The Truth About Mindfulness
The holidays were really rough for me this year. Being a single mom has made me ever more aware of how lonely the holidays can be without family around. Although I enjoyed every minuteI had with my daughter, when she would fall asleep at night a deep sadness would take over. I allowed myself to experience a full spectrum of emotions. A deep pain from the memories of my past relationship with Mia’s father, who was emotionally and physically abusive, came and went, leaving tears in my eyes. I felt loneliness and sadness, and anger. I did not run away from it. I hardly drink and I don’t typically indulge in deserts – the usual vices that we use to escape discomfort, especially at this time of the year. Instead of running away, I sat with it all. At the end of the second winter break week I began to feel a deep calmness, a complete acceptance that came with the new year. It had nothing to do with writing an exciting vision, setting stretch goals or having anything to look forward to ‘in the future.’ It came from a deep surrender to life as it is.
The process of letting our emotions run their course, without running from them, or running with them, not unlike a tree standing firmly by a river bank, is at the heart of a mindfulness practice. it is also the hardest part of the practice. Every part of me wanted to find a scape. The discomfort was such that I would have liked it much better to spend hours in front of the TV or even reading my dozens of books (my usual go to distraction). Instead I observed my thoughts, experienced the wave of emotions that come with those thoughts and let them run their course, through me. The feeling of calmness, afterwards, came from my knowing that I can do that. That I can be steady while the river rushes through. I feel calm, because I recognize the strength that is within me to handle life’s past and coming challenges.
I have in my past overemphasized the capacity to sit everyday in meditation as a standard for my mindfulness practice – whether or not I consider myself mindful. Yet, mindfulness gets tested during these rough times. What do you do when the fog starts to rush towards you? What is your escape? Do you drink, read, spend hours on social media, TV or eating every sugary temptation lying around the house? What is the thing that you do when you are being asked to do nothing instead? Maybe you find someone to blame and you obsess with that idea, or you blame yourself endlessly (my personal favorite). Your mindfulness practice is about watching the fog without running toward your usual distractions. If you meditate everyday but you deny the pain, deny the emotional experiences, then you are not acting mindfully. If you fail to sit everyday, but you can watch the thoughts and remain steady as they happen, then you are acting mindfully. Of course, the more you sit, the more you will develop the capacity to observe the thoughts, and that’s why the practice matters.
In 2019, maybe the goal is to find some open space in our busy calendars, which are filled with ‘the stuff’ we want to do and the goals we want to achieve. In that space we put the roots down so they can grow firmly and keep us steady when all ‘that stuff’ brings with them challenges, disappointments and even fear. How we let the roots grow within the landscape of our busy lives is the very challenge of our modern lives.
With a full time job, a daughter and a dog, a mortgage, and no family physically around to help, I can say that my mindfulness practice takes whatever shape it can. At times it is deep deep breaths during my drive, or while sitting at my office chair. At times, is waking up before my daughter, at 5:30 am, and sitting on my cushion. At times is lying in bed, exhausted at the end of the day, with my hands on my heart, eyes closed, or on my yoga mat after a sweaty yoga class. Instead of looking for the perfect practice, perhaps look for a practice that can grow roots around all else that is life itself. Trees are incredibly adaptable, and so are you.
In 2019 I am just simply asking that over and over again I can let the emotional waves pass through me, and remain steady, inactive, curious and open. Should I achieve this goal, my roots will be strong enough to sustain whatever other fruits I want to harvest. It is not about not setting intentions. It is about creating the foundation for these intentions to grow, and give the fruits we want. It is, above all, about having the presence to enjoy the fruits when they drop on the ground, right in front of our eyes.