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Week 5

Turning towards difficulties

In the past few weeks we have learned that opening to ALL the experiences with warmth and curiosity is the essence of Mindfulness and how to respond to difficulties is a key aspect of embodiment.

It is easy to remain open to pleasant experiences such as ice cream and sunshine but what about loss, pain and the inevitable frustrations of daily life? This is the reason most people sign up to a Mindfulness programme in first instance.

"Difficulty" covers a huge range of human experiences from an itchy nose in sitting meditations to the most severe trauma or loss imaginable. In Mindfulness teaching terms such as "turning towards", "staying with", "allowing", "opening to" and "being with" are used as oppose to the automatic reactions of avoidance, denial, suppression or distraction.

"Unpleasant emotions are invariably accompanied by sensations and feelings in the body. If we gently focus our attention right into these areas of intense sensation and discomfort, we bring about both immediate and longer term effects. We immediately short-circuit any unhelpful avoidance tendencies in the mind. We also disrupt the automatic links among body sensations, feelings, and thoughts that perpetuate vicious cycles and downward mood spirals. In the longer run, we develop more skillful ways of being in relationship to uncomfortable experiences. Rather than seeing them as “bad and threatening” things, a view that triggers avoidance and gets us stuck in suffering, we are beginning to see unpleasant experiences for what they are : passing mental events – bundles of bodily sensations, feelings and thoughts. As best we can, we greet them with a sense of interest and curiosity, rather than with a sense of unease, hatred, and dread. We welcome them in, as they are already here anyway." ("Mindfulness, living peacefully in a farantic world" by Mark Williams and Danny Penman)

We will come to learn that everything changes: even the worst-case scenarios imagined in your darkest moments.

The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

By Rumi, Translation by Coleman Barks

An approach we can take whilst dealing with stresses in life is mindful acceptance.
It is not the passive acceptance of the intolerable. It is not “giving up”, nor is it resignation or spinelessness.
Acceptance, in this sense, allows the mind to embrace the true, deep understanding of how things really are. Acceptance is a pause, a period of allowing, of letting be, of clear seeing.

Mindful acceptance gives us choices.

Awareness itself is the teacher, the student, and the lesson. Jon Kabat-Zinn

Practices for week 5

  1. Exploring difficulty Whatever happens over the coming week or so, always treat yourself with compassion. It may not be necessary to repeat it every day, especially if there are no difficult issues to work with or the opposite - when the issue is too "raw". In that case, just sit in silence observing your breath and thoughts or go back to the meditations in previous weeks.
  2. Continue practicing 3 min breathing space
  3. Continue to weave mindfulness into your daily life

Further interest: 45 min podcast from Jon Kabbat-Zinn

Reading about RAIN

"Wherever you go, there you are" by Jon Kabbat-Zinn

Article in The New Yorker July 6 2015