Mindfulness can feel difficult at first
So let’s be kind and dare to do it
Just a little bit badly!
Why it’s not so easy …
- Mindfulness meditation does not necessarily bring about a more peaceful calm state – straight away. In fact, in those first moments, when we take a pause and turn our attention inwards, many, if not most of us notice how ill at ease we feel. We human beings are wired to avoid pain and discomfort; mindfulness asks us to turn towards it.
This is important information to have up front, because if we don’t understand that our rather uncomfortable internal experience is completely normal, we can jump to the conclusion that we are either doing it wrong, or worse, there is something really not okay with us and we alone are uniquely pained, damaged and flawed.
But that’s not true at all. We are all uniquely pained, damaged and flawed! It’s called the human condition. By our very nature, we are royally and collectively screwed. This is actually the most excellent news because it means we are not alone.
- Most of us make the mistake of thinking mindfulness practice is purely a sitting bolt upright or legs crossed situation; it’s not – this is just one option. It can be helpful to think of it, not as something to do, but as a way of being. God knows many of us are utterly wrung out and the last thing we need is yet another thing to add to our ‘to do’ list. Sadly, mindfulness can then become a burden, rather than something we enjoy.
- We are veritably crapped on by city living and modern busy lives. Yet, we think that in order for it to ‘work’ properly we should impose a rigid mindfulness practice upon ourselves, as if we live in a Himalayan mountain retreat. Our battered minds are bombarded with input from the news, social media, internet, texts, emails, TV, people and a pervading cacophony in general. Our minds and bodies are vibrating at the same level as these external influences and this doesn’t feel nice. We want these unpleasant feelings to go away, and go away now, thank you very much. But, sadly, mindfulness doesn’t offer an instant hit; it’s not like a beer or a glass of wine.
- We live with great uncertainty. For most of us, our basic physical and psychological needs are all but tenuously met. We don’t feel safe. Just under the surface lurks the knowledge that we could lose our jobs, homes, or health at the drop of a hat, and we lack meaningful connection with others and a sense of secure belonging. Under these circumstances the reptilian part of our brain is over stimulated and our minds go into bat shit crazy overdrive trying to figure it all out.
- We need to be wary of comparing ourselves with anyone who uses the words luminous or visceral in the same sentence as mindfulness! Yes, I’m talking about those slightly irritating self- appointed beacons of bliss, who blather on about their transcendent incandescence to anyone too polite to say ‘you what the what now?’
But, we don’t need to worry if our experience isn’t quite as splendiferous as our dear friends, some of whom might well be hanging on by their fingernails, just like us. It’s all relative and the goal of mindfulness is not actually to reach an altered ecstatic state. Although wouldn’t that be nice.
Me, I’m more like a Mindful Mutley: a reluctant, grumpy, growling, flea-bitten cartoon canine, with just enough hope and light to scrape myself up off the floor and carry on regardless. Plus, even though I’m in physical pain a lot of the time, I’ve found nothing other than mindfulness that brings such a sense of relief and okayness, irrespective of what is happening.
So, how can we make all of this enlightenment vaguely bearable?
So let’s be kind …
There is one thing and one thing only that makes the practice of mindfulness mildly tolerable: love, kindness and compassion. Okay, three things.
This love, the intention of love and all its derivatives, is the fuel that transforms our relationship with what is happening inside and externally. Love, love, love and as much of it as we can muster. And if there is no mustering to be had, then we can pretend, and do it anyway. That’s the great thing about mindfulness, we don’t have to be perfect; it works, despite ourselves.
And Dare to do it … just a little bit badly
- I’d really love to tell you that some structure and routine doesn’t matter, but this is not my experience. We human beings, especially when we are in a state of distress, benefit from some containment, and through a little bit of discipline does come great freedom. However, there’s a difference between a routine that feels like a punishment and some healthy habits that provide a gentle framework for the day.
- It’s very difficult for the majority of us to be still and do nothing without squirming. But the good news is a sitting meditation is just one aspect of mindfulness. We can start being mindful throughout the day – no ‘doing’ involved. We slow down, coming out of our heads (the thinking mind) and into the body. We focus on a body part of our choosing (the feet, for example) – as this is our portal to the present moment. It’s where the body lives.
I would go as far as to say this is the most consistently effective aspect to this practice. There is little benefit in sitting diligently for a formal meditation and then dashing around all day like a blue arsed headless chicken-fly.
- Now we are not feeling coerced into getting up at the crack of sparrows and sitting for an hour with a pole up our collective jacksies. We can just take a few non-guilty conscious breaths to begin the day, before you put on Frazier (ok, that bit’s me) or check the mobile. And, if you have the time or inclination, stay a bit longer; but be careful, you might find it’s ‘sort of quite nice’ and want to do more.
- Oh, the deep joy of a lying down meditation. A bit of subversive supine mindfulness gives the body and mind a powerful message: it’s time to let go and undo. I include a minimum of 30 minutes every day around 1 or 2 pm. I started because I was very unwell for a number of years and barely had the strength to sit upright. I still practise this daily because it is a flamin’ delight, doesn’t feel like a job to do and I get an extra day’s worth of energy in one.
- And finally, use a guided meditation, particularly when you start. No scratch that – use one anytime. I have my favourites and love them, especially when I’m in physical and emotional pain. The calm mindful guiding voice of another is a real comfort. The mind is a dodgy neighbourhood, we don’t need to go in there alone.
I hope you realise by now that you are not alone if you have found practising mindfulness hard. Yes, it can feel like the pits; yet it is absolutely and utterly worth doing.
Ooops. I was aiming to end on a purely positive note, but who am I kidding?! And perhaps that’s the point. Mindfulness is not about achieving a slightly vacuous, happy, positive-only state to the exclusion of all our perceived negative emotions. Anger, irritation, sadness, jealousy; we discover everything can have a place within us, without too much disturbance, when held in loving kind awareness.
So why not join me, the Mindful Delinquent, for a bit of a Mindful Mash-up based on my professional teacher and coaching training in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and Insight meditation. Not to mention sharing the wisdom of some of the wonderful leaders and teachers in this field, whose voices, over the years, have definitely kept me off the ledge and helped me find some freedom from my own version of this very challenging human inner experience.
let’s dare to do it …
just a little bit badly!
Have a look at the Education & Accreditation page for details of my professional teacher training qualifications and ongoing development. Check out the Podcasts and Blog for a mindful mash-up and maybe you might fancy doing one of my Live Training Events or even some One to One Training and Coaching.