This fast-paced, modern life is all about pleasure and avoiding pain.
That mindset sets you up for constant restlessness and dissatisfaction because life is never smooth. It has bumps, twists, and turns. We go to great lengths to avoid pain, only to realize we missed out on the joy and the wonder because we were afraid of being hurt.
When I was living in New Mexico years ago, I visited a woman who was a body worker and a Zen Buddhist. She used hot stones on my body. During our session, she mentioned that I have a “tremendous amount of pain in my body, a tremendous amount of suffering.” And it was true.
At first, I thought meditation was beyond me. But she said it was easy. Just breathe. You breathe in, you breathe out. You give kindness to yourself as you breathe in, then you wish yourself well as you breathe out. That simplified explanation piqued my curiosity. I am now a practicing Buddhist. Every morning, I sit in my office and meditate. This practice has seen me through some difficult times.
Here are the three biggest insights I learned on my spiritual journey.
1. Keep a spacious heart.
In modern times, we sentimentalize and cheapen love. In Buddhism though, love is the center. The reality is that the more open you keep your heart, the more you invite in not only love, but suffering. Love and suffering are intertwined. There is no perfect love. When you keep your heart open, you invite all of it: joy, love, darkness, and pain. Try to keep your heart open to everyone you encounter, even the mean-spirited and troublesome ones. We cannot feel true love with a closed, walled-off heart. Only when we are open to it all can we feel the highest depths of love.
2. Your enemies are your greatest teachers.
As a Buddhist, eventually you get to a stage in your loving-kindness practice where you have to offer love and kindness to people who are your “so-called enemies.” These are the people you really don’t like.
If you’re in your meditation and you want to wish loving kindness to somebody, imagine them as an innocent child. It’s hard not to have goodwill toward a child.
When you wish your enemies well, you can feel goodwill emerging inside you. This person may be the bane of your existence, but if you can breathe and imagine them as a helpless child it cools your gut reaction and lets you act out of a place of compassion and understanding. The act of loving your enemies gives you the strength to deal with the unpleasant things in life. When you keep your heart open to your enemy, you’re open to learning something new about yourself or about them.
3. Mindfulness is an act of intimacy.
By staying present to current circumstances and your state of being, you’re practicing the highest form of intimacy with yourself.
Sometimes, you have aches and pains. Instead of trying to ignore them, breathe into them and give them your attention. As we go through life, we tend to ignore a lot of the difficulties we experience. We try to grit our teeth and just bear it, so we can go onto the next thing. There’s a lot of sweeping things under the rug. Because we’re so busy trying to avoid pain, we miss out on what the pain is trying to teach us. Even in the most difficult of times or circumstances, there’s a glimmer of hope.
Our time here is limited, and life is precious. Wishing away our pain or difficulties is wishing away our life. But, when we’re mindful of the good and the bad, it grounds us. It can be challenging to stay mindful when you’re in pain, but mindfulness anchors us. When you disassociate from the hard things in life, you’re also preventing yourself from fully enjoying the good things.
Wherever you are on your journey, these insights can deepen your understanding of yourself and expand your personal growth. When we keep our hearts open and learn from our enemies, we’re able to connect with ourselves and each other on a deeper level. Life is not a smooth road but practicing mindfulness anchors us and keeps us in tune with our inner selves. When we practice mindfulness and loving kindness, we’re learning from the difficult times in our lives instead of just trudging on in a hurry to get to the next thing in life.
What insights have you learned on your own spiritual journey? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you!