My Superpower – The Power to Choose

Guest Blogger: Patti Holland, Certified Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Teacher, Center for Mindfulness, University of Massachusetts Medical School

I’m stuck in line at the RMV waiting to get my licensed renewed. Actually, I think I’m stuck in the line that leads to the line where I can renew my license. I don’t like this. Not one bit. But I have to renew my license. I have to get around to work, to buy food and go to the beach. I have no control over my current situation or how this RMV office is organized or operated for that matter. I have lots of opinions about this by the way. But absolutely no control over any of it.

However … I have every bit of control over how I deal with this situation. And so I choose to not let myself spiral into a mass of anger and frustration that will unleash itself at the poor defenseless clerk when I finally make my way to the front of the line.

I can make this choice because I can feel myself starting to get agitated. My foot is tapping, breath is shallow and fast, shoulders are tense and closer to my ears. Various thoughts all related to the theme “this is ridiculous” are running fast and furious in my mind.

I know this because I am aware in this very moment – awake and aware of what I am feeling physically and emotionally, and what’s running through my head that’s making me feel worse.

And I choose in this moment to focus my attention on my breath … again and again. I bring my attention to my breath. Feeling the air as it enters through the nostrils, moves through my body with a slight expansion in the rib cage and then feeling a gentle release as the air leaves my body.

At some point, I begin to consider we are all in this together: those of us in line and those of us behind the desk. My sense of righteous indignation starts to loosen feeling in its place a growing sense of community. Yep, right here in the RMV line.

And for this – I have the practice of mindfulness to thank.

What Is Mindfulness?

Simply put, mindfulness is present moment awareness. Jon Kabat Zinn defines mindfulness as the awareness that arises when you pay attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally.

How Do You Practice Mindfulness?

We can begin to practice mindfulness by focusing our attention on the present moment. A common practice is to focus on the breath. The breath is always in the present moment. Focusing our attention on the breath helps us to come into our wholeness, not lost in thought or just a bundle of nerves. We can experience our fullness, mind and body.

When you focus on your breathing and allow the exhale to be slightly longer than the inhale, you stimulate the vagus nerve that runs from the neck to the diaphragm. This signals your brain to turn up your parasympathetic nervous system – the system sometimes referred to as “rest and digest,” bringing a sense of calm.

We can focus our attention using any one of our senses. And in future blogs we will explore different ways to practice.

Oh, and the mind will wander. This is what it does. And this is where being nonjudgmental comes in. We can acknowledge that the mind will wander. It will travel back into the past, leap into the future, and call up memories and associations. When left alone, seldom is the mind focused on the present moment. This is okay. The mind wandering is not a problem actually (although we may experience this as frustrating). We can hold and act from an intention to focus our attention … again and again.

Why Practice Mindfulness?

There are many reasons why practicing mindfulness on a regular basis is good for you. For me, one reason I practice mindfulness is that it gives me access to my superpower … the power to choose. When we pause and become aware of what is actually happening in the present moment, we create space and the opportunity to step out of reactivity and automatic pilot. From this space, we can choose our response, and step awake and aware into the next moment of our life.

Join the conversation. Will you try practicing mindfulness? Share your thoughts and questions with us.

  3 comments for “My Superpower – The Power to Choose

  1. Kathleen
    August 25, 2017 at 3:03 pm

    I would be willing to try Mindfulness, but I need support or cheerleading to help me. Is this possible and how do I go about achieving this? Thanks!

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