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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Mindfulness - Nuance

Bastien Confourier, Flickr

One of the most important things we learn as we get older is nuance: There are always two sides to a story. Nothing is entirely black or white (even the notion of race has its limits!) But fine lines are hard to draw, and balance is hard to find. Until you apply mindfulness.


This controversial quote popped on one of my social media accounts today:

"The world ins't filled with "haters" and "toxic people". It's filled with people who are hurting and trying, ineffectively, to give themselves relief. So distance yourself if you must, but try do do it with empathy, not judgement. The only cure for "haters" is love, so try to show them more kindness than they showed you. This is how we can slowly make the world a more loving place". (Lori Deschene)

It did not take long before comments started to appear below it, and most of them were outraged: individuals who had been abused, verbally, physically, psychologically, could not fathom offering even more love and kindness to those who had hurt them so badly. That poses no question, no more than the fact that your own safety and sanity - physical and psychological - should always come first. 

Notwithstanding the very important exception of abuse, there is nonetheless some truth to Deschene's quote. Working with children and teenagers, I have often reminded myself that few youngsters make the wrong choices deliberately (or at least not entirely) - many factors come into play. Interacting with irritating or even offensive adults, I have often remarked to myself that the source of their unpleasantness is most likely a personal struggle that I know little about.  

I still put my well-being first, and I have cut ties with a small number of "toxic people" in my life, but this knowledge has helped me remain zen in "milder cases".


In my approach to pleasure, I have had a tendency to assume that any unproductive or potentially harmful behavior is the sign of our need to compensate for some form of suffering, or worse, an addiction in its own right. For example, overeating would have its roots in another unfulfilled need that we are failing to address. 

This can and is often the case, of course, but I am realizing that sometimes, our exaggerations don't stem from something so problematic. In the overeating example, we might simply have fallen prey to the temptation of pleasure! The food is good, eating it provides us with a lot of pleasure, therefore we keep eating even when we aren't hungry anymore. The same can apply to overspending: we see something beautiful in a store, and even if we don't need that item, the pleasure of acquiring it feels very compelling. 

The real problem arises, addiction or not, when indulging has undesirable repercussions. We feel unwell after eating too much. Our finances are tight because we spent too much. At a milder level, even if we feel well and keep our finances in check, eating or spending too much can get in the way of our goals (overeating even slightly is not conducive to a very active lifestyle, especially if you want to be competitive, and overspending even slightly can prevent us from saving for bigger items or experiences we really want to be able to afford). 

In short, behaviors that are unproductive, that do not fulfill a true need and that might have adverse effects don't always deserve to be demonized. A life without pleasure would be very sad. Where to draw the line, that is the question, and mindfulness is probably the only way to discover the difference.


During a discussion at my guided meditation class, a senior participant mentioned that she finds it hard to reconcile the detachment we should ideally have toward our own death, and her very strong (and very natural) will to live.

She also mentioned finding it hard to enjoy life when she knows she is getting closer to her "expiry date", and stressing out about losing her independence. 

Upon discussing it for a little bit longer, we did agree that the awareness of your own mortality can have another, more positive effect: it can encourage us to make the most of life. What if this is the last time I see a sunset? I might as well savor the sight, taking it all in.

No matter our age, finding balance between preparing for the future and enjoying the moment is a challenge... but I think it's a beautiful one.

Mindfulness this Week

Does any of those examples of nuances speak to you?

Does any other example come to mind?

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  1. I don't think that quote should be all that controversial. Ultimately, all bad -- all negativity is rooted in fear. Even abuse. Not just my opinion, but a lot of academic research will support that.

    As far as cutting ties with toxic people, I have done it a few times, but always with some regret. These days, if at all possible, I attempt not to cut ties, but perhaps create some distance, always remembering, that if I let someone into my life, I did so for a reason(s).

    As far as pleasure goes, the older I get, the more I find pleasure in duty. True story...

  2. As usual, your thoughtful posts touch on many topics. I liked learning, many years ago, that there was actually only one human race. Of course, dealing with reality versus the truth can be educational. People see and hear what they believe and trying to change that can be tedious, if not impossible. Humanity has worn out many clear thinkers without accepting their evolved ways.

    Why should we be detached from death. It's part of life. Deal with it any way that pleases you.

    Being in the moment, yet preparing for a future, as Heinlein suggests, is the way to be.

    1. I think the "detachment toward one's death" means that we face it with as much serenity as we can. It does not mean that we ignore or don't care about it, but rather that we don't hang on to life as if we were immortal. Thank you for commenting!