|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.
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.