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Finding Harmony Through Mindfulness: Conscious Consonance

Finding Harmony Through Mindfulness: Conscious Consonance

by Spencer Lee, MSW Intern 

A few weeks ago, I was sitting in a meeting that was kicked off with a mindfulness exercise. The leader of the exercise told us to notice our bodies. So, naturally, I did just that. I noticed that my back was really sore, and there was a lot of pressure. I tried my best to not attach any feelings or meaning to the back discomfort. I tried to do as the instructor said and “don’t make it any more or less”, yet I found the discomfort amplifying. I started feeling irritated with myself for noticing it in the first place and began to feel like I would never be able to focus on anything else. I thought to myself, “Ok, now what? How is this feeling going to get any better? I feel stuck”.

Thankfully, the leader of the exercise must have known what she was doing because just as I was starting to feel overwhelmed, she prompted, “Now, notice an area of the body that feels relaxed or pleasant, while not trying to change it.” So, I did just that. I sat there with my eyes still closed and started to scan my body for an area that felt better than my back did. I noticed that my feet, although touching the floor, felt like they were floating. My feet felt totally weightless, and as I noticed this feeling, it grew. That feeling of zero pain, pressure, or discomfort began to take over the previous feeling of back pain. Slowly but surely, the pleasant feeling of my feet outweighed the unpleasant feeling of my back. The pain from my back didn’t disappear from my awareness, but I was able to balance it with a positive feeling. The dichotomy between positive and negative came together to form a neutral, peaceful experience.

I’ve been thinking a lot since that meeting I was in. I’ve realized that I not only get stuck in feelings of physical discomfort at times but emotional discomfort too. Sometimes I worry, feel guilty, or not good enough,  and it’s hard to escape that feeling. I find myself in the same position as when I noticed my back pain where I think to myself, “Now what? I feel stuck in this pain.” So, over the past few weeks, I’ve been trying out the same method that worked in that mindfulness exercise- bringing awareness to a pleasant feeling.

So what are some positive or pleasant feelings that work to balance emotional discomfort? Well, it can be anything that you find calming, fun or something that brings a smile to your face. You can achieve pleasant feelings by either directly engaging in them (i.e., going for a walk, reading a book, spending time with a friend, cooking a fun recipe with the family) or through thoughts (i.e., remembering a happy memory, imagining your favorite place, thinking about exciting events in the future, expressing gratitude). As you create these positive experiences and bring more awareness to them, a balance is made with the unpleasant experience. Of course, we can’t avoid uncomfortable, painful, or negative experiences, but we shouldn’t have to suffer in experiencing them.  The goal is not to forget these feelings or push them under the rug but to implement skills like noticing positive emotions to find harmony and bring on a sense of peace to our lives.

Here are some examples of using positive experiences to balance negative ones.  Let’s say someone at your job got the promotion you were hoping for, and it leaves you feeling disappointed. To balance the disappointment, you might meet up with a friend to hang out. That positive experience will help counter the unpleasant experience from work. It is unlikely that you will forget what happened at work. Still, the disappointment is likely to decrease after having fun with a friend. We can use the same example again, but this time your friend is tied up and can’t hang out that day. So you decide to practice gratitude to bring about a pleasant feeling. You’re driving home with the windows down, and there’s a good song on the radio. You take the time to notice how the wind feels on your skin and how hearing the music sounds in your ears. You take a moment to be thankful that you can drive a car and feel a breeze. You’re grateful for excellent musicians that make good music for you to hear. After doing this practice and becoming conscious of happier feelings, the disappointment from work will not be as overwhelming.

It can be difficult to manage certain feelings and emotions, especially when they begin to take up so much space in our minds. Next time you feel overwhelmed, sad, disappointed, unhappy, or angry, try to balance that feeling with a positive one and see what happens next!