When people ask me what I do for a living and I reply that I’m a Mindfulness counsellor, the next comment is usually something like “Ah, yes! I´ve heard about that. It’s that thingy about meditation and being calm. Being ‘Zen’, right?”
This is one of the most common myths about Mindfulness: that it exclusively brings states of peace and happiness.
It’s this cliché that lies at the base of a widespread belief: that practising Mindfulness is some kind of magical solution that will eradicate at a stroke whatever is causing problems in our life.
The propagation of this stereotype is perhaps due, in part, to those impeccable photographs of people meditating in idyllic surroundings, with semi-smiling faces, so happy and perfect... It’s hardly surprising that the expectation automatically aroused in us is:
Meditation = Exclusively positive states
And with that ideal in mind, many people then embark on a quest for happiness through Mindfulness. They buy a book, attend a seminar and start practising.
Ah...! But most of us just want the good stuff, and sometimes what begins to appear during practice has nothing to do with the idyllic image that we harbour in our mind. Annoying physical sensations, contractive emotions, circular thoughts that exhaust us... As soon as things start to get complicated, we quickly become overwhelmed and want to run away from the situation.
Nevertheless, that Mindfulness practice helps us to achieve greater concentration and focus in our lives is a fact. It can also help us to achieve an inner state of greater calm, compassion and tranquillity. So, what’s going wrong?
Actually, nothing. It’s simply that the perception that many people still have about Mindfulness practice is incomplete:
Mindfulness doesn’t mean realising only our positive and kind states, or attending only to what we like. Mindfulness means embracing our experience in full, whatever that experience brings us: good, bad, overwhelming, liberating, irritating, subtle... And it means welcoming it with a certain attitude: accepting it without judging, with kindness and a curious openness.
When we commit ourselves to Mindfulness practice and do it from this perspective, we may not be able to solve our problems as easily as waving a magic wand (Hey! If anyone does know a reliable way of getting instant results without performing ancient rituals or invoking beings from the underworld, feel free to share it with us), but we can stop suffering because of them.
If you stop to think about it, when do you suffer? Surely it’s when you don’t accept that things are the way they are. It’s when you want the situation to be different, when you want things to be the way that you want them to be. So what exists inside you is discomfort and contraction. And nobody likes that.
However, that’s where we are most of the time!
Mindfulness practice, when properly understood, helps us to alleviate this suffering by teaching us to pay attention, without prejudice, to what is happening inside us and in our environment right now. When we approach our experiences from this perspective, we develop the ability to turn off the autopilot and enjoy the pleasure of commanding, choosing – deciding! – our own life.
If we’re able to systematically observe and welcome the way in which we experience each moment and our place in the world, then there is indeed a real possibility that our life will be transformed into that state of peace, balance and love that belongs to us by right.
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