In the absence of mindfulness, it is easy to get caught up in difficult situations without even realizing we’re caught up in them. Perhaps it is a difficult person, an obstacle in a relationship, or a financial struggle. It could be any type of burden upon the spirit. When we start investing more energy toward observing the burden than toward the cultivation of our self-awareness, we begin to experience suffering. We may even sometimes project the suffering onto other people. We may [unintentionally] judge someone when we are suffering in this way — especially if we perceive that person to be the cause of our suffering.
This is not compassion.
This is not awareness.
In a past situation when I acknowledged that my lack of personal awareness was what was truly affecting me, I could see that I was putting too much effort in trying to be helpful (and getting nowhere in the process) which I believed was causing me to suffer. Implementing mindfulness allowed me to communicate calmly, openly, and honestly. I now have an entirely different view and a deeper understanding of things, as well as a clear view of my own path.
We can only move forward when we recognize what it is in ourselves that is allowing the suffering to occur. Perhaps we can find ways to grow in the situation, or perhaps we find that it really is time to move on from it in order to grow. Either way, choosing to stay in the situation without any hope for it to improve infects and disrupts the situation further.
“The human mind has the capacity to look at itself.” — Thay Phap Luu
I was deeply moved by a dharma talk by Thay Phap Luu “The Practice of Non-Fear” which helped clarify how, through mindfulness alone, we can embrace difficult, unexpected, and emotional situations.
The Steps to Mindfulness
Breath | Mindfulness. Practice of mindfulness begins by following the breath. Simply noticing the breath as it flows into and then back out of the body, the way the lungs expand when we inhale, and then contract again when we exhale.
Recognizing | Developing Concentration. We cultivate our awareness as we learn to follow the breath all the way through the inhale, continuing all the way through the exhale. We notice when our attention comes away from the breath and must come back to the breath through our intention. Thay Phap Luu defines this as recognizing.
Embracing | Experiencing the Body. We can then begin to apply recognizing to other situations. For example, when we are able to recognize when our emotions are difficult, we can choose not to plant the seed of that emotion or allow those challenging feelings to turn into negativity. We can simply recognize them, choose to embrace them, and then more easily choose to let them go.
Soothing | Calming the Body. We create a larger capacity to soothe ourselves as we continue to train ourselves to recognize and accept who we are. Through this we are not only settling the mind, but also calming the body. This leads us to the threshold of creating the habits which can lead us to personal freedom.
Experiencing Joy. By continually choosing to care for ourselves in this way, we create conditions for joy to become possible. The experience of joy is a sign of freedom in the purest form.
While developing a mindfulness practice, it is important to remember that it is not something to be perfected, but rather something to be practiced. It is a continuum. The beauty of practicing is that we can and will learn from each experience, as we consciously guide ourselves to becoming more emotionally and spiritually mature.