My Mindful Week- Day 1: Dealing with Past Disappointments

We’ve all been there. It’s 3am on a Saturday night and you’re laying in a comfy bed, and as much as you want to get some shut-eye, your mind is going 120km/h thinking about all the mistakes you’ve done in the past or the hurt people inflicted upon you.

If only you’d tried a little more, she could’ve stayed. If only you knew better then, you wouldn’t be three knuckles deep in debt and about to lost all your savings right now. If only your boss hadn’t underestimated your working ethics or your friend hadn’t insulted you in front of the whole party. If only…

But these repeating loops of cassetted memories? They are just pointy, deadly knives. The more you replay them, the deeper you drive these knives into your own heart.

And you don’t deserve that. Nobody deserves that.

There’s a way to learn from these memories, but bleeding your heart by replaying them over and over and over is not it.

Here’s how I’ve learnt to cope with creeping past disappointments and hurt using mindfulness:

  • The first thing you’ll want to do is to acknowledge that disappointment. It’s natural for you to want to just brush it off, sweep it under the rug with other hundreds of past heartbreaks in the attic of your heart chambers. While it’s the mind’s way of keeping itself sane, the growing dust will eventually build up and burst one day. It’s better to acknowledge it and deal with it rather than bottling it up (duh).
  • Breathe in and out and be aware of your breathes. When you breathe in, say, “I’m breathing in.” When you breathe out, say, “I’m breathing out.”
  • Do not chastise yourself for stabbing your own heart. This is very critical because many of you tend to hate yourself for reliving past mistakes on top of the wound that such an act inflicts on your emotional bearings. Don’t blame yourself for it. Instead, just acknowledge the fact that you are reliving past memories and that you are feeling negative emotions. (this might take as long as 15 to 20 minutes for difficult memories, but breathe in and out through everything. You’ve got this.)
  • Breathe in and out some more.
  • After acknowledging the presence of those negative emotions, look at your past self in the memory. If you want to, look deeply into that self. Most of the time, you made that particular mistake because you were young, naïve, didn’t know any better. Or it was motivated out of fear, fear of being rejected, of being alone or any one of the hundreds manifestations of fear. Don’t judge that past self. Just acknowledge the reasons behind your action back then.

If you’re still mad for not getting into that one specific scholarship program, just look at your past self that was applying for it. Did you try your best? If yes, what else could you have done but your best? If not, why didn’t you try your best? Were you too stressed out with other areas of your life? Did you fear giving it all out and realizing you were never enough anyway? Did you fear failure? Were you afraid of what people were going to say about your failing to get in? Most of the time, everything just boils down into fear. We’re such fearful creatures, but that’s alright. Just acknowledge that part of your nature while breathing in and out and smile at it. Fear can only be replaced by understanding. Just shed the light of acknowledgement at that fear, and you will suddenly feel a little lighter, more alive. As you continue to practice, you might even grow to want to hug your younger self much like how you’d hug a scared child after they think they’ve done some horrible mistake like breaking an expensive cup and are scheming of the best way to run away from home forever because to be honest, aren’t we just children who are scared and lost?

  • Don’t forget to be aware of your in and out breathes through everything. Sometimes, you can get carried away by your thoughts. Don’t blame yourself for it. It’s a habit and you can certainly get better bit by bit. Just gently get back to being aware of your breathes every time you’ve wandered.
  • Finally, remind yourself that this is in the past and that it cannot hurt you anymore. You’ve survived it. Even if there are facets of it that you would love to change, you literally can’t. Until the scientists have figured out a way to travel back in time, you’re stuck with the present moment. Those things happened, and that’s that. Look at it with the eye of mindful non-judgement, smile at your younger self, and get back into the present reality where you truly belong.

If you have trouble following your breathe mindfully, it might be useful to read Thich Nhat Hanh’s instructions here.

This is part of My Mindful Week series. Read about its importance here

Hi, Wolfie.

Although it is usually not expressed out-loud, we have all been there. You know, the whole being jealous of a close friend who’s got yet another promotion that permits her to travel and earn a shit load of money at the same time, or being bitter about somebody else’s achievement especially when you’ve failed in that very same endeavour a few times in a row.

More often than not, we suppress these feelings- chastising ourselves all the while for daring to even feel anything negative regarding our beloved friends, or a complete stranger who just happens to be so much better than us in some endeavor.

 

“Why are you like this?” we would ask ourselves, “You monster!”

 

The societal expectation for us to be a “nice” person has conditioned us to critically scold ourselves as soon as any negative feelings bubble up. Our brain knows it’s wrong to feel all these, but our heart still feels them anyway. What do we do then? We end up not allowing ourselves to be anything less than bubbly, cheery, and fun to be around.

When we are sulking, angry, disappointed, malcontent, or envious, it feels wrong. We feel… guilty.

I don’t know about you, but I know I have, and for the longest time, I feel so awfully fake. I feel like there’s so much rage, so much negative emotions inside, yet I have to put out a “cool” exterior.

“No one must know,” I would tell myself, “They would hate you, you monster!”

You can say that’s yet another manifestation of perfectionism- when you expect yourself to only feel perfectly happy emotions, all the freaking time.

A week ago, I came a cross a video. Basically, it states that there are two wolves inside each and every one of us- a blue, and a red wolf. The blue wolf is our bright side- happy, bubbly, motivated, and passionate whereas the red wolf contains all of the envy, jealousy, anger, and insecurities.

If you were anything like me, you would pamper your blue wolf, feeding it, petting it, and praising it all the time.

“Who’s a good boy?” He certainly is!

The red wolf, however, gets neglected. You wouldn’t even acknowledge it sitting by the corner, waiting patiently for your attention. You would pretend it didn’t even exist. When it came running, howling for your attention, you would scold it, disown it, rationalize yourself into believing that your neglect is justified.

And that’s wrong.

How so?

Because no matter how long you turn your back on the red wolf, it will still be there, probably sulking. It will very likely grow angrier by the minute, plotting the next ambush. When the raid comes, you feel the negative feelings all at once, usually more intense than the last anger fit.

The cycle goes on and on. The red wolf comes, you beat it. It becomes more revengeful, and comes again, and you beat it yet again.

And do you know what the red wolf wants most?

You might think it wants to ruin your life, or make you a cynical person. Nope. Not at all. It is only a group of emotions. Emotions don’t become anything if you don’t act upon it.

The red wolf only wants your acknowledgement. That’s it. Maybe, it wants you to finally look at it in the eyes, and say, “Hey, boy!”

That’s it.

Because as hard as it may be for us to believe, the red wolf is a part of us, too. We can never get rid of it. No matter how hard we try to deny ourselves, we will always be capable of feeling angry, envious, and sad. To expect ourselves to be otherwise is foolish.

Likewise, Thich Nhat Hanh taught that when we find ourselves feeling negative emotions, don’t fight them. Don’t ignore them.

Just acknowledge them.

Say, “I’m feeling angry right now.”

Maybe, you might want to find an explanation for your anger. Maybe, you don’t. Whatever your course of action is, just merely acknowledging your “bad” side is enough.

When you finally allow the red wolf to come creeping near the camp fire, maybe just slouching around. When you finally accept that it’s a part of your nature, you will finally find a sense of wholeness. Allow yourself to feel all the dimensions of your complex human nature.

Now, turn around, and say hi to that red wolf of yours!