We are learning this week to sit with difficulties, not through our mind, but with our body and allowing the whole experience to be as it is. In a way, we are trying to sit with our difficulties not so much in the ‘why’ (why is this happening, how can I stop it happening etc.) but in the moment to moment experience (where is this expressing itself in the body, what thoughts are here, what emotions are here) while not needing to change the experience.
We do this to learn more about how we deal with the difficulties in life, and to open up to a different way to approaching those difficulties. We are often so focussed in wanting to get rid of difficulties, that we actually get more and more stuck in them.
We are learning that turning towards difficulties and allowing the experience to be exactly as it is, without judgement, without trying to get rid of it, might actually be a new, and more effective, approach to deal with the challenges in life.
This can be hard to do and to experience. We are hardwired to want to avoid things that we judge as ‘bad’ or ‘unpleasant’. Overall there are 5 main ways we avoid difficulties, you will find a list below – maybe, in your practice this week, you can identify one (or more) of the 5 ways you are trying to avoid feeling what is already here to be felt.
- Craving: when you really want something and are seeking out satisfaction of this need (especially through the senses). When this is active in our minds, we often believe that happiness depends on the satisfaction of this craving.
- Aversion: all kinds of thoughts and emotions related to rejecting the experience as it is, for example: anger, judgement of others or self, comparison, trying to get rid of ‘bad’ feelings and thoughts. When aversion is active in our mind, we often believe that happiness depends on getting rid of the experience.
- Dullness, laziness: we can experience this as heaviness of body and dullness of mind, for example tiredness and sleepiness, lack of activity. ‘zoning out’ with.
- Restlessness-and-worry: this mostly expresses itself in the inability to calm the mind and/or body. A very common example is our tendency to be super busy – almost being incapable of just sitting still not doing anything. Another common example is overthinking problems (rumination).
- (Paralyzing) doubt: mostly is an expressed by a lack of conviction or trust in oneself – often comes out in thoughts like ‘I cannot do this’ ‘this is not working’ ‘why am I doing this’ … etc.
We all have the above tendencies, we might tend more towards on than the other, but in general, they are all present in each of us.
However, it is important to remember, that with the right intention, and the right awareness of our minds, none of the above needs to be necessarily bad (and probably, at some point in your life, have been very useful. It becomes problematic when we are constantly using strategies to not be present with our experience, when we are often dissatisfied with what is, and we get stuck in avoidance strategies that do not bring us the happiness we seek, and makes us stress out more.
The first step to change being stuck in avoidance strategies is to be aware of when any of these tendencies (or sometimes more than one at the same time) is present. We train this by turning towards the difficulty, allowing it to be, and watching what goes on, in our body, our thoughts and our emotions.
Maybe, by sitting with a difficulty in meditation, you will recognise one of the above tendencies in your experience. If you do, and in the spirit of the mindfulness practice, just allow yourself to see it, note it, and let it be. No need to judge yourself, it is already fantastic that you can identify a tendency!
And if nothing comes up, then also, do not judge yourself or the experience. Not feeling anything much at all, not seeing a tendency of the mind, is also a real and valid experience that deserves your attention.
The second step is to allow yourself to be curious about your experience. Good or bad, easy or difficult, fun, boring – whatever – just be curious and kind to the experience and yourself.
The third step is to just note it and not act out of it if it is not in your benefit to do so. So while you might feel tired or lazy, and thus really just want to sit in front of the tv, you can tell yourself – this is just a strategy of the mind. I do not need to listen, I can choose to do something else.
This is not easy. These tendencies are incredibly powerful and to make it even harder, will often tell you that this IS the right thing. The only way to get better at this is to practice, both with meditation and with noting what happens and how you feel when you do one thing over the other.