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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Mindfulness Part II : Dealing with it

Nova Scotia, 2013

Here we are for the second post of our mindfulness series. This one will tackle the difficult task of overcoming our perceptions and implementing change in our lives.

(If you missed the first mindfulness post, it was about physical health... make sure you take a look! Click here. And after you read today's post, stay tuned for the following ones, where you will learn more about how to deal with fear - including the fear of death - and how to have harmonious relationships, always with the help of mindfulness!)

Putting on a different pair of glasses

What I like about the mindfulness practice is that it empowers us to modify our perceptions and mental formations. Once you cease being a victim to those perceptions and mental formations, happiness becomes possible no matter what. You are equipped for serenity and well-being. In the face of life's contingencies, difficulties, and absurdity, the wisest attitude might indeed be to reframe how we see things. After all (all quotes by Thich Nhat Hanh):

Most of our suffering comes from our wrong perceptions. We do not have correct insight about the nature of reality. [...] We feel anger and despair because we are ignorant. We don't understand ourselves or other people. We discriminate. One meaning of meditation is to sit down on the bank of the river of perceptions and observe them. If you know the nature of your perceptions, you will be free from them. 

Yes, you will be free from your perceptions, because you will be able to take a distance from them. But first we have to accept to see things. To really look at them. To pay attention to them. And that is the initial challenge:

When we come to a retreat [or meditate/become mindful], the noble silence and the quiet sitting may touch our seeds of pain and cause them to manifest. We have to be with our pain, and this is difficult.

Once we do see what is there, including the pain, we are still facing a humongous challenge: the challenge of overcoming the power of habit. One of those habits consists of constantly chasing something:

It is so common to struggle in daily life. We are rarely at ease in the here and the now, always struggling, trying to attain something. The first element of the practice is to stop struggling. Just allow yourself to be. Allow yourself to be a drop of water in the river, and just flow together with that river. If you cannot let go of your anxieties, you won't be able to do that. 

As much as I practice detachment and serenity, and as much as I meditate, I have to admit that I, too, get caught in every day life's stresses. Yes, sometimes I sweat over the small stuff. Last weekend again, I put lots of pressure on myself to not only complete a 10-hour translation project, but also to accomplish a variety of chores around the house... on top of exercising and spending some quality time with my family (including the pets). As one could expect, I was unable to accomplish it all.Then as I was writing this, finally allowing myself some down time as the day was coming to an end, a sunbeam coming through the window made said window's filthiness (the dog keeps licking it!) all too apparent. I kept looking at it, and it frustrated me. I forgot about all the positive that had happened during the weekend. I forgot about all the things I had accomplished. I also forgot about all the good moments, like when the whole family went for a hike in the woods, followed by a fish 'n chips by the ocean front.

How could I let dirty windows ruin all that?

There's always going to be obstacles!
We have to learn to deal with them.
Nova Scotia, 2013

If you can stop and establish yourself in the here and the now, you will see that there are many elements of happiness available in this moment - more than enough for us to be happy. Even if there are a few things present that we dislike, there are still plenty of positive conditions for our happiness. We allow one dying tree to destroy our appreciation of all the other trees that are still alive, vigorous, and beautiful. If we look again, we can see that the garden is still beautiful, and we can enjoy it.

There. I need to leave my dirty windows behind. There is so much more to life. Is a perfectly spotless house my goal in this existence? Is this how I will choose to pursue happiness?

There are many things that we are unable to leave behind, which trap us. Practice looking deeply into these things. In the beginning, you may think that they are vital to your happiness, but they may actually be obstacles to your true happiness, causing you to suffer. If you are not able to be happy because you are caught by them, leaving them behind will be a source of joy for you.

Of course the dirty window example is a simplistic one. So many other things, way more complex and insidious than dirty windows, play a negative role in our lives... and we refuse to admit it. Let's take a pause and observe them. Activities. Habits. Relationships. Are they a source of joy, or a source of suffering?


Being aware of things is great. A huge step in itself. But taking action is better. You cannot allow yourself to stay at the awareness stage without moving. This I know because it has been a tendency for me. I excel at thinking. Problem is, it eventually turns into circular thinking. Action is thus vital.

The North Star helps us face north, but just looking at the North Star does not mean we will go in a northerly direction. You have to take daily steps to go in that direction.

"Daily steps" is the right way to put it. To change is hard. Really hard. If you've heard of the law of inertia (physics), you know that changing trajectories necessitates a lot of energy. I suggest we first stop going in the wrong direction. Before even trying to redirect, we need to find ourselves in stillness. And what better way to achieve that stillness... than meditation? Meditation is not avoidance. Meditation implies slowing down enough to see what really is going on:

Some people think meditation means avoiding reality - that you pursue something transcendental and no longer care about practical things. But meditation, mindfulness practice, is concrete; you deal with reality instead of running away from it. You go back to your real problems and your real situation.

In case of doubt, it is sometimes better to wait before you act, but you can still do something:

If you are ever unsure of what to do, go back and enjoy your breathing.


  1. I love this - I tend to do the same thing you did over the weekend - over extend myself and then look at the "wrong" side of what was done. I'm going to work on appreciating the other part!!!

  2. That will make two of us, Kim! :-)
    One way to counteract this tendency is to add fun, relaxing things to your "to do list". Sometimes it's the only way to make sure you will take time for those things. Some examples of "chores" to add to your list: take a walk; listen to music; watch a movie; meditate; pet my cat/dog; take a bath; etc. :-) Then as you cross them off you feel very satisfied.
    Obviously the real wisdom would be to not need that kind of list! :-) But I'm not there yet.

  3. Awesome post! I need to ponder this!

    1. Go ahead, and tell us what you come up with! ;-)

  4. "I suggest we first stop going in the wrong direction. Before even trying to redirect, we need to find ourselves in stillness." Bottle this ability, sell me this ability, I will be a customer for life!

    One thing I think I get right is that, in the Tao of it all, I'm content, if not happy, just to be...

    1. If you are content just to be, then happiness is yours. :-)

      To achieve stillness: eliminate all stimuli, sit or lie on the ground/floor (on a mat) close your eyes, focus on your breathing.

      Call me when you've achieved it! I want to know! :-)

  5. I struggle with change on the regular. I am such a creature of habit! I love going to bed at the same time, waking up at the same time, eating dinner at the same time... And if I don't have at least a day or two to PREPARE MYSELF mentally, I will kind of flip out, if something screws up my well-oiled system that I live by, LOL! I am definitely getting A LOT better though, letting myself be a little more sporadic. If you met me years ago, you would think I was a NUT JOB... Now I am just a JOB! lol!

    1. Hey GiGi! Habit is good to a certain point! I certainly have my regular habits! But like you, I have evolved to be able to deal with change and the unexpected. You kind of have to when you travel as much as I do.

      Keep going on this path, and from a job you might become a zen person! :-)

  6. All this is very well thought out and beautifully written, Julie!

    It's always good to practice for adversity and have plans.

    Of course when life punches us in the mouth, then we reveal ourselves to ourselves.

    I'm the Nut that GiGi lost.

    1. Thank you Dr. J!

      You are very right on the fact that we reveal ourselves to ourselves when life punches us in the mouth. What I strive for is to not punch myself in the mouth when life has already done it. :-)

      GiGi's the Job, you're the Nut, let's say I'm the Freak then! ;-) LOL

  7. Hi
    I'm glad you brought up this aspect and i'm writing in connection with your observation that some people seem to think that meditation is "escapism";fleeing from reality.
    Well the one thing meditation does is it makes you see reality more clearly than anything else.Few of us are aware that deep meditation raises our levels of consciousness.And consciousness is something quite different from mere intellect.Intellectually one may have very high IQ levels but their consciousness levels maynot be high at all.The vice versa,however ,is not true.

    1. Yes, it might seem like those who meditate a lot (especially monks, who do not seem to have a "normal" life) have it easy because they don't face reality. But in fact, they might be the ones who face it the most.

  8. Very well written and so very true. I always advocate waiting on big decisions and in terms of food, it is always a good idea to really think about what you need vs what you want.

    1. I couldn't agree more with you Diane when you say we need to think about the food you need vs the food we want! It applies to all areas of our lives, for sure. Oh, but what a difficult task.