Mindfulness and Control

“You can’t calm the storm, so stop trying. What you can do is calm yourself. The storm will pass.” —Timber Hawkeye

Meditation has helped me greatly in curbing my impulsivity. When I skip a few days of meditation practice, I find myself more prone to indulgent activities that contribute little value to my life.

Every impulse comes from a place beyond conscious thought. Most impulsive behaviors are spurred by deeper subconscious motivations. We are not aware of them. When they come about, we often act before we realize the extent of what we’ve done. This causes damage ranging from inconvenient to irrevocable, but in all cases unnecessary.

Impulsiveness relies on mindlessness. It relies on the kneejerk reaction, the sudden jolt, the emotional and unthinking response. It’s usually detached from any sense of rationality or utility. It just happens. Many people resign to this. They think that they are who they are and that they can do what they want. You can pour hot coffee all over yourself and let a taxi run over your foot; that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Succumbing to indulgent impulses is really no different. The impacts are just more subtle. The cultivation of simple mindfulness counters this impulsivity and helps prevent unnecessarily harmful actions.

Awareness of each breath in each moment brings about mindfulness. Mindfulness is a skill. It should be practiced and rehearsed in a controlled environment each day— this is meditation. When you rehearse full awareness of each moment in meditation, you carry this awareness into daily life. When you find yourself about to act on a poor impulse, mindfulness allows you to step back and return to the breath.

Stepping back further, you start to recognize just how much this curbing of impulse and increasing of mindfulness impacts your life. Think of how many subtle but strong ripples your poor impulsive decisions create over time. Laziness, smoking, drinking, gossiping, neediness, oversleeping, overeating, giving up, getting angry, refusing to listen, refusing to understand, fear, etc— these are all habits rooted in simple, small everyday actions. You are not who you are through and through; you are what you do. These actions aren’t who you are if you shift what you do. Training your mind to be consistently vigilant over these tiny actions is like inspecting each brick before using it to build a house. People who live mindlessly build houses with thousands of broken bricks, houses that could collapse or become damaged at any moment. Think of meditation as quality control over your thoughts, emotions and impulses.

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