In this time of the coronavirus pandemic, I have had more time to be with myself, without so many distractions. And I’ve been noticing more vividly my habitual pattern of negative self-talk and anger when I’m stressed out. Working with “Mindful Gap,” a skill I’ve learned in my mindfulness meditation practice, helps me step back from my habitual reactions and stop their flow.
Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, in his book Emotional Rescue: How to Work with Your Emotions to Transform Hurt and Confusion into Energy that Empowers You, calls this stepping back from our emotional reactivity “Mindful Gap.”
Rinpoche says (pp. 49-50):
When you take time to feel your anger, everything naturally slows down. You turn your attention inward. Right away you notice there’s space to breathe, so you’re not overwhelmed. In this space, you discover a gap between yourself and the anger you’re feeling….You’re willing to feel whatever comes up, from life’s petty annoyances to the trials of loss, fear, and grief.
A Mindful Gap Breathing – An Exercise
Mindful breathing helps us cultivate this Mindful Gap, and helps us stem the flow of habitual reactions to anger or stress. Here is a simple mindful breathing exercise to use the next time a painful emotion like anger comes up:
- Breathe naturally.
- Feel the cool air enter your nostrils as you inhale, as your diaphragm and abdomen rise.
- Then, feel the warm air leaving your nostrils as you exhale, feeling your diaphragm and the rest of your body relax on each exhale. Notice the short gap before the next inhale.
- Notice what you are feeling in your body – maybe a tightening in your chest? A clenching in your stomach? As Ponlop Rinpoche says, “When you take time to feel your anger, everything slows down.”
- Continue to breathe as you hold still with what you’re feeling without reacting.
- Continue to breathe naturally and look directly, noticing how your emotional energy changes, moment to moment.
Taking a mindful gap and mindfully breathing in this way helps us gain some perspective and space around our swirling thoughts and emotions. When I take a mindful gap with my breath, I can then more freely choose to act in a more compassionate way. I can notice the hurt or sadness that may be under the anger. And, in the space I’ve created, I can breathe in compassion – both for myself and for all others who suffer in this way.