Mindfulness Exercise: The Parade Metaphor

Mindfulness exercise : The parade metaphor is an extremely useful tool to maintain mindful presence during difficult emotional experiences. Thus, it can be very helpful to maintain mindfulness during anger. In the literature, several metaphors have been invoked, in order to help guide mindfulness practice. I have personally and professionally found the parade metaphor to be of great practical utility.

Mindfulness Exercise - The parade metaphor

Mindfulness Exercise – The parade metaphor

So, in the parade metaphor, one is asked to envision all their thoughts, emotions and other mental events as being participants in a parade. Each of these marching parade members is holding up a sign or banner. Now imagine, that the name of the emotion that you are currently experiencing appears in writing on that banner or placard. Other thoughts, images, feelings are similarly displayed on other marcher’s banners.  Now the real key, and perhaps the most difficult part of the exercise, is to view the parade from the point of view of being in the judges reviewing stand or an equivalent fixed point. From this vantage point, you can simply witness the parade passing by. But of course, as they say in Buddhism, “The mind is a very sticky place.” Thus your mind, which loves its own drama, will invariably want to get caught up and march in the parade and stay stuck in its internal dialogue. Now what is interesting to note, is that if you are in the parade, your relative position doesn’t change and so mental drama continues as we continue to fuel it. But if you watch the parade from the reviewing stand, then you can watch as the parade simply passes by. You will quickly find that it is very difficult to stay in the reviewing stand.  But that is perfectly OK! When you notice that you are back in the parade, gently, gently, extricate yourself from the parade and place yourself back into the reviewing stand. With practice, you will gradually find that it gets easier to maintain the position in the reviewing stand and to watch the contents of mind and emotion as it unfolds. As this occurs, we gradually become less reactive to our mental events and the environmental conditions that evoke such reactions. We become more awake to our own mental events and responses and less likely to habitually scratch every itch that occurs in our conditioned minds.

Other metaphorical representations of mental events may appeal to others. Some prefer the idea of watching mental events as being as clouds in the sky, or actors on a stage or innumerable other representations. All are fine as long as it allows one to watch their own mental events from a fixed perspective of non-control such that one can watch their own minds with detached acceptance. Let what ever happen, happen…..no control!!

Now, in the specific case of the emotion of anger, one can practice this whenever one feels angry, annoyed, frustrated and so on. Ordinarily, the mind will want to tell itself a story about the person or event that is to “blame” for one’s anger and engage in a series of dramas about what you will do or say in the future to that person. After all, we all want to blame our pain and emotions on others. Or, we can choose to use this as a “teaching moment” and sit with our emotional pain in a mindful manner. if so we can watch “annoyance”, “frustration”, “anger”, “rage”, feelings of “being unappreciated”, “helplessness”, “vulnerability” and so on as they pass on by.

Often, we will miss these teaching moments, but can recapture them some time after the event. You can replay the offending event in your mind, and then pay attention to the sequence of emotional responses and accompanying thoughts that follow. Whatever point in time we can catch ourselves is fine. Over time, we will learn to maintain mindful vigilance, even in the midst of emotional upheaval. It is critical to understand, that the point of this exercise is not to control or in any manner get rid of anger or any other emotion. It is simply an exercise to stay awake and present in the presence of difficult emotions. In this manner, we will be much less likely to act out in response to anger but more likely to express anger.

More on that in the next post!!

Please post comments, questions, experiences, anecdotes, bad limericks, or complaints.

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