Facing Challenges with the Power of Mindfulness
Welcome back to our experiences of meditation series — part of our weekly mindfulness and wellbeing blog here at StudyStream.
So far in this series we have discussed the ideas of thought defusion and of wise mind. Today, we will expand more on difficult and challenging experiences. Let’s get into it!
Difficult and challenging experiences
What the ancient practice of mindfulness has in common with modern psychology and psychoanalysis is that they all recognise that people have difficult and challenging emotions and thoughts. Moreover, they all recognise that often we learn to deal with these thoughts and feelings through common processes like aversion, denial, distraction and repression, among many others.
gaining awareness of natural approaches to difficulties
A difficult feeling or thought — like anger, fear or sadness — can be dealt with by aversion, which is basically a strong avoidance of the thing in question. Aversion can either be internal or external. As a very simple example, a person may have a fear of dogs or cats. Rather than face this fear and work through it, the person could avoid cats and dogs at all costs. This might seem an easier solution at the time, but it can rob someone of the joy of being with a cat or a dog, or might make it hard for them to live their life if they are always trying to avoid dogs or cats. Repression is very similar to internal avoidance, which is where a difficult thought or feeling is avoided by pushing it into a different part of one’s consciousness so that it is outside of one’s immediate awareness. Denial works in a similar way by refusing to acknowledge or accept a problem, either in external reality or within oneself. Distraction is similar to aversion in that rather than accept, face and work through a difficulty, someone avoids it by putting their mind towards something else. There are so many ways that people distract themselves and avoid the sometimes difficult realities of life — excessive television, internet usage, food intake, alcohol, sex, drug use, and overworking are just a few.
we need to sometimes turn towards the difficulty within ourselves
What the ancient practice of mindfulness, as well as modern psychology and psychoanalysis have in common is that they all recognise that in order to live a whole, connected, authentic, balanced and ‘real’ life, we need to sometimes turn towards the difficulty within ourselves — and sometimes in the external world — rather than turn away from it. We need to accept that sometimes the reality of life is that there is pain, difficulty and discomfort, and rather than avoid, repress, deny or distract from it, we can try to process it, examine it, look at it, and work through it as best as we can. In mindfulness, we can learn to bring our attention right into pain and discomfort and try to examine, feel it, and understand it as best as we can. This both includes and encourages anger, sadness, anxiety and fear as vital parts of the human experience. By trying to turn towards these things, they can sometimes actually teach us things, and help us grow, change and become more whole, real and authentic human beings, with a deeper and wiser understanding of the world and what it means to be a human being. Sometimes it might mean changing something about ourselves. Or it might mean changing something in the world around us — like a relationship that might not be working. Other times it might mean just ‘sitting with’ and being present with the pain, not necessarily trying to ‘get’ any outcome from it. Examining these feelings and exploring where they take us is part of the practice of mindfulness — of ‘putting out the welcome mat’ as some people have said.
the importance of understanding your own limits and seeking help
It’s really important to note here that some problems and feelings can be too much or too complicated to deal with by oneself, even with a regular practice. Seeking the support of others, such as trusted friends and family members, teachers, coaches or mentors can be really important if you feel like something is beyond your capacity to bear. Moreover, trained professionals such as therapists, psychologists and psychiatrists can also be important in helping us through more challenging and complex situations. These can usually be searched for in a simple internet search to find a suitable professional near you, or similarly a local GP or health centre is often a valuable place to start.
That’s all for difficult and challenging experiences. Join us next week when we will look at the concept of ‘connection’. And remember to join us every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 19:30GMT in the Secondary School FocusRoom (we use this as a combined session for both rooms) for live and free mindfulness sessions. We look forward to seeing you there!