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Monday, January 11, 2016

Mindfulness - First Impressions

Tim Green, Flickr

Feelings, whether of compassion or irritation, should be welcomed, recognized, and treated on an absolutely equal basis; because both are ourselves. The tangerine I am eating is me. The mustard greens I am planting are me. I plant with all my heart and mind. I clean this teapot with the kind of attention I would have were I giving the baby Buddha or Jesus a bath. Nothing should be treated more carefully than anything else. In mindfulness, compassion, irritation, mustard green plant, and teapot are all sacred.” 
(Thích Nhất Hạnh)

Mindfulness is like a dimmer light: as soon as you turn it on, even if it's at the minimal setting, you begin to see more clearly. Examples of the realizations one may come to once the mindfulness light is turned on include:

  • Taking note of your own bad posture at work, which might explain the mysterious chronic pain you've been struggling with.
  • Noticing that you are eating not out of hunger, but out of an unpleasant feeling, such as tiredness, sadness or boredom.
  • Acknowledging that you might be more stressed than you thought, and that it has an impact on your sleep, your mood, your habits.
  • Realizing that someone in your life is the source of a significant amount of stress, as their mere presence (in person or on the phone) seems to drain your most precious energy.*

(*All of the above are actual examples that were spontaneously shared with me by readers, family or friends this last week - for more examples, see last week's comments.)

As you may have noticed, some of the realizations brought about by mindfulness are not joyful. They are nonetheless very real. For that reason, mindfulness can be rather disquieting at first, which contributes to making it hard to achieve and implement in one's life. Noticing that you've been sweeping things under the rug, accepting to take a hard look at them, can be (and will likely be) unsettling and confusing. This is why you will want to turn on the dimmer light gradually. Allow yourself to get used to the discomfort.

The practice of mindfulness is like the practice of fitness training: You start where you are, and you progress at your own pace. 

How to tell if you are doing too much, too soon? The line lies between discomfort and pain. You can expect your budding mindfulness to make you feel uneasy; that is acceptable, and generally a good sign. Discomfort is normal, and even necessary. You have to ''feel the stretch''.

However, if your newly acquired awareness feels absolutely overwhelming and becomes unbearable, it means that you need to slow down. You would never push an exercise through excruciating pain. If such is the case, a break is called for. Getting help, possibly professional help, is recommended. Think of this within the fitness training analogy: You would not tackle a new training program without first making sure it is safe for you, and without adequate support. 

Start where you are, and respect your own pace.

Mindfulness this Week

Noticing the sources of frustration, stress and pain in our lives is crucial. Noticing the sources of well-being is just as important. This week, we will make sure that our awareness also applies to the good, the pleasant, the serene. 

Mindfulness will bring positive realizations to the surface, such as the fact that certain people, activities, foods or musics provide you with great joy. What are your ''I'm feeling really good right now'' moments?

Be part of the process: 

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  1. Feeling good right now moments? Um...first thing in the morning when I'm the only one up. Solving a problem and setting that issue aside. Reading a good book. A simple thing like a fridge cold glass of water.

  2. I am as grateful for my emotional and physical pain as I am for my emotional and physical wealth because, in the words of Bob Dylan, it helps me know I am "really real".

    1. You totally are the real thing, Roy. Authenticity is your middle name. Thank you for sharing! :-)

  3. I can relate to those examples you gave.

    I started to become more mindful at an early age. That could be troublesome when dealing with less mindful people or systems. Over time, I continually reevaluated. Some of my views have never changed, some have evolved due to my working from within, and with input from without.

    I'm glad you are stressing the positive aspects of being mindful.

    1. This is an interesting point you are raising, Dr. J: how to build mindfulness in a world that is not always mindful. That is definitely a challenge. I will probably want to come back to it in a later post. Thank you!

  4. I feel happy when I can blare The Beatles (or later music by any of them) whilst cleaning the house. This can only happen when I'm home alone during the day - which is a big part of what makes it pleasant.

  5. Well, this doesn't count as a "feeling good moment" but I've been dealing with a mysterious pain in my right hip for years now, and it's been getting to the point where it's really bothering me. I was on the brink of seeking medical attention, but then... well, I've been trying to pay more attention to my body as I go through the day, and I realized that I always sit with my right leg crossed over my left - and this seems to contribute to the pain.

    I'm finding this habit EXTREMELY difficult to break, but the more conscious I become of it, the more I'm able to remind myself not to do it. No firm conclusions yet, but I've been working on not crossing my legs for a few days now and my hip pain is greatly reduced.

    The other thing that I do reflexively is hurry, even when there is no need for it. So I'm working on trying to stay in the moment and just do one thing at a time.

    Baby steps...

    1. Fantastic realization! With time (and attention), I trust that it is possible to change a bad habit, in this case posture. I hope it makes a difference for the best!

  6. mine are consistently at the end of the day.
    the THATS A WRAP feeling when I can completely mentally replenish.