Increasing Tolerance

Elizabeth Reninger Written by Elizabeth Reninger
SeniorLiving.Org Expert on Taoism | Meditation | Compassion

In a recent artricle, we were introduced to the idea of nurturing the energy of equanimity, as a way of increasing a seniors ability to be tolerant. Now, let’s explore one of the many specific Mindfulness Meditation techniques that we can practice, in order to accomplish this.

Increasing Tolerance

Almost always, acts of intolerance -- of discrimination, censorship and the like -- are the result of emotional reactivity.  Something inside of us gets “triggered” by another person or situation, producing a “knee-jerk” kind of response which often includes strongly rejecting the person or situation, while at the same time strongly grasping or clinging to our own opinion about it all.  Before we know it, the situation has escalated into a shouting-match, or worse. We seem to be pulled along -- caught in the dynamics of the conflict -- by a force beyond our conscious control.  We have lost our freedom and our dignity, and lost touch also with our fundamental human sanity.

Mindfulness Meditation techniques are a great resource for us, in helping to prevent this kind of unconscious escalation of conflict and intolerance, and instead to remain anchored in the energy of equanimity, which allows us to remain connected to our freedom, dignity and fundamental sanity.  When there’s an emotional storm brewing inside of us, we have a number of choices, in terms of relating skillfully to those strong emotional waves. One choice is to consciously anchor our attention in the sights, sounds and tactile sensations of the external world.  In Shinzen Young’s “5-Ways” Mindfulness system, this technique is called “focus out.”

When we “focus out” in this way, we (as care givers and seniors) connect with what Eckhart Tolle has called “The Power Of Now.”  We become acutely aware, and allow ourselves to deeply appreciate, the sights and sounds and tactile sensations of the external world. At the same time, we apply equanimity to the storm of emotions arising inside of us.  In other words, we simply allow the energy of those emotions to arise and subside, without suppressing them or interfering in any way; but (and this an important “but”!) we also don’t get swept away by those emotions, or drawn into their drama in any way.  Instead, we choose to be more interested in the sights and sounds and touches of the external world.

To practice the “focus out” technique, simply let your attention be drawn to something visual (e.g. a tree) or something auditory (e.g. the sound of a honking horn) or something tactile (e.g. the feeling of the breeze on your face). Use the label “sight” for things you see; the label “sound” for things you hear; and the label “touch” for tactile sensations.  Every five or ten seconds, in a gentle and matter-of-fact voice, say (either out loud to to yourself) one of these labels. After you say the label, imagine sending a pulse of love-energy to whatever it was that you just noted, and then let your attention move to the next thing.

Updated: Feb 10, 2011

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