the motorway or signal failure on the railway will not make that jam clear or mend the signals any quicker. But am I not right or even allowed to consider the emotion that I have? Can I not be angry, express that emotion and then highlight that perhaps there is a greater issue that ought to be addressed; poor traffic management systems, under investment in the existing rail network and the inappropriateness (to my mind) of spending on a system that will benefit the few at the expense of the many (yes I’m talking about HS2)?
This, of course, is just one example. I’m sure you can think of many more. I would argue that this is an important point. This is about compassion; the ability to recognise suffering, injustice and inequality and attempt to do something about it! It is not a passivity of acceptance or discounting ourselves within an event or series of events.
Acceptance within mindfulness is about ‘observing’ things as they are now, and sitting with that discomfort, being with that pain but not suffering because of the additional thoughts and feeling we have – suffering because of our suffering. It is never the emotion or even the initial thoughts and feels that run through our heads and bodies, but the behaviour that we engage in as a result of those thoughts and feelings. They may include an outward projection of anger, aggression and hostility or we may not express what we feel in any true way and suppress, turn those feelings in on ourselves – because we are not allowed to express them! This may well link back to our script. in TA terms the script is formulated in early childhood and continues to develop and get reinforced as we go through life. The script is made up of Drivers and Injunctions – the things we are allowed to do and the things we are not.
You may recognise some of those injunctions in your world, particularly when something is said to you and it ‘rubberbands’ you back to some of the feelings you had as a child? Perhaps your reaction to those comments that occur when you are an adult are the same as you had as a child – do you sulk? Get angry? Cry?
Mindfulness, psychotherapy (in particular my modality of working Transactional Analysis) and other forms of therapy (CBT, Counselling etc) and even the more esoteric approaches have a commonality and that is about making the unconscious, conscious; creating a deeper understanding of how and why we behave in particular ways. How can we begin to understand our actions and learn how to respond rather than to react to things around us?
So, back to the beginning and me feeling angry. It’s OK for me to be angry. It’s OK for me to feel dissatisfied with a service that should be better given the cost of it. It’s OK for me to be not OK and it’s OK for me and indeed anyone else to express that feeling (in a non-aggressive way). I was being mindful and was being emotionally aware and congruent. Mindfulness isn’t just about breathing or taking a breath, it’s much more than that, it is about ‘being’ and having an awareness and being present with our experiences (good or bad) in any given moment. The advice to ‘take a breath’ or ‘breathe’ isn’t helpful and perhaps is more about avoidance of talking about or managing those difficult emotions? Dismissing or discounting the experience the individual is going through. Perhaps we can start to think of more positive, effective responses to people frustrations than “breathe”…
Thanks for reading.