To Soothe the Ruminating Mind – Learn to ask the right questions

No Answers? - It's OK.

You know you have issues when a birthday wish caused you sufferings

Sometime back, a friend that I haven’t been in touch with for a long time, wished me ‘Happy Birthday’. And there were all kinds of emotions – surprise, awkwardness and strangely, guilt. I am apologetic when people spend the effort and time to gift me something or keep me in mind. 

There is a lot of resistance and tightness around this giving and receiving. Almost feels like a personal failure if I needed help, care, or even occupying the attention of another human being. I notice this strong need for exchanges to be ‘fair’. Who knows a simple birthday wish can lead me down the route of rumination?

‘How I wish I can give and take more easily’

‘How I wish I like socialising more.’

‘I am only making things difficult for myself.’

‘This is why I am a bad entrepreneur.’

‘I will never succeed in my business.’

Down the rabbit hole it rolls..

Gently shifting difficult emotions to curiosities

The immediate suggestion of any mindfulness practitioner is possibly to pause, breathe or practice more kindness and patience. But as a person that habitually favours thinking and analysing all my life, I find that wanting to access these resources right away can feel a bit forced at times. Pulling the brake and asking ourselves to stop thinking immediately sometimes feels impossible or even unkind.

I discover that when I allow myself to frame the ‘thoughts’ reeking of self-judgements into more objective but compassionate curiosity questions, it helps me to move more gradually into the calm space. To practice the space of beginner’s mind & starting anew, which also aligns with mindfulness practice. There is no fixed structure and steps surrounding the practice, the embodying of the attitudes is key.

Questions are authentic and holds true to your predicament: 

How does healthy exchanges and giving looks like?

How can I begin to loosen this tightness around these social exchanges?

How can I acknowledge and take care of my need for fair exchange?

What do I need in this moment that will best take care of me?

General rules of thumb:

  • Avoid ‘why’ questions if you are in a state of criticism and rumination. And it’s the same in our relational conversations, asking ‘why’ tend to provoke our defensiveness.
  • Focus on ‘I’ which is within our control (leave out others – he, she, they)
  • Ask with the sense of openness, an opening to answers but not demanding or expecting them right away.

It’s about the intentions; not the actual answers

I don’t actually have answers for some of these questions immediately (sometimes you might), but yet it seems to calm my being as I take time to consciously verbalise these difficulties using the attitudes of mindfulness i.e. objectivity, kindness, allowing, non-resistance, and curiosity. I don’t have to force myself to ‘embrace’ or ‘stop it’ right away. 

This not needing answers or outcomes right away – It’s setting the intention for more space and curiosity which prevents overwhelm in the mind; some clarity in the midst of the chatter. We are less likely to react in a way that creates more tension or worsens the issue. Regrettably, in the above situation, instead of a simple ‘thank you’, I reacted with some awkward comments and spent more time ruminating on that.

Using your body sensations as gauge

Using these curiosity questions helps me to break my pattern of judgement and over-analysis aka rumination, and reminds me to take a pause to notice the tightness that is building up. I use this tightness as a gauge of whether my questions have landed well, a good question loosen and lighten the tensions. Also, the clearer my questions are, the more likely they become conscious intentions in my life, and the more likely I am to gain insights moment to moment.

When relating to yourself (or others), practice not needing and giving answers right away. It creates space for calmness and compassion.

To receive regular inspirations, and all things life-and-human, to deepen your own growth and practice.

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