Have you ever noticed that accidents are more likely to occur when you’re not present and grounded?
No matter how much I practice mindfulness, there are times when my awareness slips. I might take on more than I can realistically handle, getting caught up in the mounting pressures and ploughing through my action list. Or maybe I’m simply rushing to get to one appointment after another, neglecting self-care in the name of trying to get it all done.
Thankfully it doesn’t happen very often, but when a mishap does occur – like cutting myself while slicing vegetables or spilling my green smoothie on my new white rug – you can be sure I’ve been off balance, rushing or distracted by my thoughts when it happened. So, I’m much more vulnerable to melting down as a result.
A Recent Mishap
On a recent trip, I was in the bathroom of my hotel room, unpacking. I reached for something under the vanity, and when I stood up I SMACKED! my head on the edge of the counter.
The damage wasn’t catastrophic – a big red welt, and thankfully no broken skin! But this mishap definitely kicked up some emotional dust!! After a string of choice expletives, my mind was a swirling cloud of:
- Shame – how could this happen to me?!
- Blame – what idiot designed this bathroom!
- Guilt – if I had been paying attention, I wouldn’t have hit my head!
- Pity – my head is killing me! And
- Outrage – I repeat: who the HELL designed this stupid bathroom!
You might think the main challenge would be the pain in my head. But the real battle was happening inside my brain, where the “accident” had set off the alarms of the fight or flight response and launched a flood of stress hormones into my system.
Because I was aware this was happening…
I was able to see I had a choice between pausing to reset, or letting those stress hormones set the tone for the rest of the day.
Luckily for me I chose to reset by taking a long, slow, deliberate, breath, letting my shoulders be heavy and relaxed on the inhale, and on the exhale, letting my shoulders relax even more and slide down my back, toward my back pockets.
As I continued breathing like this, shoulders heavy and relaxed on the inhale, and sliding down my back on the exhale, I could feel my physical tension easing up, my emotions calming down and my mind disengaging from its litany of reactive thoughts.
The process I just described is what I call “the Practice,” and I never leave home without it. It’s so simple, and so easy to deploy when I hit a bump and get stressed out. I have never found a place I couldn’t do the practice, and there is no place in my life I can afford not to do it!
I like to think of accidents as little (or big!) wake-up calls. (At least when I’m not in the throes of a reaction.) Getting knocked on the head in my hotel room was a clear reminder to stop and reset by using the Practice to slow down, quiet my mind and ground myself instead of getting dragged off by my reactions.
How to Use the Practice to Reset Your ReactionIf you can shrug off a mishap, more power to you! But if you find your reaction clouding your outlook, it’s clearly time for a reset. Click To Tweet
If you can shrug off the mishap, more power to you! But if you find your reaction clouding your outlook, it’s clearly time for a reset.
- Start by acknowledging the facts. You stubbed your toe. You cut your finger. You slipped and fell. You spilled that wine glass. You hit the send button on an email that wasn’t finished. If you hurt yourself, it may help to acknowledge your physical pain as well.
- Next, breathe and relax tension in your body. Use the Practice I described above: take a deep breath. As you inhale, let your shoulders be heavy and relaxed. And on the exhale, let your shoulders slide down your back, toward your back pockets.
- Now, slow down. You may even need to come to a full stop for at least a few seconds.
- Press “pause” on whatever negative self-talk has revved up in your head. (Like… This always happens to me! I’m such a klutz! This is what I get for… If so-and-so hadn’t… If I’d just…)
Keep your mind focused on the simple act of breathing to relax and release muscular tension. If your mind wanders, do your best to bring it back. Keep breathing and releasing tension until you feel more calm and your mind feels less busy.
How to Move On with Dignity & Grace
When I slow down and accept the mishaps I experience as my teachers, I come into an effective partnership with the obstacles I face day to day. When I use self-awareness and the Practice to take responsibility for how I react to these minor accidents, I free myself to choose self-awareness over reactivity.
As I get older, I seem to be finding more and more long-standing challenges (some that are never going away!) This has helped me to accept what I cannot control, leaving only one question: How do I respond to the challenge at hand with dignity and grace?
My answer to this question always starts with the Practice to relax my body, calm my emotions and quiet my mind. From this relaxed and alert place, I am able to carefully and mindfully move back out into the traffic of my life.
I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that we can’t always find a quiet place to calm down when something upsetting happens. But when we remember to use the Practice, we can get to the calm space inside ourselves.
The greatest challenge is to remember to do the Practice when stress hits. But when you do, it’s one of the best investments you will ever make toward living a life that’s fully aimed at inner peace.
Keep it Simple and Take good care : )