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  • Writer's pictureAnn Manning

Rumination - and what lies beneath!

When I was young, I learned that rumination is the way that cows and other herbivorous mammals, digest their food. They chew, swallow, regurgitate and chew again and again and again, until the feed is fully digested.


These days, term has been co-opted by psychology to refer to a much less productive process: the obsessive thinking about an idea, situation, or choice, especially when it interferes with normal mental functioning. I imagine it like a hamster running on its wheel; lots of effort being exerted yet going nowhere.


While mental rumination is generally unproductive, it can serve like a distress flare, indicating that, beneath conscious awareness, there is some deeper disturbance calling out for attention.


The other morning, as I sat for meditation, I found myself mentally arguing with some people I work with. I hadn’t been included in a project. They had overlooked the importance of my knowledge and experience. Because of this the project would fail. The conversation in my head went round and round and round; justifications interspersed with ‘poor me’ complaints.


Does this sound familiar? Not the details, but the pattern. After a while it became annoying even to me. I decided to take a closer look at the dynamics at play, shifting my attention from the story, the ‘what’, and getting curious about the knot of emotions that was underlying these thoughts. Feeling hurt and confused. The sense that I don’t matter and yet how unfair that is. It became clear that I had been carrying these emotions since childhood.  


I understand that feeling excluded and that our needs are unimportant is a common experience, often with its roots in childhood. And I am sure many of us have coped with the discomfort of such feelings by squashing them down inside and just getting on with things. Now, decades later, my version of those feelings was crying out for attention.


As I explored these emotions, I recalled an incident from my childhood in which I was trying to be helpful yet was left believing I must have done something wrong. When I connected with the feelings of that young version of myself, I reconnected with the pain and confusion I felt on that day, emotions that I couldn’t process at that time.


Now though, I could offer myself the caring support I needed at the time, playing the role of caring parent to myself; acknowledging the pain and confusion, offering comfort for how much she/I was hurting. As I did this the feelings gradually settle. The wounded child in me had been heard and acknowledged. Some healing had taken place, and my meditation became peaceful.


Later that day I was able to effectively communicate my valid concerns to the people I worked with. The emotional ‘static’ had been removed.


Maybe you’d like to try this next time you notice your thinking getting stuck in a pattern of rumination:

-       Pause

-       Try to identify the emotion/s underlying these thoughts. (You don’t need to connect with an event.)

-       Accompanying the feeling can you identify a need? One that may not have been adequately met in childhood.

-       Be present with the feelings, the discomfort of the unmet needs.

-       Acknowledge. Accept. Offer compassion. No need to try to fix things; to make it better. 

-       Watch what happens.


And let me know what you learn.


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