Mindfulness practice, like psychotherapy, is a long term solution. Mindfulness based programmes have been in this press a lot this year. They make great claims to solve many of the problems we face in our lives. My own mindfulness practice has given me great gifts but the journey is not always a smooth one.
The simple exercises that mindfulness practices begin with, like focussing on the breath or noticing feelings in the body, work to create space in our minds. The usual frenetic thoughts that race around quieten down and we start to experience some measure of peace.
Mindfulness practice is not the only factor in how peaceful or disturbed our minds are. Our actions affect how we feel, as do experiences that we have had but not yet come to terms with.
If we want to achieve true peace we also need to work with these aspects of our lives. From the initial spaciousness that a mindfulness practice can bring we need to reach out into the world and act in ways which benefit ourselves and others, and reach into ourselves to let go of what needs letting go of and to accept what needs accepting.
This can be a challenging and emotional process.
Learning to take more skilful actions in the world takes us out of our comfort zone. It means building new habits and changing or giving up old ones. These old habits are often created to protect us and challenging them can leave us feeling vulnerable and exposed.
The processes of accepting or letting go of old experiences can sometimes lead to feeling old unpleasant feelings that we thought we were done with.
All of these difficult, but ultimately rewarding tasks become easier with a sustained mindfulness practice. The meditations give us practice at not getting caught up in our mind’s processes; we learn to observe without being overwhelmed and to create pockets of peace that we can return to when we need a break from the more difficult work.
The habits that we need to change, and the thought patterns that we need to let go of, are those which have selfish cores. A mindfulness practice reveals that the path to real peace is through giving up conceit and allowing compassionate action to flow.
As we work though these different process the peace that we experience in our practice deepens. The difficult work of a mindfulness practice is like digging a deep well in order to get the cleanest water. We can use our practice to dig a shallow well if we want to, but the greatest rewards come after the hard work of digging more deeply.