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Mindfulness is something that most of us intrinsically resist and have to put some effort into.
Why is that?
It’s not like too much mindfulness is bad for us.
It isn’t like sex or ice cream where, while it can be good for us in body and soul, we can still have too much.
We resist it because when we increase our conscious awareness of the light, we also have to look at what defines that light: the darkness.
So here are the reasons I’ve come up with:
1. You’ll have to give up your sense of self-importance.
The path of self-awareness, which is intrinsically a spiritual path, has been described as “walking a razor’s edge.”
We humans are given to immense self-delusion, selfishness, and blind ideology. We are tuned and trained for self-preservation, whether that be our physical bodies, our families, or our ideas, beliefs, and stories. We do not relinquish these easily and the process of seeing, reflecting, and evolving these ideas, beliefs, and stories into ones that serve us and our human family better is a lifelong quest.
Mark Manson is one of my favorite bloggers, and he talks about how we don’t really know anything, stated perfectly in this post. I have mentioned before that when I look back at who I was 10 years ago and the decisions and behaviors I had at the time, I realize that at any given moment, I am essentially clueless. I’m always working with limited information, concepts, and ideas that are not yet matured.
The text message that I feel I need to answer while waiting at the traffic light because it is so important is simply a symptom of my striving for something just out of reach, beyond this moment.
Every time I “know” something and settle into that stability, I have to let it go and keep moving. Part of being mindful means having the guts to realize that we are always stumbling.
Mindfulness inevitably leads to compassion, for ourselves and for others, because we see our own pain, failings, and disconnections. We heal them daily with our conscious connection to sensation, the breath, our generous heartbeat, and the presence of the moment. We begin to see how we are all in this together, one human family, some wounded, some privileged, all to a greater or lesser degree, all of us on a path that we are more or less conscious of.
Even though we must confront and renovate our sense of self-importance in a mindful life, our individual importance in the unfolding of humanity crystalizes into a unique and shining gift. Our authentic self-expression, our realization of self becomes the best thing that we could ever offer, and it comes from simply (but maybe not easily, which is what this post is all about) being as present in our skin as we can be.
2. The skeletons will come out of your closet.
When we numb out the bad, we numb out good as well. Life becomes flat and predictable, with no big highs or lows.
Sometimes it seems like this is our goal in our desperate effort to control what is inside us, and then spread that control into our environment.
In the Twelve Step programs, they talk about “hitting bottom” as being an essential part of the self-realization and healing process. The question then becomes: how bad do things get before we make a change, how far down is the bottom?
We can ask this of ourselves as individuals, communities, our nation, and as a world community. How hot will the world get before we take responsibility and try and do something about it, to find it may be too late? How divisive and self-serving will our politics get before we engage in our democracy and make the changes needed to create a civil society? How long will we go before making that phone call, reaching out to an estranged family member or long lost friend? Will we wait until they, or we, die?
How far down is the bottom in our inner life?
In the end, there is nothing we can hide from, at least not forever and not without great cost.
For me personally, something woke up inside when I was in school learning to become a massage therapist. All the touch that I gave and received as part of the training made me aware of my body and the sensations I had unknowingly ignored and pushed down for many years.
I had a story and pictures in my head about my childhood, but they were disembodied from the awareness that I had feelings about it, and even though I wasn’t aware of those feelings every moment of every day, they were still there. I needed to deal with them if I was going to become whole and happy. I needed to reclaim the potential for good in my life, for an empowered life, by owning that yes, that happened to me, I did that, and this is how I feel about it.
Which leads me to the third reason…
3. You will feel the good, bad, and ugly.
Where do we feel our feelings? They are below the neck, yes? Feelings and emotions are a complex weave of the lower brain, the sensory pathways in the body, and our neocortex.
The essential equipment for feelings of bliss, appreciation, love, and gratitude are the same as for rage, disappointment, anxiety, and shame.
When I began to feel the uncomfortable emotions of childhood that I had pushed down because they felt bad, a new sense of vitality and peace also became available to me.
No darkness, no light.
We don’t revel or languish in the unpleasant feelings of life, but we need to acknowledge them, otherwise all our energy is spent pushing them away and all that is left is the fog of denial, or a rigid wall of fear that we call being “well-adjusted.”
I had a client recently, who has chronic back pain despite all the best treatments and procedures.
Our muscles are intimately related to our emotions because the emotions are about movement, and, by extension, thwart movement. They become hard and tight when we hold them back from expression. It was clear after a couple treatments that there was some frustration or anger that was associated with the pain he felt in his back, but when I asked him if he ever got angry, he told me he “didn’t have time for that.”
In an effort to be positive, to overcome adversity, he had blocked the very thing that could move him toward healing.
But who wants to feel angry? It doesn’t feel that good—but perhaps it feels better than grief or fear, which is often hiding underneath. If we tamp it down and deny it, we limit the energy for change that is inherent in its signals.
Each of our emotions is a vehicle for both our self-preservation and our self-expression. These two needs can be balanced. We can go at a pace that feels acceptable to us. We don’t need to fall apart and feel everything at once, but if we want more joy, we need to be willing to feel and move into the “bad and ugly” as well as the “good.” These all arise from sensation, which is then identified and labeled by higher brain centers, and this process of sensing, feeling, and naming is an important part of mindfulness.
So it’s no wonder we lost mindful self-awareness in our culture. It’s not easy or comfortable all the time.
It’s a big buzz now (and there was even a special issue by TIME magazine), but a simple synopsis of mindfulness was encapsulated beautifully 800 years ago:
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
~ Jellaludin Rumi, excerpt from The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks.
There are likely more than these three reasons why you might resist mindfulness, and I invite you to add yours below.