I recently introduced mindfulness to a small group. What they found surprising was the fact that mindfulness isn't about sitting and picturing a beach scene and blocking out the 'bad stuff'. The sitting practice of meditation does often enable a sense of calm and restfulness, but this isn't always the case. Mindfulness and mindful mediation is about learning to welcome whatever is there in your experience, not shutting the door all of the time. The beautiful sound of the birds but also the tense feeling of a nervous thought. That sounds terribly scary at first, but the practice develops over time and you go at a pace that is suitable for you. It's the shutting out and ignoring things that can cause us the damage. That's not to say that at times we don't need to turn away from upset and distress. We can't always face everything, all of the time.
Recently someone in one of my teaching groups said that mindfulness is incredible, that it's so difficult to articulate, and you have to do it to understand how much it can help. This is so very true, and sometimes the simplicity of it makes people see it as 'fluffy'. We honestly don't just sit in a group saying 'omm', although I do find it really funny when friends tease me and suggest that that is how I spend my days. It is so much more than 'omm'.
You know when something you don't like happens? For example, a colleague makes a remark that doesn't sit well with you. What happens to you, what do you do? Perhaps you respond immediately with anger and display your dislike for such a remark. Maybe you say nothing and then spend hours replaying the situation in your mind. Maybe you try to block it out and spend the entire day in a bad mood. All of these possible responses cause us discomfort to some degree: the regret of an angry response, the anxiety of going over and over the scenario in your head or the experience of being in a bad mood all day causing sadness. With mindfulness we start to create pauses and things slow down a little. With regular meditation we stop responding in automatic ways and we get more choice about how to deal with things. It may well be that telling your colleague of your displeasure is important, but with mindfulness you will find that you respond in way that isn't so out of control. With the practice you also allow yourself to feel any hurt, in the body. Maybe it's your heart, or your stomach churning. Whichever it is, it's about acknowledging it, feeling it and allowing it is pass. Getting caught in a dialogue with your colleague in your head is only hurting you. Feeling it in the body allows the emotions to dissipate. This is a very basic example of how mindfulness can change daily experiences.
So it isn't so fluffy, you do need courage to face things and feel things. That is why compassion is so incredibly important. Holding a generous attitude towards ourselves is key. An attitude similar to that which we hold towards a friend really allows us to experience things with more ease. Feeling anger and resentment only builds more layers of unease. With practice, compassion meditations can change the way you are towards yourself and those around you, even the way you view the world. Once we give ourselves a break things flow much easier and we meet less destructive experiences.
Meeting our emotions, our hurt, and even our joy isn't something to rush, it's about gentle practice. We all want to feel at ease, and in order to feel at ease letting go is the way forward. We take on a concoction of beliefs and experiences as we grow up and sometimes feeling the emotions associated with these to allow them to change can be really hard. Often the fear is worse than the experience. There are so many great mindfulness meditation teachers, you don't need to practice alone and you don't need to dive in head first. Just like therapy or medicine, it can be hard at first but learning to heal is very rewarding. Remember that expecting amazing results without some hard work is like building a house without foundations. The princess had to kiss a few frogs before meeting the prince.