The following post looks at meditation from a slightly unusual angle. For many of us it’s not especially easy to turn inward and find peace. We might have tried to establish a kind, open, and loving relationship with our own thoughts and reactions, and yet again and again find ourselves back in old habits of doubt and self judgment.
How can we live in a friendly and satisfying way with ourselves? What can we do to feel less stressed out, happy, and more resilient? Is there a way to affect our habits, our ways of thinking and reacting, in a lasting way? My observation is that the answers to these questions are dependent upon our relationship with ourselves.
How can we change our relationship with ourselves? We need some power to do that. In previous posts, especially Compassion, Loving Care, and Our Human Condition, I wrote about the power we have to choose differently, and shared several links. One popular method we have to increase this power is mindfulness meditation.
One of the most well-known proponents of mindfulness, who I’ve mentioned before, is Jon Kabat-Zinn, the physician who developed the MBSR (MIndfulness-Based Stress Reduction) program. Another useful introduction to the topic is a TED talk by Andy Puddicombe. In a talk on meditation I suggested in the Skillful Means post, Sogyal Rinpoche broadened the scope of discussion well beyond concentration, pointing out that meditation can be many different things to different people.
Mindfulness allows us to train awareness and concentration. It gives us space—to see how we are currently relating to ourselves. But even more important, from my point of view, is developing the right attitude towards our inner world.
Colorful Inner World
We have the ability to turn inward. Doing that we discover a colorful world: our body and mind, with many sensations, emotions, thoughts, memories, intuitions, reactions, and much more. It can seem like a continuous concert to witness the flow and constant change of content coming into our awareness. We might find moments with amazing warmth and spaciousness and others that feel narrow or fearful. Some memories and thoughts might feel very pleasant and others might numb us. During a mindfulness meditation we are just aware of what is. If we stay with merely observing what is, including that we notice we lost our chosen focus and are coming back to it, this meditation calms our nervous system. Our breathing and our muscles start to relax and relaxation deepens in this process.
Allowing Our Attitude to Change (Even if it Seems We Can’t)
Mindfulness is a very important element in my daily life. It’s a main part of my care for good energy, health and contentment. On the one hand, to really be present with what is, is a prerequisite for shaping and enjoying it, and on the other hand this presence allows us to notice right away when something does not feel good or might become overwhelming. Mindfulness tells us when we are getting tired and need a break. To notice this information from inside can disturb our habitual activity. This can be irritating at first, but we can learn from it.
Consciously Taking Smart Breaks
We notice early that we are getting tired and that we will need to take a break. Even if there is no time to take it, we can acknowledge our exhaustion. This allows us to stay friendly and compassionate with ourselves and helps us decide how to continue in the given situation, if that’s what we have to do. Looking towards the future after our task is completed, we can imagine a satisfying way to recover from our current overload. This can change our feeling of resistance against the situation and by that, save energy. A conscious decision based on acceptance can enable us to continue in accordance to what we can do. And we can add tiny compassion breaks and short moments of breathing deeply. At other times we might feel better after having a snack or drinking a cup of coffee or tea. Knowing that afterwards a nice recovery time is coming can ease the difficulty of the situation because we know we will balance and repair it later.
Mindfulness as Prerequisite for Contentment
Having experienced and trained mindfulness again and again enables us to rely on it as we need it. It gives us more balance and resilience in daily life and also in challenging conflicts. We might feel like our ability to choose increases. The experience of victimization is connected with the feeling of not having choice, and that easily leads to rejection and resistance, which sap our energies. With more mindfulness and presence we can notice more inner choices even if we can’t find outer ones. So this awareness allows us to be friendlier and more mindful with our needs, the time and energy that are available for our days.
Our Most Important Relationship
Happiness and inner contentment can simply be the result of a good relationship with ourselves—imagine that! Just as we learned ways to communicate with others as we grew up, we also learned our ways of internal communication. Mindfulness can serve as a supportive link or bridge to a way of living and making choices that fits for us now, rather than what we learned as a child.
Meditation as Kindness to Ourselves
I hope that you find valuable hints in this slightly unusual take on the field of meditation. Often I’ve witnessed people hoping to change their experience and find ease by applying outer methods. It can be so frustrating to not find the benefits we are looking for! And it’s so easy to give up. In my experience we really can change our life using these methods if we apply them with patience, honesty and consistency, giving ourselves loving understanding and compassion.
Take good care!
Here again the links I shared above:
– A very helpful and short video by Jon Kabat-Zinn:
– A TED talk by Andy Puddicombe: