“If I don’t like it, it doesn’t exist.”
One of the most common ways of dealing with anything challenging is to pretend that it doesn’t exist. You come home huffing and puffing but claim to be fine when a friend asks you what’s up. Eventually you start to believe that you are fine. The general sense of dissatisfaction that you carry with you is ‘just how things are’, and nothing will change that.
The alternative would be to acknowledge what really happened to you that day you came home upset, but something in you feels like facing it would be a bad idea.
Or your boss criticises you but you don’t want to stand up for yourself because it feels too much like conflict and you have been burnt in the past. You tell yourself, I’m fine. Your boss keeps walking all over you and that’s ‘just the way things are’.
Or a really great opportunity opens up and part of you really wants to take it but something stops you because you are afraid of success, or afraid of being out of control. You miss the opportunity and say, I’m fine. You live with the sense of having missed out, and in those times when you’re not blaming others, you feel guilty that you didn’t take that great opportunity. You tell everyone you’re fine. It’s ‘just the way things are’.
When we ignore parts of our experience, we are living with one foot in the past.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
One of the benefits of a meditation practice is coming to wholeness. We learn to be with the whole of life: to welcome all experiences, however difficult, so that we can deal with them and move forwards.
When you practice breathing mediation you are asked not to change the way that you breathe, but just to pay attention to your breath. Notice if it’s a short breath or a long breath, a shallow breath or a deep breath. Notice how long you pause for in between breaths.
In this way you are practicing being with what is true. In breathing meditation we’re just choosing to pay attention to one aspect of reality, and as our practice matures we begin to include other aspects too.
As well (or instead of) being aware of how you breathe, you might start to pay attention to the sensations in your body. Which muscles are tense today, and which are relaxed?
You might eventually move on to paying attention to your thoughts. A thought arises and you notice what it is without getting caught by it. You just notice the impulse to fantasise about buying a yacht, instead of following that impulse through and spending ten minutes deciding between different yachts in your mind.
The common thread in all of these practices is non-rejection. Instead of thinking, “Oh no, I’m breathing wrong!” you really pay attention to how you are breathing right now. Instead of thinking about what you are having for dinner in order to take your mind off the cramp in your leg when you are sitting in meditation, you just really notice the cramp in your leg.
Instead of shying away from the unpleasant thoughts in your mind you say, “Oh, that’s what I’m like… interesting.”
Mindfulness meditation gives us a great place to practice this attitude of non-rejecting, but in order to live a completely fulfilling life we must take this attitude off the mediation cushion and into our whole lives.
Instead of cutting off parts of our experience, we give our attention to them. We allow ourselves to notice what it was about that day that upset us so much.
Although ignoring what we don’t like might serve us well in the short term, if we do ignore parts of our experience we’re not really letting go or moving on and we end up living less than fulfilled lives.
When we allow ourselves to just notice what is real, we can start to deal with it.
Instead of pretending that everything is fine, we can say, “Yes, that happened. Now what?”
Seeing what is real in the world can bring up uncomfortable responses in us. We might really feel upset for the first time about that time our boss criticised us, (or guilty that we didn’t respond appropriately at the time). These uncomfortable feelings are natural responses to events and we can apply the same ‘just noticing’ mind to them as in our meditation practices.
As our practice matures, we become more able to experience the whole of the world, and more able to just notice our reactions without getting overwhelmed by them. From this spaciousness, we can then begin to deal with whatever we are presented with.
This is the real gift of mindfulness practice: creating space so that we slowly become comfortable with more and more of our experience. As we become more able to be with our whole experience it becomes easier to be at ease in each moment – to let go of what is holding us back and move forwards wholeheartedly.
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