How We Show Up for Life Matters

By Phillip Davidson, Words for the Journey

Even as a mindfulness practitioner, I still find myself from time to time, showing up stressed out, fearful, perhaps even with great doubt as a result of the pace of life and its challenges and threats. Or in moments of exuberance show up wondering ‘how can I make this last longer? how can I do this again soon?’ Both of these ways of showing up are full of discontent, even when the experience is pleasant. We are caught up in some mix of denial, resistance or wanting things to be other than they are.

When we step back from life and sense our discontent, it is easy to feel as if life is coming at us way too fast and that all of this is not my fault, these things are beyond my control. And in many ways we would be correct. Again and again we are triggered by external events; we are put instantly into reactive mode.

It might be that we receive negative feedback at work or a friend ignores us or a loved one says something unpleasant. The specifics of how we react are determined by our unique mix of nature and nurture. And there I am, upset in the moment and then likely upset with myself later on for how I reacted.

As it turns out we each have what it takes to unhook ourselves from reactivity. We have awareness; we can be aware of what we are aware of. We can become observers of our experience in each moment. This powerful aspect of being human is what allows us to move from being caught up inside stress, anxiety, fear or exuberance to instead having more thoughtful and considered responses. We can show up differently Our internal experiences do not have to be determined by the specifics of external events.

Take a moment to recall being an observer of frustration or anger in yourself. Notice how being an observer is different from being inside the emotion, being controlled by it. There is some space, some freedom.

Poet Dana Faulds says in “Walk Slowly,” ‘waking up to life is what we were born for.’ In this case ‘waking up’ refers to our capacity for awareness.  She goes on to say “As many times as I forget, catch myself charging forward . . . that many times I can make the choice to stop, to breathe and be.”

“Walk Slowly

It only takes a reminder to breathe, 
a moment to be still, and just like that,
something in me settles, softens, 
makes space for imperfection.
The harsh voice of judgment drops to a whisper
and I remember again that life isn’t a relay race;
that we will all cross the finish line; that waking up to life is what 
we were born for. 
As many times as I forget, catch myself charging forward
without even knowing where I’m going, 
that many times I can make the choice 
to stop, to breathe and be, and walk
slowly into the mystery.”

— Dana Faulds

We can cultivate awareness with practice, just as we learn work skills or athletic skills or musical skills with disciplined repetition. The practice for enhanced awareness is to observe what is happening in each moment without judgment. To observe with some distance, with some space. This is what happens during meditation or when we pause on purpose several times a day. With practice we can bring awareness into play when we are triggered and change what happens next. We can show up differently. Awareness allows us to see clearly what is happening; to not be lost in denial or resistance or wishing things to be different. These days I am lost in emotions less frequently than before mindfulness.

Waking up to life allows us to be fully present both to its difficulties and to its wonders. We show up to life able to live this life as it is. That sense of having little control over the events of our lives becomes irrelevant because our experience of those events has changed.

Phillip DavidsonPhD, is a mindfulness coach and co-founder of Mindfulness Meditation, a Richmond based mindfulness practice group. He studied under the world renowned Tara Brach along with other highly recognized practitioners and went on to complete his two year Meditation Teacher Training Institute program. Philip has also offered mindfulness training to businesses and organizations such a Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond and the VCU Palliative Care Fellows Program.

Emma Peugh