It won’t even eliminate discomfort — but if you embrace it, your life will be richer.
March 27, 2022
If you seriously engage in a mindfulness practice it will almost certainly help you learn to laugh at yourself, or at least take yourself — your thoughts and beliefs — a bit less seriously. And who doesn’t need a little of that?
Mindfulness is about waking up to what’s really going on and how you feel about it, and ultimately, learning how to handle life with increased wisdom and graciousness.
Mindfulness is a tool for getting to know yourself through and through. To the point where you no longer kid yourself about who you are. It’s about freeing yourself from everyone’s conceptions of who you are, including your own. It helps you show up real.
That realness is what makes you like a snowflake — unduplicatable. Without mindfulness, our tendency to be like everybody else can turn us into pallid versions of ourselves who walk around asking the question, is this all there is?
I like the simplicity of this quote from a Mayo Clinic article that defines mindfulness as “a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment.”
The purpose of mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness practice aims to help us develop a different, more familiar relationship with our thoughts. Instead of letting them lead us around by the nose, we learn to hold our thoughts and beliefs with a light touch — even the uncomfortable ones — an idea that seems ridiculous on the surface.
But ridiculous as it may sound, meeting the present moment — reality — with openness, willingness, and curiosity is the essence of mindfulness. We practice so that we can stop fighting with reality.
What you struggle with, what you want, what matters to you, will change over time. What won’t change is that you will always run into struggles. You will feel uncomfortable more often than not, until you agree to make friends with discomfort. Discomfort is part of a fully embodied life.
At the point where we decide to stop resisting life and its inherent challenges, is where we begin to enjoy the full catastrophe of it all. Life will always find new ways to teach us what we long to know — how to wring the most out of this unlikely happenstance of being born.
What gets in the way?
It’s pretty simple — practice will sometimes be uncomfortable.
Intellectually, most of us know the truth that struggling is inherent in the human condition. But emotionally, we’re like cats chasing a ball of yarn. We are desperate to get to permanent happiness and comfort, and we go from birth to death hunting for it.
Some of us will get exhausted from the effort and simply stop trying. Some will become disgusted and cynical about the whole thing and walk around making themselves and everyone around them miserable.
But through the practice, some will learn that there is no arrival, which will be a great relief.
When I start working with someone who says, ‘I can’t meditate. My mind wanders, or I can’t sit still, or it’s too uncomfortable,” I ask what meditation would feel or be like if they were doing it ‘right?’ Invariably, they say it should make them happier or more peaceful, or calmer.
I explain that the goal of mindfulness and meditation practices is not to get blissed out. It’s to become more familiar with their thoughts and all the ways their mind gets in the way of their happiness. When we are miserable, most of us are entirely unaware that we’re doing it to ourselves with our self-talk and our lack of awareness of how powerful our thoughts are.
The truth is that much of life is uncomfortable, including mindfulness practice. It’s hugely counter-intuitive because it’s about leaning into discomfort to explore it rather than running from or repressing it.
Enlightenment is fleeting.
Sometimes I think I’ve ‘arrived.’ I get an aha that seems earth-shattering. I believe I’ve solved the problem of how to be happy. Just do (fill in the blank).
Until I wake up the next morning wondering why I got so excited about yesterday’s idea. Today it’s raining, my hair won’t cooperate, and apparently, I didn’t achieve permanent bliss.
Sometimes we pretend ourselves beyond our own evolution. By that, I mean that we start spouting lofty sentiments, putting preachy quotes on Facebook, and extolling others to behave with loving-kindness before achieving it for ourselves.
How does it sit with you when you think I might be right, that you’ll never ‘arrive?’
Are you angry because you’ve been practicing mindfulness and meditating for years and started to believe that maybe you have arrived?
Are you frustrated because you’re waiting to arrive, and it hasn’t happened yet, and now I’m bursting the bubble by saying that you never will?
Or are you just a little relieved that you can stop twisting yourself into a pretzel to get somewhere you don’t need to — indeed can’t — go?
We don’t like thinking that THIS is IT.
Where you are, right now, is IT. So, right now is the whole ballgame.
But we tend to dislike IT unless it makes us feel good. And maybe what’s happening at this moment doesn’t feel so good. So, we spend a tremendous amount of energy striving to feel good again.
Practice is about bringing ourselves back, over and over, to the reality that where we are right now is IT. Right here, right now, is the only place from which we can begin to get a glimmer of the truth of this is IT.
Call it arriving, awakening, enlightenment, or Bodhi — all of which infer spiritual release from the cycle of suffering — none of them are permanent states. They’re not even a two-week vacation from your life. Because, as they say, wherever you go, there you are.
Practice doesn’t make us perfect. It makes us real.
Have you ever been on a meditation retreat and noticed you’re still judging the folks who fall asleep and snore during your sits? Or you’re obsessed with those who forget to clean the bathrooms as their daily service or do a half-assed job in the kitchen. Or, my favorite, meeting someone who makes sure to let you know they’ve meditated consistently for twenty years, and you notice they’re still an ass.
Practice doesn’t make you perfect. It gives you the opportunity, the space, to see all the ways you get in your own way. It doesn’t guarantee any particular result.
So why bother?
Because practice can make life richer. There’s no guarantee, of course. But it has the potential to wake us up to who we are and what we’re capable of. It can offer us a renewed appreciation for life and an increased awareness of our strength and resiliency.
I don’t know of anything else except trauma that offers that potential. Experiencing trauma presents us with a similar opportunity. We are learning more and more about Post Traumatic Growth, a result of trauma that can enlarge rather than diminish us.
Mindfulness practice and its inherent discomfort have the potential to do the same thing — enlarge us and make us better able to handle the realities of life.
If you’re interested in learning more about PTG (post-traumatic growth), check out “Bouncing Forward” by Michaela Haas, Ph.D. She explores PTG and provides resources and mindfulness tools to begin your own practice.
Here’s a quick, simple, jump-start exercise:
Ask yourself a 3-part question:
- Where am I?
- What am I doing?
- What am I feeling?
You can do it anywhere, twenty or thirty times a day, to begin to reconnect with your present moment experience.
To sum it up, practice doesn’t make perfect when it comes to mindfulness. However, it does make for a rich, expansive, more fully engaged and rewarding life experience.