Usually, when we are suffering in some way, we habitually grasp towards things that we know have previously made us feel good. For some of us, the pick-me-up might be eating chocolate, talking to a friend or watching TV. We basically look for anything that will distract us from the unpleasantness that we are experiencing. Many times these techniques can often lift us out of our depression and we can feel mentally balanced, enough to meekly dip our toes back into the world again. However, there are also many times when we continue to feel dissatisfied. Although our chosen forms of escapism may prove effective most of the time, we can see that our ‘infallible pick-me-ups’ aren’t so reliable all of the time.
The reason for this is because objects or activities in themselves have no concrete qualities that are reliable all of the time. For instance, if we are physically sick with a cold and we have an argument with our mother, then grabbing the closest block of chocolate probably won’t send you into bliss, but into wretchedness instead. This is because the chocolate doesn’t have any inherent qualities that make it permanently wonderful. In fact, for dogs, chocolate can be poisonous!
We have to look at what is inside us that makes us want to escape the unpleasant experiences of life? Why are we so afraid to look at the situation, or even challenge it to cause us greater pain? Without having voiced it out loud, we all have a strong inner belief that life should be pleasant, and if it isn’t, then there is something wrong and we need to fix it. However, the Buddha taught in the First Noble Truth, that life is a mixture of pleasant and unpleasant experiences, and that dissatisfaction and unsatisfactory experiences are simply a part of life. So we shouldn’t feel like we’ve failed if things aren’t going so wonderfully. That is just the nature of life.
Actually we should be grateful for the difficult moments because they are some of our greatest teachers. If life was so wonderful all the time, it would never incite us to look further for greater meaning, we would find complete satisfaction in the material world, believing that those objects/people/places/activities were reliable and could permanently make us happy. But that is not the essential nature of these things, or anything for that matter. There is nothing in this entire universe that can be pointed to and we can say ‘That will always make me happy because it will never change’. By virtue of the fact that everything is independent, only one factor needs to shift before the process of change takes another leap forward. By recognising that we can’t rely on any single one thing, it helps us to wake up to the fact that happiness needs to come from within, it cannot be found in things that are external and impermanent. This helps us to embark on a new discovery of finding happiness within, which is a happiness that is far more stable and reliable. So difficulties on the path can actually be a blessing in disguise.
Now, we all want to experience happiness, but can we experience peace and happiness even in the most difficult of circumstances? The answer is, we can, we just need some training in mindfulness. We don’t need to run away; it’s possible to live without fear. We can learn to be mindful even during the unpleasant situations in our lives. Mindfulness isn’t reserved for just all the good times. It takes the inner courage of a spiritual warrior to look at reality straight in the eye and see it for all that it is, warts and all. The amazing thing that happens when we do this is that we find out that our problem wasn’t as big as it first seemed, it was just a paper tiger. It looked fearsome initially, so much so that we wanted to run away. But as soon as we stop and face it, we see that we could flatten it with a single blow. The reason it loses its power over us, is because through the practice of mindfulness, we are able to create some distance between our thoughts and mental projections and we can see how we are feeding these negative thoughts. Now, instead of thinking, ‘I’m so depressed because they don’t like me, they hurt me, or they never do what I want them to’, we are able to soften into the stillness of the present moment and experience the silence and peace that is naturally there. Through greater stillness and awareness our hysterical commentary becomes perceptible. We can then watch it lose it strength, because the consciousness we experience when we are fully present doesn’t engage in stories of the past and future. It lets go of all mental projections we have created and thinking just fades away into the background. By practicing mindfulness and meditation, we will have a greater degree of awareness to notice the unhelpful thoughts that we are generating. In fact, with mindfulness we will notice that many of these unhelpful thoughts seem to be on constant replay. But in time, with a calm mind, we will be able to let those thoughts disappear back into the emptiness from which they arose.
The power of mindfulness gives us the strength to face our worst moments with a sense of spaciousness and compassion. When we can let go of the storyline and connect with others at a heart level, it allows us to respond to them with understanding, empathy and compassion. Then we will naturally choose the kind and appropriate response to deal with the stresses in our life.
Training in mindfulness teaches us how to avoid conflict. For instance, if someone is on our back again about ___ (fill in the blanks), then without saying something in anger out of retaliation or trying to point the blame somewhere else, let your mind expand into the spaciousness of the present moment, where the accusations of others become soft like a mist, instead hard like bullets, and let your mind look with love and awareness upon the other before you choose an appropriate response. Let your eyes and speech be infused with kindness. The softness of your approach will allow the other person to also soften. And like fertiliser, your mindfulness will allow something beautiful to grow from this situation.
So next time you face an unpleasant situation, instead of reaching for your go-to pick-me-up, try reaching for mindfulness instead. Better still, sit and meditate for 15 minutes. Actually, many studies have shown that meditation naturally increases our endorphins and serotonin levels, which gives us a natural high, much like eating chocolate does. But at least with meditation the benefits continue to accrue with repetition, unlike the habit of eating chocolate.
Other Mindfulness Posts
Join me in a guided 10-minute mindfulness meditation
My talk on Letting Go & Developing Unconditional Love with Mindfulness
For other articles:
Mindfulness – Finding Joy In the Present Moment
Mindful Eating – A Taste of Mindfulness
10 Mindfulness Exercises to Help You Live a Mindful Life
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