Beyond the suffering mind lies love

In the last post, I quoted the following, “I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments” (From The Invitation, Oriah Mountain Dreamer). It can be scary, those empty moments. We can fill the day with all sorts of distractions, but it is often in the empty moments, like after sleeping or on awakening in the middle of the night, or in a walk by oneself, or while waiting, or at countless other moments, when a small voice inside almost like one’s conscience reminds us of that which troubles us. At the moment, for many, it is things around the threat from pandemic illness, but it might be something else. We might, despite all we know and all our best efforts, find ourselves descending into the familiar pit of our suffering. We might scramble to get out, but the sides keep falling in and there we are, stuck with our pain. That can be when one despairs.

These times come to test us. They can keep coming until we find a way to manage them. For some it can offer a way through to greater peace, but for others it just keeps coming. There can be many reasons. It might be our own personal process that we are working through but it might also be circumstances outside of us. In troubled times in the world we may also feel the pain of others and it can seem as if it is our own pain, when in fact we’re taking on others’ suffering. Now can be such a time.

Using awareness of suffering

This is where self awareness is important, to be able to enquire within as to what it’s about, and to be able to discriminate between our own pain and that of others.

I’ve suggested before that these “dark nights of the soul” can be very scary, but they can also be instructive. It can depend whether we are willing to embrace the situation and see it through to the important understanding that it can offer.

It is also be useful to be able to have ways to release ourselves from that which is troubling us, and each might find their own way to learn what the pain is about and how to release ourselves.

Understanding the mind

The Buddha said that Pain is certain. Suffering is optional. Humans suffer, unless or until they gain a mastery over it. Then they can be the observer of pain but not caught up in it. This is where understanding the mind is important.

Left to its own devices, the mind can take us all over the place. It’s very powerful. We can go to the heights of elation and the depths of despair. We can make up all sorts of things, about other people, ourselves, what’s going on. You name it. If we let it.

The mind is very creative. What we we think, we are. What we focus on, we draw to us. It’s the law of attraction, like a magnet. So, if you or I keep focusing on something, it’s more likely to happen. If we let it. Hence we have choice. It’s an option.

Use mindfulness to manage the mind

So, it’s important to stop. Use the skills of mindfulness

  1. So notice what you are paying attention to. Become mindful of it. Notice you are thinking a certain thing. Become aware of it.
  2. Step back from it. Put distance between the thought and you. This is where the will is important.
  3. Notice it, like you are now the observer of it. As we say, witness it. Be the witness of your ego at work, but not caught up in it.

You are not your thoughts. You, and I, are so much more than our thoughts, the “sweaty ego”.

When we step back and witness our thoughts, we have true power.

The other side of fear is love. That’s who we are, in whatever understanding you have of that.

When we step back and become the observer, we let can love in.

This is why these dark nights of the soul are so important, to know the space beyond suffering.

Then rest in the witness. Rest in the awareness that you are love.

How illness holds within it an opportunity for awakening

Pandemic outbreaks of highly infectious disease like the Plague, Cholera, Influenza and now Coronavirus, sweep through human consciousness like a hurricane. They are like auguries of awakening, not always welcome ones, as the disease and suffering is not welcome, but they have a way to get us to address that from which we have been hithertoo averting our gaze. At the political level they have so often in the past heralded, accompanied or driven major change. At the personal level we might think we can after a while get back to life as normal but so often this is not so: such shocks to our sense of wellbeing can be lasting and profound. Our collective and individual cage has had a violent and unsettling shake. It is our choice whether or not we have an awakening and choose to pay attention and learn the lessons that beckon.

Powerfully existential

In one way, such an event impacts our very survival. The disease could kill us, or our loved ones. It thus directs us to reflect, if we can allow ourself, on the prospect of dying. It might flit tangentially on our awareness, and then we may look directly at the possibility. Many avoid it, not surprisingly, given the core human driver to survive.

I wonder how many of you have been making wills, or discussing with others the practical aspects of your departure. It’s an uncomfortable subject, one that many avoid entirely. In the UK around 54% of people don’t have wills. Also many don’t make practical arrangements for what they would want to happen if they were incapacitated, like a living will. It can be a useful, if unsettling, question to ask oneself: what if I die?

There’s not surprisingly an emotional side to this, to contemplate leaving the earth plane and what that might mean. It can be very scary. Some say that such existential dread underlies the human condition, and explains a lot about human behaviour. There are those who’ve nearly been there, who’ve had Near Death Experiences (NDE’s), or who have had to cope with and come through an event that threatened their survival. There are those who have done this who now have no fear of death. I have before in these pages recommended the work of Steve Taylor who has researched people who have had these or related experiences, and the bliss, joy and contentment that they have found as a result. See for example Out of the Darkness. At some point, many of his subjects broke through to another level of awareness.

Existentialists say that death is a “given”, something we will all face sooner or later. Our challenge is how we do that. We each find, or don’t find, our strategies for coping. It might for example be religion, spirituality, philosophy, or rationality. We might adopt a spiritual or mental practice. Then again, addiction, media and other stimuli can provide substitutes.

Perhaps this pandemic is one of those invitations for us to reconcile ourselves with our ending.

Alone in a lockdown, it’s hard to use others to help us avoid these issues. We’re in danger of being left alone with ourselves. As Oriah Mountain Dreamer says at the end of her poem The Invitation,

“I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments”

Fear and anxiety are a wake-up call

A lot of us in today’s world live in various states of fear and anxiety. It’s endemic in modern living. Existential anxiety is often linked with other reasons for us to feel anxious, like our job, our relationship or financial issues. Thus, while we might focus on the content of the anxiety, like what we fear might happen and the disaster scenarios that churn around in our minds, we might also use such occurrences as a reminder of what’s really behind this seeming regular visitation from the angel of fear. What has this fear to teach us, probaby one we’re resisting?

Thus visitations of fear and anxiety may also have something useful, much though it can be highly unpleasant to experience. We can use it to learn what positive potential might lie behind the fear. After all, as said in a recent post, fear is simply False Evidence Appearing Real. It’s an illusion.

I have often taught people to use fear in meditation, or simply when we wake up afraid, or encounter it during the day. This is to use it as a tool. What?, you might think, are you crazy?! We’re all crazy in this world! It’s a perception.

Breathe!

In this practice, we use the breath.

With fear you can breathe into it, let go of the thoughts, be present with the fear, focus on the feeling, feel it, and let it dissolve. It’s just an energy. Let it go. Then do this.

Breathe!

Sit if possible, and you could stand if need be. Focusing on your breath, take a deep breath and breathe in deeply, down as it were into your belly, such that you move your belly out, expand it, using the diaphragm. You breathe as it were “into” the stomach, where feelings are often felt. Then breathe out long. Then do it again several times. Not too often as you can get dizzy. As you breathe out, let go and relax. In fact you could say to yourself as you do this

Breathe in (breathe in deep)…(Slight pause)….Breathe out (Now breathe out long)…Let go (and relax)

(Very slight pause)

Breathe in (breathe in deep again)…(Slight pause)…Breathe out (Now breathe out long)…(and when you’ve breathed out and relaxed) And I am good.

Be present with with the understanding that you are good.

Then breathe naturally and in a relaxed state for a few minutes.

Thus in this practice, you focus on your breath and breathing, come into the present moment and simply be aware of your breath. You intentionally leave each end breath with a positive affirmation.

Focusing on the breath is a mindfulness practice, explained on this website. You can practice using breathing as a tool to let go of anxiety and have a positive focus.

Meditators use tools like the breath and they also use a mantra. Often mantras contain some positive element. So’ham or Hamsa (I am That) is a well-known one. If you look at the pages on this site on various mindfulness practices, you can practice using the breath and a mantra. Practice is essential. The benefits come in time.

It’s hard to intentionally focus on the breath and be anxious. Anxiety is a mental process. It is thoughts we don’t need and can let go of. Conscious breathing is a great tool. We do it all the time! So why not be aware that we doing it!

Opportunity

It might be hard to see this pandemic as an opportunity for an awakening and humans, being humans, might not use it as such. My take is that it offers us a painful way but a great way to see through how we are living on this planet and make real, lasting positive changes for all of us. One way is to experience consciousness and aliveness differently, for ourselves, for our planet, for our wellbeing, and for our relationships. As Lao Tzu said,  If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.

Choosing not to be consumed by fear

Is it feeling like the world’s gone crazy – a new virus, recession, climate change, Brexit, you name it – it’s all happening at once? The barriers are coming down and people are shutting off. Everywhere there’s a sense of doom and fear. How do we cope inside with all this?

Let’s look at some strategies for managing the situation for us ourselves inside. I don’t mean the practicals of living at present, and many of us are probably feeling stretched on that count alone. I’m thinking of how we are responding inside. How could the self aware, mindful person cope in a way that serves her or him, that gives empowered choices?

Being consumed by fear

The predominant emotion for many is likely to be fear, fear of what might happen, of how we’ll cope, of what harm we might come to, or might become of our loved ones.

Fear can be disabling. It can take over, cutting off the rational part of the brain, what Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence called “the amygdala hijack“. It’s the stress reaction, triggering the release of hormones which, while important in managing a real threat, can become habitual and harm our immune system, and thus our ability to fight off infection. This is how people suffering prolonged stress get sick. Thus it’s really important at a physical level to manage our stress levels.

Fear, worry and anxiety can take us over. We can get consumed by it, on and on, minute by minute. It can also be subtle, a background experience, lurking in the shadows, springing out every now and again, and, for some, paroxysms of trembling, gut-churning, shaking, pure, unadulturated fear. Or it can just hang on in there. “No, I’m perfectly rational and in control,” the rational part of us says, nose in the air, while actually deep inside, fear is active, perhaps exerting influences like being doubtful, a reluctance to act, a questioning, a hesitation, cynicism even. We can even live in a constant state of this low-level anxiety, outside of awareness but present. We might not know it consciously, but it’s there, eating away at our self-belief, our confidence, our faith, our certainty.

If I write these words, how do you react. “Everything will be OK”?

Did you believe it or not?

It’s a useful test.

The bottom-line negative emotion is fear

Fear is a fundamental emotion, what I call a bottom-line one, which is ironic in current circumstances. It’s what keeps us from inner contentment, from what some might call union with the One. At one level it’s there to look after us, to keep us safe, but in the ego’s grip it often becomes self-defeating. It can also lead us to make poor decisions, and take us where we don’t really want to go. Fear can take over our lives.

So, it’s really important to challenge fear. From a self awareness perspective, it’s where we need to get it, get that we’re doing this, running this number. No matter that you’ve been doing it all your life. This minute is the next moment of your life and time to make a shift.

So, I suggest challenging fear each time it arises. As with most of these practices, you might quickly forget this, but when you next spot it’s happening, challenge it again. Say “stop!”

What’s happening is that one is firstly becoming aware that it’s going on, that your (or my) mind is doing this, and secondly, it is to breathe and to step back and notice it, become mindful of it. This is where the practice of mindfulness is so useful. We literally teach ourselves to step back and be aware. Here you become the observer, the Witness. Thus you are no longer caught up in the mind’s stuff, which is where fear dwells. Thus we can get that fear is really F.E.A.R., False Evidence Appearing Real. It’s not who we are.

Engage the will

Here you can engage the rational part of the mind, in this case the will. Here you can exercise choice, and chose a different strategy. There are many.

You could instead, for example, set an intention. Whatever you are fearful of could be turned around into an intention for a positive outcome. Let’s say you are worried that you will lose money. You could could instead create an intention for the positive creation of what you need for your health, happiness, wealth, wellbeing and wisdom.

There is a further step. Once you are as the Witness, allow your self to be really present as the witness, in the moment, aware, still, at peace. This is where we get truly that fear is not us.

Fear dissolves. It just goes. It’s ephemeral, something that passes, along with all those negative thoughts. We are so much more than all that stuff.

So, know the space beyond fear.

Now is really an important time to meditate, and practice being mindful.

For further practice

I’ve put some links up for those of you who want to practice using meditation. There a practice meditation session, a meditation using the breath, one using a mantra and finally one using body awareness.

 

Can you have engaged awareness in a world seemingly going crazy?

Is there a contradiction between being socially or politically engaged and personal growth and spirituality? Many traditions point to the evil of humankind’s ways and how we need to turn to “the truth”. Many encourage people to step aside from everyday life in order to do this. Can we have “engaged awareness”?

Laparade view over the Lot valley
Laparade view over the Lot valley

Yesterday my wife and I were on our terrace enjoying the view over the Lot valley in the evening sun, sipping an apéritif, absorbed in a discussion about the state of the world, and suddenly we became aware that we had hardly given the beauty of the view a real look. Our minds were elsewhere. A deep breath was needed!

Mindfulness teaches that such points of awareness are important, to pause, notice, breathe and be present with what is, to notice what our mind is doing, but not be “caught up” in the drama so that we lose our awareness of the bigger picture.

How might such awareness help the engaged?

Awareness and our demons

I would suggest that the distinction commonly made between “everyday life” and spirituality is a false one. Life is what happens every moment of every day, wherever you are and whatever you are doing.

We often refer to the “spiritual bypass”, how people get into some form of personal and spiritual development, adopt some belief system, or go to the mountain top, and can seem very deep and earnest in what they are doing or being. Yet, down inside, there’s a whole lot else going on. They might, for example, be angry people doing a great pretending they aren’t and are being very peaceful and at one. Until something pushes their deeper buttons and out comes some torrent of rage. The deeper unresolved stuff is still there, but denied. I think we’re seeing this right now in the world, big time!

Personal growth can often be the “journey” to identify and resolve these inner tensions, so that they no longer mess up one’s life. Awareness can be to know these different parts of ourselves and accept them. The more we know and learn to let go of them and return to a steady state, the more we acquire some degree of mastery. Being who we are is being who we are, warts and all.

Beware of the false heaven

There are those who make much of the serene heights of “enlightenment” as something only some people “attain” and others have to work at and have lots of these demons to deal with. Somehow only some are deemed worthy enough, have accumulated sufficient merit. It can be a version of the “elect”, those that somehow have it – but oh, no, you! You’ve got work to do! Humans like to make distinctions, to compare, and to put each other down, consciously or unconsciously, and there’s always some people who are deemed better than others.

Except they aren’t really: it’s another ego game, when we’re really all one anyway. Bit silly really!

So some will teach of a rarified heaven, but you’ve got to build up lots of credit to get there, and only certain people have the key. I’d like to say we all have the key. It’s whether we use it.

The world is what we make of it

Thus the world we live in can be presented in a bad way, and if you’re working in it, big trouble. “There’s so much evil!” This is very current at the moment, where there’s a lot of conflict and division. Countries are increasingly at odds with one another. Within countries, there’s an increasing sense, or so it seems, of conflict between different groups. In the West we have the rise of populism and “identity politics”. “Where you are from” seems a big issue. People are hateful towards people of a different ethnicity, or sexual orientation, or religion, or whatever. In Britain there’s a big urge to pull up the drawbridge and pull away from our European neighbours. It’s about “us versus them”. So much anger and hate.

How does the aware person live with this? Even more, from my personal perspective, be engaged in seeking to combat this loss of respect for one another, this separateness, disunity, hate and division.

Again my response is that to make a dichotomy between the way the world is and our personal and spiritual goals, however we define the latter, is to make a false dichotomy.

Dealing with the enraged Brexiter is as much spiritual as it is being at one with the view of the River Lot in beautiful South-West France. “See God in each other”. The world is what we make of it. We are responsible. We have choice. And we can choose to hold to our deeper awareness and be engaged in the world

In fact, I would suggest that we can make a better contribution to others, to humankind and the world we live in, in crisis though it is at the moment, by being being present and aware and engaged.

It’s like to reach down inside to the love that’s really you, and then get out there and make a difference!

How to be present when others are losing it

Do you struggle to know how to be present with someone when they are upset or angry, or when you are tired or going through it yourself? I’m very often struck by how people can lack the ability to “be with” people emotionally, especially those who work professionally with people in challenging situations. It’s like our buttons get pushed or we feel inadequate or lack the resources we need. Somehow, people say, they “aren’t qualified” to handle it.

It will be all right
It will be all right

When people kick off

I remember once on a Gestalt training course unpacking a whole load of grief around the impact of divorce on my contact with my younger son, and how I verbalised it to the group in a way that the facilitator later said she was “out of it” for the duration of my work. I recall she was a parent herself. So this can challenge even seasoned professionals. Luckily I had another who  worked with me.

Yet this doesn’t just apply to professionals. Anybody can face this at times. What about when your partner kicks off about some hurt or pain and it’s you that happens to be there – and they need you to be there? What do you do? Do you do what so many do, and shift about uncomfortably, tell people “not to mind” and “it will be OK”, and not get upset, etc? Who are you really helping here, the person kicking off, or actually you yourself? Are you really telling them to stop?

What we don’t like is being faced with powerful emotions that tap into our own stuff, especially if it touches our own doubts and inadequacies. Yet, there are resources available, if you choose to access them.

Being resourceful: self awareness and self management

One is self awareness and self management, in this case the ability to be aware of your own process and how your buttons can get triggered by other people’s stuff. It helps to know yourself enough to know what is your stuff in this situation, of course! This is often all about personal development – that doing your own journey bit, dare I say, that many of us are today afraid to do. It is also about how you self manage, in this case choose not to get caught up in your own stuff but put it on one side, the rule of epoché in Gestalt terms.

Presence

Another is the ability to be present, to be right there in the moment, thoughts and feelings on pause (I’ll say more about that in a moment), in the “here and now”, still in yourself, centred, at One as I keep writing on this blog, connected with some energy  centre or chakra within like your heart centre region or, in the case of powerful emotion, perhaps your power centre in the  solar plexus region. So that you are aligned with  Source as you are “with” another. “Being with” is all about being present with them. So you are truly “with” them, in support, with mind, body and soul, right there in the moment.

Empathy and respect

Your stance matters hugely too. So think about  it. Here is needed Carl Rogers’ empathy and unconditional positive regard. So you respect utterly the other person right there where they are and what is going on for them. No judgement (this can be tough, but it really matters). No conditions attached. In fact  you  are unattached to everything, including how you feel. You have to let go of all that. And you empathise with them, which is to seek as far as humanly possible to see things from their perspective, although  you cannot “know how they feel”. Thus you can hear their story. And you hear it like you get it. So that they feel heard, which is what so many people need. They may not need to be fixed (which is what so many men try to do  with  women, by the way!). Here’s where you truly stop and be with them in their pain.

Then they will feel supported. You don’t have to take their side, or agree with them, or blame them. Just be there. In peace, bringing peace. Om shanti.

I coach people and give training in these core skills. To contact  me, click here

Do you worry that your mind keeps you awake?

It’s a dilemma when you can’t sleep at night because your mind is busy, and then you start to worry that your mind is keeping you awake. Your mind might be churning things over and then you’re fearful that it is doing this and stopping you sleeping. Worrying that we can’t sleep is a major factor in insomnia, and having a busy mind is a major contributor to the problem. It’s a very good reason to learn to manage your mind and is where mindfulness can be so powerful.

You might for example lie down after a busy day in which you have been very mentally active and then find yourself staying awake, unable to sleep, or so it seems, your mind going over certain issues that are concerning you. Then, as time ticks by, and the thought that you need to be up early comes to you, there’s that stabbing feeling in your gut as you feel the anxiety that this thinking is keeping you awake, that you’ve got a sleepless night ahead and that you still have to get up early. It’s like that deadline gives you an imperative that you must sleep and you believe you need that sleep, and still you’re thinking things over, and you’re worried that you’re doing it!

Time to pause and get what’s going on! And let go!

Not so easy until you’ve done some work on all this and can see the pattern, what you’re doing to yourself, and can interrupt that pattern and work to manage your thoughts and let go. It takes, in a sense, training and practice.

The idea that we can manage our thoughts can be a challenging one to people who feel they are prisoners to their thoughts. Yet this is precisely what we need to do. Very often it is about becoming aware that your mind is busy, catching yourself doing it, challenging the pattern and stopping it in some way. It is something that can be consciously done, but as I said, it needs awareness – and coaching.

The role of mindfulness

Mindfulness practice plays a big part, learning to be aware of your thoughts but not caught up in them. With mindfulness you can become the aware witness of your thoughts, but unattached to them, so that they can pass you by. This too takes practice, and meditation is a very valuable tool to help you learn to do it effectively.

Then you know you have inside you a calm, steady, centred place that you can go to. You can learn to let go of thinking and be still and in the moment. You can let go of thinking and of anxiety too, and be present. You can be unattached to deadlines, and to how things “ought” to be, and just let things be, just as they are.

As you calm yourself and let go of thoughts, you can then let your natural sleepiness to come to you, of its own accord.

Just as we can have bliss be present too, our natural joy and contentment.

Further help

I give coaching to help people manage their minds and practice mindfulness. To contact me, click here.

There is an excellent online CBT-based course on Sleeping that also uses mindfulness in a part of it. Click here.

Be present and aware and start enjoying your life

You must just pause a moment and check where your mind has been focused over the last hour or half-hour. How much do you let yourself really be present and aware of what’s happening right now?

For example, if you’re travelling to or from work, how much do you notice what’s around you, who you are with, what’s going on? Or is your mind preoccupied, such as with what’s been happening, or what might happen, or what’s on your phone? Are you off ruminating about things? Is your mind doing what it habitually does?

So, take a deep breath or two, become really aware, let go of those thoughts and give yourself a moment to really be present and aware of this moment….and this moment…and this one too.

When people are dying they often express regret that they didn’t do the simple things in life, like being with their loved ones, enjoying a sunset, spending time in their favourite place, just taking pleasure in being alive.

We’re so often away with our thoughts about the workplace, what’s going on, worrying about might happen, catastrophising, being irritated with what someone did or didn’t do, and the million and one other thoughts we have that fill our mind and can give us grief. Just check again with the suggestion I made at the start of this post, and recall what you have been thinking about recently and see whether it fits a pattern. It can be useful to spot these patterns and interrupt them.

To be present and aware is to be mindful

Mindfulness involves becoming present and aware, in the moment. It’s a superb tool for getting ourselves out of our preoccupations and ruminations, and getting off all those thoughts that don’t serve us. You may even already know this. But do you practice it, or does it just sit there as another idea, another “nice to do”, something I’ll “get round to sometime” (but not now)? Yet it is said that now is all you’ve got. This moment and the next. All else is our thoughts.

So spend some time right now being in the moment. Be aware of your breathing. And each time you find your mind has wandered, simply bring it back to the moment and being aware of your breathing.

And allow yourself to really enjoy this moment, and enjoy being alive, present and aware, as who you are. En-joy, breathe in the joy of this moment, and let your soul shine, as it is meant to do.

If you sign up for the free ecourse to the top left of this post, you can receive more help with developing this vital skill – and become alive once again.

Mindfulness teaches that you are not your thoughts

It’s so easy to spend much of our lives wrapped up with, if not the prisoner, of what we think. Yet, after becoming aware that something is going on for you, that you are “caught up” in your thoughts, the crucial next stage is to be able to “step back” from the content of your mind. This is a very important shift in awareness and it underlines a vital aspect of mindfulness, that you can control what you focus on and that you are not your thoughts. Put another way, thoughts are not facts; they are simply thoughts in your field of awareness.

Mindfulness and thoughts

We’re usually unconsciously full of thoughts, one following another, and their accompanying feelings. It can seem that that is just how things are, and it can follow that we can be prey to all sorts of uncomfortable thoughts if things aren’t going so well. You might of course try to make a big effort to suppress them, but they can have a knack of springing back, particularly if they’ve hit a raw nerve. A lot of this is unconscious or habitual: we’ve usually thought in particular ways, and have probably done so for eons. It can be compulsive. Thus we tend to say we get “caught up” in particular content, particular lines of thought.

With mindfulness, we “step back”, pause the mental stream and notice something’s happening, and detach ourselves from being “caught up” in it. This is not a closed off, batten down the hatches, big effort of control stuff, this is simply becoming aware and releasing ourselves from what we’re thinking. In a sense we might still be thinking it, but part of us, what some call an “aware self”, notices that this is what’s going on. Using intention, the act of will, we become aware of ourselves thinking it, whatever “it” is.

And it isn’t us. We aren’t our thoughts. We’re so much more than these thoughts. These thoughts aren’t real. They aren’t facts. They are simply thoughts, which come and go, like clouds in a blue sky. With mindfulness, we seek to train ourselves to make this vital distinction.

It takes practice. People sometimes need to learn how to make this distinction with mindfuless and thoughts, and to see where in their lives this is habitual, and how this unuseful thinking crops up and messes things up for them.

Once people start to get this skill, they discover a hugely powerful tool that can transform their lives. You can learn more about all this with our very useful free e-course, to the top left of this blog post that you are reading.

Do you find mindfulness difficult to practice?

The benefits of mindfulness practice can often seem outweighed by their pitfalls in the eyes of many who “try” it and give up, seemingly deterred by for example their very busy minds and by all the things that come up once one pauses and attends to the moment. “It’s very difficult” is a comment I hear a lot, an odd one, you might think, when all you’re being asked to do, is do nothing at all, attend to your breath and let go.

Meditation
Meditation

Yet it’s when we do this, be still and become aware, that we get what’s really going on. Many report that what they get is a chaos of thoughts, and an urge to get up and do something, or intense guilt at “doing nothing” like we should be “doing something useful”, or a fidgeting like we think we “can’t” keep still. After several sessions they might give up believing they aren’t getting what they started the practice to get, such as calmness of mind, or relaxation, or less stress.

What is important to realise is that mindfulness practice, and meditation if you are also wanting to meditate, is about sitting still, going within, attending to the breath (and/or a mantra), and being aware. What happens is part of the practice (well, it is for many teachers anyway!) and you are seeking to become the observer of your thoughts rather than “being the thinker”. What you are doing here is letting go of “doership”, thinking you are the thinker and that you “do” your thoughts. Instead, you let go of this belief and allow yourself to observe your thoughts. You are not your thoughts. You can think (!) something like, “Isn’t this interesting!”, notice yourself being engaged in thinking, and then take a deeper breath, breathe out (in a sense) the thoughts, and return your awareness to your breath. And repeat this every time you catch yourself thinking. Gradually the thoughts diminish. Yet you might still have “busy” meditations, and a lesson can be to accept these too.

Thus, with mindfulness practice, you are being aware of breathing, noticing any thoughts that arise, and returning to being aware of your breath. It is a practice and the benefits accrue over months and years. It’s not instant. We live in a “have it now” society and so it isn’t easy to make the shift and to accept that it will take time. Yet patience, acceptance and letting go are all part of what is involved and what it teaches us. Treat your practice as a time to pause, regain your equilibrium, re-balance yourself, and re-connect with your essence. Over time you will learn more and more to centre yourself, which you can live out in your life in general, and to sense inside who you really are. We live such hectic, stressful, busy lives and we get so caught up in all sorts of dramas that we lose touch with our essence. Thus we need this quiet time, this reminder, re-mind-er, to get back in touch with who we are and our real purpose and intention in life. It’s a treasure.