Ever notice how the mind will narrate any moment? Whether you want it to or not.
A friend, who I coach on mindfulness, was concerned about an upcoming medical test since the last one she had delivered bad news. She told me that her anxiety was keeping her up at night and she didn’t feel good.
I was immediately aware of my wanting to help her get rid of her anxiety. I have suffered a lot from anxiety and know how uncomfortable and life draining it can be. Never-the-less, I trusted that awareness would guide my actions and began the meditation. At one point I customized it so that we said “may your anxiety be held with compassion”. We didn’t ask it to go away. We brought open-heartedness to it.
Mindfulness is the allowing of present moment experience. Allowing and holding gently with compassion and uncondition. It can be very hard because we just want to push away the uncomfortable, the scary, the bad things. That’s natural. But the problem is that what you resist persists. So the instruction is to meet it (all) with open arms.
Still feeling inadequate and powerless to help I was surprised when she told me after the meditation that she felt better. That she hadn’t known it but that she had been resisting the anxiety. When she opened her awareness to allow it to be, it made room in her heart. And then the anxiety wasn’t the only thing in front of her. There was also loving kindness.
I thought about that and realized that the magic is in the allowing. It’s an amazing thing that truly works.
I just read an article about being mindful of one’s personal preferences. It was eye-opening to say the least. Since I’m currently on vacation with my husband and I’m not in my own controlled environment, I’m having the opportunity to notice a lot things about my ideas regarding preferences for things like comfort, temperature, food, etc.
For example, I really like things a certain way (basically, how I do them at home). And I can get testy if they are not that way. If I’m tired or compromised in some way, I should get my preferences. Vacation is special so I should get my preferences. My husband should automatically know my preferences. I have preferences about the smallest things that I didn’t even realize (my pillow, type of coffee, how a room should be set up to cook. The list really goes on and on.
This mindfulness practice is to choose the opposite of your preference and/or let someone else choose theirs. Then be mindful of what arises. For at first was fear that I wouldn’t be comfortable. Of course, as is the instruction, I met that with kindness. Then amazing things happened. First I noticed a lightening of the burden of choice. Wow! I don’t have to choose, I can just go along for the ride. Second, the choices that were made for me weren’t terrible. As a matter of fact, I was presented with the unfamiliar which, can be uncomfortable, yet provided new experiences that added to the interest of the situation. This would have never happened had I ordered the same old thing that “I love”. And in general, the day became freer and more colorful. I even started to be excited about what was to come rather than safely satisfied with the status quo.
So I recommend the practice of regularly choosing non-preference, being open to something else. The writer of the article said that she would stick her hand in her clothes drawer and wear the first thing she pulled out. Or, no matter what, at a restaurant she just choose the third thing on the menu. At first I was fearful of letting go of such tried and true comfort. Not realizing that tried and true comfort can turn into boring and safe. This practice has turned out to have added color and flavor to my day and my vacation.
Read how when a man’s daughter inadvertently reminds him what’s important in life, he makes some difficult but rewarding decisions about his tech use.
“He did not have to transform himself in the way he imagined. He just had to learn to be kind to himself” Mark Epstein -Trauma of Everyday Life
Many times when we begin practicing, we use the instructions as an additional way in which we have to “transform” ourselves. We want to be “good” mindfulness practitioners so we need to do it right. The instruction is about being with what is and not judging it. But what if you’re not good at being with what is?
Therein lies the paradox of mindfulness. You don’t even judge yourself when you find yourself judging yourself! So what do you do? Like Mark Epstein says, “just learn to be kind to yourself”. Just like mindfulness, it’s a practice. Notice what’s going on. You’re not noticing your breath, you’re judging yourself for not noticing, you’re judging yourself for judging yourself. As long as you’re aware of it all, you’re practicing.
You meet it all with unconditional friendliness. It can go something like this. “Hi self, wow, you have a lot going on. I guess that’s the way it is today. I’ll gently try to return to my breath… Oh, we’re off again. No worries. It’s what happens. We’ll try again… Oh the bell rang and it seems we weren’t even mindful for one full minute.” But then you’ll realize that you were actually mindful of all that. Well done.