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Totality of Experiences
March 9, 2018
There are a number of concepts embedded in Mindfulness that can be a challenge to our western minds,
upbringing and way of thinking and being. None is more challenging than the suggestion of learning how to be OK with whatever is happening in our lives and being able to live a life without judgement of that scenario or event as being good or bad. Learning how to let go off attachment to the unpleasant and the pleasant in equal measure.
Surely, I hear people say, that’s OK for a minor event but it can’t possibly apply to a major, life changing event. How can it be OK with having a serious illness, losing a loved one, finding myself with no money to live on? How can I accept that?
The issue here is the reality of the situation. IF that is the reality and we cannot do anything about changing it then by NOT accepting it, we are causing ourselves a great deal of additional pain and suffering.
Carl Jung, an eminent psychologist of the 19th Century came up with the notion from working with people that what we resist about ourselves, persists. When we attempt to avoid, hide or regret ‘what is’, it will not only persist, it will also get bigger, impact us more significantly. This concept can be applied to how we see ourselves as well as how we view our circumstances.
Let’s take a couple of examples:
If we are in pain through an injury of an illness, the natural tendency is to tense around the area of the pain. This has the impact of creating tension in the muscles around the pain which in turn may well increase the tension and therefore the pain in that same area. Pain management clinics teach people to breathe into the area of pain. Maybe using our wonderful capacity of imagination to visualise the out breath creating some letting go around the pain and maybe even allowing ourselves to sense that some of the pain is eased on the out breathe.
Ruminating on Thoughts
We have an experience that was unpleasant. Maybe it happened and maybe it is still happening. A problem shared, as we say, is a problem halved. And this can be true. I am worried, afraid, upset about something or someone and to have someone to share that with can help especially when it helps us to clarify some issues about what happened. However, when we continue to bring it up and talk about it over and over again, all we are doing is re-gurgitating or ruminating the details over and over again. This process in itself can support the strengthening of negative thoughts and emotions including a sense of injustice, ‘poor me’, fear for the future, regret about the past.
In both examples, we inadvertently aggravate the pain and the suffering that we experience which could result in feelings of resentment, anger, fear, ‘poor me’ thoughts which as we well know can easily escalate into turning to comfort actions such as over eating, drinking, getting lost in activities such as watching mindless TV.
So does this mean that we are victims to circumstances, having to accept whatever is thrown at us and just get on with it.
I think the well-known first verse of the Serenity Prayer is a wonderful way of looking at this:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
When we can change things, why wouldn’t we. But there are many things that happen throughout an average lifespan that maybe present as being unpleasant, challenging, threatening to us that we just cannot change. It is that category that this Mindful approach is referring to.
One very benign but simple example is our approach to the weather. While we can have beautiful weather in our little island, we can have other times when it is less than beautiful (to say the least). I like many people used to get very upset by this especially during the dark winter days or when we are having a non-existent summer in the middle of June, July and August.
At times I would get very angry and feel miserable and unsociable. But really, if you look at it, what does THAT achieve? Nothing other than anger, misery and a lonely life. I can now let out a sigh of relief as the weather no longer has a hold on my emotional state. I am clear that I know which weather I would prefer but equally clear that I have absolutely no control over it so why get upset when it does not show up to match my preference. After many decades, I finally learnt the ‘wisdom to know the difference’.
Ok so this is a flippant example compared to other situations that people have to deal with but the same principles apply to anything and everything from serious illness to losing a bunch of money to the death of a loved one.
How can we learn to come to terms?:
Becoming aware of ways that we are aggravating our feelings and choosing to interrupt the pattern of that behaviour.
Calming our thoughts, slowing down the internal chatter of our minds.
Placing a focus on the ‘pleasant’ that is all around us, just for the seeing.
Meditating….either on a specific topic such as ‘thoughts’ or something that simply feels good
Being kind to ourselves. Offering ourselves the compassion and patience that we might offer to someone else in a similar situation.
I started this article with the suggestion of letting go equally of holding onto the pleasant experiences as much as the pleasant. This strengthens our ‘mindful muscles’ to taking steps towards being OK with what it. Recognising that ‘this too will change’, whatever it. If we try and hold onto the pleasant, we will be setting ourselves up for disappointment as for most of us, life is made up of experiences pleasant, unpleasant and neutral making up the rich tapestry of our total lives.
Pat Sawyer. Mindful Life Changes for Workshops on MIndfulness held in Hampshire, UK.