Welcome, Spiritual Warriors to this week’s edition of The Source on rumination versus reflection.
Rumination is a compulsion to repetitively think about the causes, decisions and potential consequences of an experience that’s creating anxiety, pain, or distress in our life. While self-reflection is healthy, and helps us make more conscious choices in the future, such as when we say out loud to ourselves, “I’ll never do that again!” The reason we stay stuck in the past is often because we haven’t given ourselves permission to let go of the self-blame involved in the situation. But if we truly are sorry AND would make a different choice, a more conscious choice, then it’s time to forgive ourselves. And in that forgiving, we free ourselves from the tether to the quicksand of the past.
It’s actually healthy to visit the land of hurts and wounds once in a while; but nobody needs to live there!
From Rumination to Reflection
At it’s best, rumination is a conditioned pattern; at its worst it’s a compulsion, sometimes even an addiction. And some of us are more prone to it than others simply because of our emotional wiring. But we can break free from the toxic cycle by introducing a pattern interrupt – essentially, a break in the negative, learned behavior.
First we have to realize that we are ruminating. This naturally comes with the development of our emotional intelligence – recognizing the emotions we are feeling and those that others may be feeling as well. Most people are numbed to the nuances of their emotions. We use generalizations such as happy or sad. But the key to mastering your emotions is cultivating a better vocabulary.
So when you are sad, run through the spectrum of emotions. Start by saying, “I am not my emotions. I have emotions.” And then place your hand on your heart, close your eyes, and ask, “What am I feeling right now?” Let answers flow and allow the sensation to go deep. As you begin the process nothing may come. That’s OK. Continue to sit with it and ask the question. At a certain point, you will realize: “I feel disappointed, or discouraged, or desperate, or panicked, or angry, or resigned, or helpless, or regret, or grief, or blame.”
Don’t block or suppress what comes. Allow it. Allow yourself to be human and truly feel your emotions. Don’t judge them. Simply realize it for what it is… an emotion. Tears may flow. Sadness may envelope you. But the key is giving it a name. This is a healthy part of self-reflection and truly understanding yourself at a deeper level. But if you find that beating yourself over these emotions has become a regular behavior, then it’s time to act. It’s time to break the cycle.
When you find yourself in a devolutionary downward rumination jam, come up with a phrase that helps you seize the moment, such as:
- “I am not my feelings”
- “Name it and tame it!”
- “Pump up the jam!”
- “That’s not me!” or any other personal phrase that helps you recognize that you are lost in rumination, and it’s time to let go (at least for the moment).
Take a 16-Second Time-in!
Then practice this technique that I’ve taught to world class athletes, members of the military, high pressured business people, and law enforcement. It was even featured in the season finale of “Blue Bloods” with Tom Selleck and Danny Wahlberg! I call it The 16-second Time-in (feel free to use that as your phrase).
The moment you realize you’re ruminating, say your phrase, close your eyes and watch your breath as you take a long, slow, deep breath in. Watch it go down into your belly. And when it gets there, hold the breath in to the count of four and continue to watch it as it sits inside. Then, release it and observe the exhale as it moves up your chest, into your throat and back out through your nostrils. And then hold the breath out and witness it as it dissipates into the air. That’s in to the count of 4; hold to the count of 4; release it to the count of 4; and hold it out to the count of 4. All the while watching it, witnessing it, observing it. Then open your eyes, breathe normally and move on.
In those 16 seconds you were not in the past; you were not in the future. You were in the present moment. And in the present moment there is no fear, no regret, no grievance, no anger, no woulda – coulda – shoulda. At the end of your breath, acknowledge to yourself, “Here I am in this sacred, precious present moment.” Then ask yourself, “What am I going to do with it?”
Introducing a 16-second Time-in is the break your mind needed to loosen its grip on the past. Practice this every few hours or every time you notice you are having a rumination moment and within days, you will break your compulsion to live in the past.
It’s also an easy way to start a daily meditation practice. Go through the process four times and it’s a minute; 20 times and it’s five minutes. In just a few days, you will feel comfortable introducing pattern interrupts into difficult conversations, arguments, problem-solving situations when you are stuck, work-out sessions, waiting on a line – even getting stuck in traffic (make sure you keep your eyes open while you’re driving!).
We can break the cycle of rumination as well as other destructive emotional patterns by simply giving ourselves a 16-second Time-in. And reminding ourselves that the best is yet to come!
I’ll see you in the gap. Peace. -d
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