Research suggests that mindfulness can help with a variety of difficulties, including anxiety, low mood and depression, stress, tinnitus, anger, pain and chronic illness.
If we are attentive, we can notice how our minds weave judgments and interpretations into our immediate experiences of life.
Our mental elaborations usually get mistaken for reality itself, but mindfulness enables us to recognise them for what they really are. In this way, we can come to a direct realisation that reality and our beliefs about reality are not the same thing.
We can't stop the waves
We can learn to surf
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Thoughts are not our enemy. Far from it, the ability to think allows us to be creative and innovative. In collaboration with the heart, thinking can enable us to empathically imagine what it's like to be in someone else's shoes.
The ability to think is a wonderful tool!
One way to think of this is a horse and rider. If the rider is skilled and understands the horse, great distance can be travelled and destinations reached. This can be of great service. But if the horse, not the rider, is in control, then what?
From the perspective of mindfulness, the content of our thoughts is much less important than our relationship with our thoughts. Thoughts are not reality; they are only thoughts, no more, no less.
Another metaphor we can use is that the mind is the sky and thoughts are just clouds.
Mindfulness can help us to nurture natural human capacities, such as acceptance, clarity, presence, compassion, inner strength, focus, and kindness. These qualities enable us to open to our moment-by-moment experience, as it is, rather than getting lost in our thoughts and mental stories about our experiences.
By shifting our mode from involvement with judging, worrying, analysing, to one of simply being with an open awareness of the present, we can release a great deal of suffering that arises from getting caught up in our mental elaborations and the tension that can accompany this.
Pain plus resistance equals suffering
Pain, like loss, is a natural part of life. However, we generally have a very hard time accepting this. We seem to believe that life ought to be pain-free; that life should just be nice. This attitude adds resistance and aversion to the equation.
Unfortunately, resistance can have the unintended consequence of amplifying our struggles and inadvertently prolonging unwanted experiences.
The more we can cultivate mindful acceptance, the less unnecessary suffering we are bound to encounter. We will still make mistakes but we don't have to hate ourselves for them. We will still have to face challenging life experiences but we don't have to get immersed in regret, resentment, hopelessness or shame.
Compassion = the sensitivity to pain and the motivation to alleviate it.
Being human is often difficult. Sometimes it is very difficult.
How often do we berate ourselves when things don't go the way we think they should? 'I'm not good enough', 'I'm not skillful enough', 'I don't look attractive enough' etc. In the midst of our difficulties, how many of us are really able to be a good friend to ourselves – to offer ourselves understanding, encouragement and forgiveness?
It's all too easy to fall into self-criticism and add extra layers of unnecessary suffering to our human experience.
Through the cultivation of mindful compassion we can become a friend and ally for ourselves. So, when we most need it, we can really be there for ourselves, taking compassionate action as needed.