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“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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