NOT NICE... DRAW CLOSER
Life can be a little thorny. It will always involve tough times, unpleasant experiences and difficulties. Aproaching these times with mindfulness can help us develop new ways to live with a greater sense of peace.
PUTTING OUT THE WELCOME MAT
When it comes to pain and suffering, the basic instinctive human strategies are avoidance and denial. These have obviously served us well but even in this modern era with the incredible advances we are witnessing, there are forms of pain and suffering which cannot be eased with medicine or technology.
Mindfulness as we know it, was a programme, developed in the 1970s and based on ancient Buddhist principles, which was designed to assist people living with chronic pain. At the time, nothing more could be done for the people attending the course, with regard to traditional medicine.
So Jon Kabat-Zinn constructed a mindfulness programme which involved “putting out the welcome mat” for every aspect of your moment to moment experience of life.
And that includes pain and suffering.
While this might seem counter-intuitive, there is a wisdom to the approach which brought about a sense of ease-of-being for those who attended.
Another way to describe this way of handling unpleasant experiences is befriending.
When we befriend someone, we engage an attitude of inquiry. We do this automatically, unconsciously maybe. We get to know someone by finding out more about them, we discover what makes them tick.
When it comes to pain and suffering, we would normally do the opposite. We are not interested, we don’t want them around, we don’t want them near us and we just want them gone!
When we approach unpleasant elements of life with mindfulness, we attempt to befriend them, we try to get to know the character and qualities they have. We do this while remaining still, calm and centered. This can be really hard, some suffering seems almost unbearable but when we approach the suffering with the lightest of touches, with a gentleness and with self-compassion, we are able to discover ways to live with difficulties that can be healing and restorative.
DRAWING UP CLOSE
The mindful way of facing suffering is to explore it with a sense of curiosity and openess. When we apply some of the mindfulness attitudes to our pain such as acceptance, it allows us the opportunity to see things as they really are and so see things more clearly.
Bringing acceptance to situations, which simply cannot be avoided, opens the door to a sense of peace. We’re not talking about blind resignation, where we give up or surrender our better judgement. We are talking about facing what actually is, and using all of our faculties and senses to engage with life fully – pleasant or unpleasant.
Being non-judgemental, another mindfulness attitude, helps us to see how a lot of suffering comes, not just from circumstances, but the meaning we give those circumstances. For example (and this is a really basic one, so bear with me), for one person, being given another responsibility could mean, “I am being overburdened and they don’t care about me”, while for another it could mean, “Another responsibilty means they believe in me”
When we befriend our suffering, awareness allows us to observe our responses with greater clarity.