I’m rereading Pema Chodron’s book Start Where You Are. Pema is a Buddhist nun, meditation teacher, and best-selling author. She has a delightfully simple yet profound way with words. I feel she inspired an insight in my meditation practice today. She says that all the parts of ourselves that we hate are part of the path to awakening. It dawned on me that all the things I sometimes find myself trying to escape – self-doubt, lack of confidence, melancholy about getting older - all of these feelings are not things to “get rid of”, they are things to hold tenderly and work with, as part of the practice, as part of finding contentment in this human life.
Of course, “turning toward” what’s difficult runs counter to our automatic human instinct. That’s why we need practice. Meditation gives us the perfect “laboratory” to experiment with this alternative approach to challenges. Those challenges that are showing up in our lives are bound to worm their way into our meditation practice. This gives us an opportunity to experiment with working with these difficulties in a more helpful way than we may be doing out of impulsive habit.
In his book Mindfulness in Plain English, Bhante Gunaratana explains that it is our constant habit of always trying to escape what we don’t like, and ceaselessly chasing after what we don’t have, that drives our suffering. Mindfulness meditation is where we can observe and examine what is happening in an unbiased way. There we can come to know where our pain exists, be it physical and/or emotional, and practice holding it tenderly, with compassion. Meditation also shows us our habits of mind that may be causing unnecessary suffering. Repetitive thoughts that may not be accurate, but nonetheless color our reality and needlessly worsen our pain.
Mindfulness is awareness. We can’t change what we’re not aware of. But once we see ourselves clearly, then our wise inner self has choices. We can begin to let go of what is unhelpful. Pain is inevitable, but suffering is not.
Madeline Ebelini is a former stressed-out lawyer turned certified mindfulness instructor with a mission of helping people reduce stress through teaching them practical and effective mindfulness techniques. She teaches the 5-star reviewed online course Mindfulness For Stress Relief, and leads a weekly live online meditation group Remember to Breathe.
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