Why do we meditate, practice mindfulness, breathe and sit in silence? There are myriad reasons, one of which is to be able to witness fear, anxiety, stress and not become it, to understand it as a transitory phenomenon passing through your consciousness moment by moment.
Viktor Frankl wrote, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” We practice to cultivate this sacred space within us.
Over the course of our personhood, the unexpected will inevitably rear its head time and again. The unforeseeable colors not only our personal lives – our babies and relationships, jobs and projects – but also our global humanity. We are living in a time punctuated by uncertainty. It is increasingly difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction. This can be true both at a personal and societal level.
We must commit to our daily practice such that we create the space between stimulus and response. This space will guide us toward right work and right action.
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)
It is useful to practice RAIN meditation when dealing with difficulties of everyday life:
Recognize what is happening;
Allow the experience to be there, just as it is;
Investigate with interest and care;
Nurture with self-compassion
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
- Mountain meditation 20 min by Jon Kabat-Zinn encourages us to be like a mountain, to seek inner stability and peace in everyday life and in the face of life’s challenges.
- Turning towards difficulty meditation 17 min By Josephine Lynch
- RAIN 11 min meditation by Tara Brach
- RAIN 20 min meditaion by Tara Brach
- Continue practicing 3 min breathing space
- TED Talk on resilience by Lucy Hone
- Continue to weave mindfulness into your daily life
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.
A summary of "Body keeps the score"
Reading about RAIN