The Wise Open Mind

Your path of self transformation.

How Mindfulness Can Help in a Crisis

Mindfulness can help you sort through the pain and sadness of a crisis.

In a crisis, we’re likely to resist change and give in to fear of the unknown. Yet the ancient Buddhist practice of mindfulness, remaining fully aware of what you are experiencing in the present moment, is the key to bringing yourself out of suffering and back into happiness.

Mindfulness is a process of linking awareness with attention in order to develop, expand, and enhance both. It results in more focused and heightened concentration: You observe your thoughts and feelings rather than become immersed in them. You become aware that you have two selves, the self that’s having the experience and the self that is witnessing it and is separate from it.

First, you allow this witnessing self to emerge in your consciousness. Then, instead of thinking about, analyzing, and building upon a sensation or feeling, such a sense of panic or sadness, you simply observe it as it arises. Then you catalog it as “not worthy of further exploration” or “something to contemplate later to see what I can learn from it,” and let it drift out of your awareness. 

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As you meditate and allow the witnessing mind to sort through what arises, you’ll find that most of what it generates has little significance. The more you experience this process, the easier it will be to avoid jumping onto your thoughts or feelings and riding them like a wild horse wherever they take you. Peacefulness and joy can arise in you as you let that wild horse ride off into the distance.

The dual awareness that arises when you allow the witnessing mind to come in fosters the courage to fully experience even the most painful emotions, beliefs, and memories, and tolerate any accompanying physical sensations. The witnessing mind knows that you’re separate from your circumstances, so you feel safer than if your awareness were completely absorbed in those thoughts and feelings. Remain present in your suffering until it passes, and it will.

Ronald Alexander, Ph.D., is the director of the OpenMind Training Institute, and teaches at UCLA, Pepperdine, and Pacifica Graduate Institute.

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