The present is the only time anyone has to perceive, learn, grow or change and yet we are so easily distracted from it. When we ‘pause’ we allow a window to open to our inner world. One that many of us have not stepped into fully. A place always available to us
By Natalie Hodgson
Photo Credit: Penny Belmont
The most important relationship you will ever have is with yourself.
Mindfulness has been labelled many things in its recent popularity however it really comes down to the journey to self. It’s the invitation to receive deeply what’s here now. This mindfulness series is based on the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program (MBSR) and each article will take you on the journey of self-discovery cultivating ways to engage with the present moment over and over again.
This first session, introduces ways on how to bring an attitudinal approach to the practice of a ‘pause’, also why this simple task is so challenging. But let’s first start with how it all began. The MBSR program is an evidence-based program that was originally created by Jon Kabat-Zinn. It all started in the basement of a hospital to assist repeat clients suffering from mental diseases such as depression, anxiety etc. Through this 8-week course clients were trained in a series of mindfulness skills which greatly improved their mental state, reduced addictive behaviours and dependency on drugs. Through these positive results the Stress Reduction Clinic at the UMass Centre for Mindfulness (https://www.umassmemorialhealthcare.org/umass-memorial-center-mindfulness) was launched, and thousands of people continue to benefit from its teachings.
So, who is the person you know the most? Who you can share anything, openingly and without fear? The one person you can turn too no matter what, with your deepest darkest thoughts and feelings?
Could the response be yourself? The relationship with yourself is the most important relationship you will ever have. It is the longest and hardest relationship you will have to endure. It’s from this relationship that you base how you relate to others in your life. Who we think we are, is very small to who we actually are. There is a huge separation. So how can we develop this relationship?
The present is the only time anyone has to perceive, learn, grow or change and yet we are so easily distracted from it. When we ‘pause’ we allow a window to open to our inner world. One that many of us have not stepped into fully. A place always available to us. This place is not just the mind but the other knowledge centres of the body – the heart and the stomach. The ‘pause’ gives us a chance to relax, notice our intentions and connect. This action on repeat allows us to choose ‘ease’ and ‘acceptance’ into what is discovered in each moment (an aching neck, a painful knee, a fearful, speculative thought). This opens the possibility of deep insight.
So, what’s here now? Are you up for having a go? Put a timer on for 2 minutes. Close your eyes, take a deep breath in and out, let your senses be still. Take a step into that magical world. It’s impossible to do it wrong. Soften, release, relax. See what’s there. Give yourself 2 minutes to do nothing but observe. Close your eyes now…
So how was that?
So here is another story. A student instructed to meditate came to his teacher in despair. Not waiting for his teacher to look up from his book he said, ‘ This is too hard’, he complained. ‘I sit and try to still the mind, to release thoughts, to extend compassion and all the time I find myself criticizing my efforts, how much noise the neighbours are making, how much my knees hurt, and how hungry I am. How can I ever get beyond this?’ The teacher listened patiently to the long litany of complaints, then sat and pondered for a time. Hoping for words of reassurance or a shortcut to transcendence, the student waited expectantly. Finally, the teacher opened her eyes and said, ‘These difficulties are going to be with you for the rest of your life’, smiled and kept reading. Author Unknown.
In your two minutes did you criticize yourself? Did you criticize the exercise? Did you feel uncomfortable in the body? Were you thinking of other things you wanted to do or be? Were you suffering in some way?
The experience of pausing is accumulative. The more you do it, slowly, slowly you become accustomed to this type of listening, despite the distractions of external noise, or bodily sensations. The question is, is it possible to embrace all that you are most prone to condemn or fear with kindness? Can you accept the moments of anger and fear as guests, willing to receive them without indulging them? This is how you get to know yourself more deeply.
Since we are excellent doers and fixers we want to try and find a solution to unwanted feelings, sensations and thoughts. Sometimes we think that the solution is to simply ignore or suppress them. Or clutter our lives with so many other things pushing them aside. There isn’t always an easy solution to suffering, but there is always a possible response. This is the practice of knowing thyself. Listening to what’s inside, just like you would listen to your spouse, child, sibling or close friend; with focus, love and respect. And just noticing could be the best step .. for now.
For generations, we have demonized pain and suffering to such as extent that it seems normal to take flight as the best solution. Much of our life is set up to and dedicated to minimizing pain and maximizing happiness, with countless songs about ‘don’t worry be happy’. Club Med is about to open on the Moon and we can freeze our DNA for later production but we cannot end personal suffering. Rarely in our society does anyone tell you to stop running, be still and bring pain closer to you, befriend it, understand it. This is the first step to letting go of your arguments, judgements, fault-finding, and the effort to make the difficulties disappear.
We are all beginners in art of mindfulness, no matter how experienced and advanced we believe our understanding to be. Life has a way of providing a new experience, situation or encounter with challenges that we are unprepared for. When you are willing to turn towards the unwanted pain, receive it, embrace it with kindness, you are embracing mindfulness and yourself.
The global pandemic has unknowingly brought the practice of mindfulness into the limelight. As a species we have no option but to accept the unknowing. The fact that there is no solution, no concrete steps of what will work or when the vaccine will be provided. So many unknowns. To be able to turn towards these thoughts and understand that we need to hold the unknown alongside the hope, calm and compassion has been trying.
When you practice enough you will see that what is revealed in each pause maybe painful or not, each day is different. But by receiving life with all its adversity, sorrow and impermanency you may try and forfeit the permission for suffering to dictate. Your eyes open, your heart opens with gratitude and the radical change happens internally.
To postpone embracing your inner world is to postpone your capacity to engage with your life in the fullest and wisest way (even if it is not the life, we were hoping for in 2020). But remember when practicing, keep a lighthearted sense of play about it, be in the mood of discovery, as if you are meeting yourself for the first time. There is no right experience to have. Only yours, because it’s YOU. Just start with two minutes a day, that’s all it takes.