The way I see it, mindfulness is about paying attention to what’s happening in your experience right now and then getting comfortable with letting it happen. There could be sensations, thoughts, and feelings that range from pleasant to neutral to unpleasant to downright overwhelming. The more practice you have in being with experience, the more capacity you have to hold difficult experiences without reacting in a way that doesn’t serve you or those around you.
It’s a very useful skill for life, especially if life is difficult. And let’s face it, life can be soooo difficult at times. I’ve personally used mindfulness and the capacity to hold intense stuff as I recover from childhood trauma. I choose to practice faithfully because life can get really gnarly and mindfulness has served me well.
Today, while checking in (practicing mindfulness), I noticed a vague discomfort. Many times that’s how feelings start for me, vague. If I’m not careful or mindful, I could miss them. Then the feeling kind of runs in the back ground affecting my day subconsciously. Often the uncomfortable feelings are related to some unconscious thoughts or memories that are being triggered by something that’s happening. None of this is my fault. It just happens. Here I disclose my process in an effort to model how mindfulness works in this situation.
So this morning I could tell that something was up because I felt hunger (?) or the urge to eat right after I had breakfast. I don’t think I was really hungry because I had just ate. If I connected with that particular feeling through my body, I noticed a gnawing in my tummy, an activation in the back of my throat, and obsessive thoughts about my next meal or what I was going to cook or eat soon.
It was all fairly uncomfortable yet very familiar. For years my response to this discomfort was to literally feed it. I convinced myself that maybe I didn’t have enough protein or fat or what ever, so I ate again. The feeling would not really go away until I ate enough to make my tummy hurt. This didn’t really make the feeling go away, it just produced a stronger, ironically less uncomfortable feeling for me to contend with. Problem solved, right? Except that whole weight gain / health thing makes it unsustainable.
So the mindful way of responding is to allow and notice the “tummy gnawing” to carry on without judging it or doing anything about it. Depending on how intense or uncomfortable this feeling is, or how much practice you have, this may or may not be possible. No judgement . Life is hard. But I have some practice so I did the mindful thing of bringing my attention to the sensation and getting curious about it.
Mindfulness is not a magic bullet for relief. Many times when you are mindful, a feeling can get exacerbated. This “wanting to eat” feeling kept sticking around. But here’s some cool info that lots of practice gives you. Any experience, as well as any feelings, change all the time. They kind of unfold, sometimes revealing deeper information about your inner self and what else is going on. While being curious and noticing the gnawing in my throat and tummy, I was also aware of a sense of quiet, maybe emptiness (?), possibly loneliness (?). Even a sense that I don’t matter. Ouch!
What little wisdom I have with feelings tells me that “not mattering” is not a truth. How can we not matter? If we’re here, we matter. Never-the-less, right now, under that uncomfortable feeling of wanting to eat is a low grade sense of not mattering. The minute I touched into that, I felt two things. One is sadness. If I check in, ironically, sadness feels easier to feel than not mattering. It’s not as vague. It’s like I can touch it. The second thing I feel is compassion. It’s really hard to feel like you don’t matter. It hurts. Again, my practice has rewired my brain to care deeply that I’m hurting. So I send myself that care.
Now here’s what I call the “magic trick” of mindful awareness. That feeling of caring, has the affect of soothing my “hurting/sad” part. What’s important to note is that I didn’t have to change my experience to get rid of the gnawing. I didn’t have to eat or do an action to make myself feel different. I just had to let it be and get curious about it. I had to let it hang around long enough, without judgement to let it show me what else there was (loneliness, not mattering, grief, compassion). Then I could take a skillful action to attend to it. Caring and compassion is a skillful way of attending to hurting.
So here I am now, feeling more sad than hungry. I will send love, kindness and compassion to that place in myself as long as it needs it. Sadness will also change soon enough. In this case, not ‘problem solved’, problem (actually feeling) attended to and processed through.
I hope this step-by-step guide of my mindfulness process helps you. Maybe it’ll give you courage to let some feelings stick around long enough to be curious about them. Maybe you’re happy to learn that feelings and experiences change all the time or that we don’t have to do a lot about them except be kind to ourselves when they arise. Maybe you’ve gotten a better picture of how mindfulness works.
How ever this has affected you, my wish is that it helps to alleviates any suffering you have and consequently those around you have. May we all find ease as we navigate this life.