What happens when you think of the word “gone”? A sense of sorrow and loss – gone forever, gone away? A psychological thriller – Gone Girl? Pleasure and escape – gone fishing? The word gone carries a certain negative sense – of absence, of not here. There is probably survival value in this; our earliest ancestors had to notice the predators coming at them, the storm clouds gathering before the rain. Mindfulness in your attention to mini endings in everyday life can change your typical response from avoidance to receptive openness.
In my last few posts, I pointed out how sometimes these absences can be a good thing. Grab Your Free Won’t talks about the power of first few seconds of “I won’t” as your window of opportunity in breaking old habits. The Gap Between No and Yes points out that when jogged out of our standard routines, we can find new opportunities in “the whisper zone”.
Yes, yes – I get it you say! In our heads, we know that endings happen all the time. That when one door closes, another one opens. That “this too shall pass”. Yet emotionally, we don’t react well to absences or endings. How we interpret an ending will be coloured by our past history and our personality type. It could range from; anger – how dare this happen to me, to shame – I should have worked harder so this wouldn’t happen, to envy – he didn’t get laid off, to fear – how will I pay the bills. You probably know how you tend to respond! However, most endings or Gone’s are something that many of us fear and avoid.
So the challenge is how can accustom ourselves emotionally to endings, at a very deep level, in order to harvest the new beginnings that we know lie on the other side? Can we become so familiar with endings that we see them everywhere, as part of everyday life and not as something special? Can we build our emotional intelligence this way so that we are more resilient in responding to the stress of the inevitable endings that will come our way? One way of doing this is through cultivating mindful awareness.
Using Gone in Mindfulness Practice
Many people are now practicing some form of mindfulness, where you pay extraordinary attention to ordinary things. By practicing regularly, both in a structured sitting practice and while moving around during your day, you train your mind to become stabilized, energized and fully present to what is happening in yourself, in others and in your surroundings in a non-judgmental way. This approach to noticing mini-endings can be done by anyone, whether or not you are currently practicing mindfulness. Just think of it as a way to sharpen your powers of concentration and clear discernment.
For the sake of clarity, let’s define experiencing a Gone as “an abrupt diminishing to all or part of something, that you happen to notice”.
Gone’s in your Breathing
Let’s say you are paying attention to your breath. You sit quietly and you direct your attention to the physical sensation of breathing. You could direct your attention anywhere in the body that you are aware of the breath; your nostrils, your chest rising and falling, your diaphragm or stomach gently moving. When your attention gets distracted off the breath – which it will – you just gently and persistently bring it back to the noticing the breath. Many times!
Now let’s sharpen the focus a bit. Pay attention to the sensation of the out-breath. Zoom in, mentally speaking, to the actual point of ending of the out breath. If you should happen to notice what you discern as the ending of the out breath, label this with an internally mental note “Gone”. (like an internal post-it note on the contents of your awareness!) Repeat this process every few seconds. If you happen to notice the endings, fine. If not – fine too, just keep the attention on your breath, to the best of your ability.
Gone’s in Sounds
Let’s say you love to listen to music or enjoy the pleasant sounds of nature. Or you are exposed to unpleasant sounds, like construction drills, sirens or alarms and you’d like to be less bothered by them. You can do this practice in everyday life or during sitting mindfulness practice. You can do it while listening to music – very fun indeed!
Bring your attention to the area near your ears, to the place where you become aware of sounds. Spatially, this could be the area a little bit inside and outside your head, around the ears. You direct your attention to whatever you are hearing. If you should happen to hear an abrupt diminishing or ending of a sound, you make the internal mental note “Gone”. As before, repeat the process every few seconds. This could apply to; the ending of a sound that you detect, or a sudden diminishing in volume or intensity. What are some examples? In nature – bird song, dog bark, wind howl, leaf rustle, insect buzz. In the city – car honk, machine sound, people speaking, end of TV ad. In music – a dimuendo in volume from loud to soft, a gap or pause in sound, the ending phrase of a lyric.
What do you get from Gone?
My own experience of becoming familiar with Gone is that things seem much less fixed than I had assumed. Generally speaking, people have three broad types of reaction to this practice – three reasons that Gone has become their new best friend.
- They find it calming. This can be an effect of the high concentration required to notice subtle events, or the relief that comes from experiencing the endings of unpleasant sensations.
- They find it energizing or richly fulfilling. By being exposed to little gaps in experience, they are coming closer to their inner creative source.
- They are more deeply open to change. They become deeply familiar with endings and beginnings. After all, at the end of every out breath, we do breathe in again.
By regularly noticing endings – or Gone’s – neuroscience tells us that we are literally re-wiring our brains. What we used to be unaware of due to unconscious patterns of fear or avoidance, we are now more open to. Whatever our emotional habits are in regard to endings become softened, less automatically activated. So now we don’t just know about endings and beginnings in our head – we get it in our bodies and emotions. We are juiced and ready to go!
And with that – ‘bye – I’m gone for now!