“Just breathe.” “This too shall pass.” “You’ll grow and emerge from this stronger.” Do any or all of these sound familiar? When you’ve just lost your dog, your boyfriend, your job, or your good health, it all sounds great in theory, but easier said than done. And anyway, who on earth wants to sit and meditate on impermanence when the couch and a pint of Haagen-Dazs beckons (salted caramel ice-cream, anyone?)?
It can be especially annoying when you think that you know what to do in theory, but putting it into practice is SO MUCH HARDER. If you’re like me and you’re fond of reading everything about any kind of practice that promises to bring the reader a few steps closer to enlightenment, it can be a real let-down when moments that suck feel like, well, a moment that really, really sucks.
So what to do in such moments? Surprisingly, even though mindfulness meditation practice exhorts us to learn how to be present, at its heart is also a long-term method for more equanimous living. It won’t make bad stuff go away, help you to win the lottery, or make you look good in a swimsuit. It does, however, help to bring a measure of steadiness, an equilibrium of heart that fundamentally changes one’s relationship to both the highs and lows of living on an ongoing basis.
Practicing mindfulness meditation helps the practitioner to become more aware of what is happening, instead of scurrying off to some less painful but ultimately imaginary mental space. Similarly, this awareness helps equally with the full enjoyment of every nanosecond of pleasure, without getting carried away and trapped in a delicious fairy tale when it ends. In so doing, it adds a depth of experience that might not be felt otherwise. And in the process, we develop more and more ease with our real selves.
So when life bites, don’t try too hard to go someplace else, learn some abstract life lesson, or figure out how much better you will emerge from it. These things might come on their own anyway. But consider what would happen if you let yourself die to this very experience? Allow any thoughts, analyses and pre-determined judgments to fall away, and pay careful attention to what is unfolding in real time. Check it out and see, even if it’s savouring the next spoonful of ice-cream for a grand total of just 10 seconds. That’s 10 seconds of pure, unadulterated, sensate pleasure. Now, how did that compare to ruminating or daydreaming?
“Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already.” Pema Chodron
Kara Santokie, PhD, teaches guided mindfulness meditation to clients in Toronto, Canada.