Changing Patterns of Anger and Sadness: A Christian Counselor on Mindfulness
By Chris Chandler, MA, LMHC, CSAT-C, Seattle Christian CounselingFor an organ encased by a structure as invulnerable as a skull, the brain is remarkably susceptible to influence from the surrounding environment. Every day positive and negative incidents influence the goings-on of your mind, sometimes exacerbating what is already occurring. For those who deal with distressing emotions and self-talk, developing mindfulness is essential to combating these self-defeating demons. Dr. Daniel J Siegel offers techniques for doing just that in his book, Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation.
The Benefits of Mindfulness
While it’s not unheard of to snap at an innocent family member after you’ve had a bad day, some of us go from 0 to 60 at the slightest provocation. You may start screaming at your spouse for pointing out that you neglected to pay a bill. Or perhaps you find yourself falling into a spiral of shame after an embarrassing moment. Mindfulness techniques can help you observe why you react this way, and how to alter it.
Scripture shows the importance of knowing our own minds. In Ecclesiastes we read:
I applied my heart to know, to search, and seek out wisdom and the reason of things, to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness. (Eccl. 7:25, NKJV)Like us if you are enjoying this content.
Siegel writes: “Creating what I call a ‘hub of awareness’ enables us to acknowledge troubling states without being taken over by them, and to see things as they are, rather than being constrained by our expectations of how they ‘should be.’ It also opens us to the full range of our perceptions – to information from the external world, from our bodily states, from relationships, and from the mind itself.” (pp. 71-72)
How to Develop Mindfulness
For those who often feel overwhelmed by their emotions, regardless of whether these are anger, despair, anxiety, or perhaps all three, Siegel recommends daily meditation. To some believers, meditation may seem suspect. It is the hallmark of other religions, or a seemingly unprofitable emptying of the mind.
On the contrary, focusing your thought life has been an important part of the Judeo-Christian tradition since its inception.
Meditation is not so much about emptying your mind, as improving your capacity to hear what God has to say. You do the same thing when you pray or worship. You lay aside ordinary concerns and distractions, so you can focus on one purpose– communing with the Lord. This is why John 4:24 says we worship in spirit, as well as truth (knowledge), “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Siegel suggests setting aside five minutes each day to practice the following exercise:
- Find a space on the floor to either sit with your back straight, or to lie down.
- Identify where you are most aware of your breath, and focus on it. This can be either within your nostrils or in the movement of your chest or abdomen.
- Avoid letting your mind wander as you focus on your breath. If you notice your thoughts straying, gently draw them back to your breathing.
- After a moment or so, observe what’s on your mind. How have you been feeling? What is driving your emotional life?
- Name your thoughts as they happen. This will help you identify what overwhelms you emotionally. Are you being critical of yourself? That’s a “judging” thought.
- As you identify these thoughts and feelings, remind yourself that they are temporary. Siegel suggests using language like, “I feel sad,” instead of, “I am sad.” This will help you to affirm that you are not defined by your emotions.
- Monitor your body. Does your heart pound when you think about certain things? Do your fists ever clench, or does your stomach begin to churn? What may be the cause of that?
Why is Meditation Helpful?The Bible is full of examples of people meditating, however, their practices rarely look much like how we imagine it today. Rather than sitting cross-legged on the floor humming or chanting, meditation was more like taking time to be alone with God. This is why some believers refer to daily Bible reading as their “quiet time.”
King David often meditated, and urged the Lord to use that time to reveal his shortcomings, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23 NKJV)
Repeating this exercise daily will help you become more attuned to your emotions and what causes them. The more mindful you become, the more power you will have over your feelings. The goal is not to become numb to your emotions, but rather to avoid erupting at the slightest provocation.
Be Kind to Yourself
Above all, be kind to yourself. We are often so much harder on ourselves than we would ever be with someone we loved. If a friend came to you crying, you would hear them out, telling them it’s OK to cry, and that they will eventually feel better. Do the same for yourself.
In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul exhorts believers to “[bring] every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” (II Cor. 10:5, NKJV) Now, this is not to say that you are a weak believer unless every thought is a spiritual one. Rather, take from this verse the message that knowing your own thoughts and being able to manage them is useful.
Christian Counseling for Mindful Meditation
If you struggle with overwhelming emotions, consider getting in touch with a professional Christian counselor. They can help you determine why your emotions are so powerful, and support you as you get a handle on them. A Christian counselor will use therapeutic techniques and prayerful guidance to help you develop the mental tranquility that will improve your life.
Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation by Dr. Daniel J. Siegel
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