Trigger Warning: How a Mantra Practice Can Help Manage Unsettling Emotions March 6, 2017 13:48
Triggers—we all have them. They can be situations, memories, specific sounds or smells, words and phrases, animals, or even certain individuals that can push us into a vortex of unpleasant emotions or mindsets. It’s easy, too easy, sometimes, to get caught up in this dizzying, unsettling flurry, and it can have a lasting impact, if we allow it.
Last week, I was chatting in the hall with colleagues after school. I like to laugh—a lot—unfortunately, I have a bold, loud laugh that can sometimes be misconstrued. At some point in our conversation, I let one of these bold laughs fly, and it triggered one of my colleagues. She had assumed that I was laughing at her, and that I was judging her, which was not my intention at all.
Even though I had apologized and explained to her that I was not criticizing or berating her in any way, I could tell that this did not completely pacify her. It still stung. She was triggered by my laughter—and I was triggered by her response. I felt awful about causing someone else pain, even though it was unintentional. Later on in the evening, it had an impact on my personal yoga practice. I couldn’t get that moment out of my head. I had trouble focusing, I didn’t enjoy my practice, and I started to second guess and berate myself as a result. What was the root of all of this turmoil?
Meditation can be an effective follow-up for my at-home yoga sessions, and it was perfect for managing the ripple effects of this particular situation. By incorporating the following steps, I was able to halt the negative self-talk, to recognize patterns, to answer lingering questions, and to offer compassion as an antidote.
Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted and sit so that you can be both relaxed and alert.
*Observe : Identify and name whatever reactions or emotions are associated with the situation. Where do you feel this reaction in the body? Are you holding tension anywhere? Notice what’s happening with the breath. Is your breathing ragged or smooth? Shallow or deep? Simply take time to identify, notice, and name what’s happening in the breath and body.
*Pause: Without judgment, and without taking these reactions personally, simply take some time to sit and acknowledge these reactions and feelings. They may be familiar to you—you may have felt this way before—and you may acknowledge patterns emerging. Whatever feelings or reactions that surface for you, be with them…without pushing them away….or looking for a distraction. Simply be still. Hold space for whatever you’re noticing.
*Reflect: Ask for guidance—what is this person, situation, etc. teaching me? What do I need to learn from this? What’s the message? Trust the information that you receive—and be patient—sometimes you won’t receive an immediate answer. This is usually the place where I begin a mantra recitation practice with a mala (japa practice). It’s kind of like waiting on hold and listening to music on the other end of the line—only the music doesn’t have to be annoying. Choose a mantra and a mala that resonate with you, and use this recitation practice to help you find clarity, direction, and calm. Again—without forcing an answer—without trying to manipulate or control your meditation session…simply allow…one bead, one recitation at a time.
*Release: Whether you choose to recite one round (108 repetitions) or multiple rounds with your mala and mantra, at the end of your recitation practice, offer yourself, the situation, and any other individuals involved compassion. Give yourself permission to release any fears, anger, frustrations, etc. that this situation may have stirred up for you. This part of the process allows for a sense of closure (at least for the time being), and it prevents this situation from hijacking the rest of your day.
Triggers in and of themselves can seem very small and insignificant, but they can explode into major disruptions if they aren’t dealt with or managed effectively. Using a mantra practice can help you notice patterns about yourself and be more mindful as you interact with others.
I still laugh—boldly, loudly—and although I may not be able to control how other people respond to my laughter, the more honest, clear, and compassionate that I can be in relating with others, the more we can laugh together.