With the clarity that mindfulness provides we tend to see the joy, goodness and gratitude in a moment that without the practice, we tend to overlook. When the pandemic first began I remember talks of sinking into the sensations of all that hand washing we all were doing with a bit of extra attention. Noticing the feeling of the warmth on the skin, the slippery slide of the soap bubbles, perhaps a lovely scent filling the nostrils. Counteracting the fear and uncertainty of a life lived during a pandemic with tiny moments of loving awareness. With practice we do remember to notice the small moments of life that are pleasant, cultivating more joy.
But there is more to this story than simply counteracting our inherent negativity bias with tender attention. How we relate to the toughest parts of our life, has an effect on how our minds and hearts grow and learn. How we relate to challenges has an effect on our openness, curiosity and inclination to see the good.
When we look at an experience from all possible sides, we often see there is more to the story than at first glance. Can you see how the experience is testing you, how it is teaching you, how you are transforming as it passes through?
Opening to all of the experience with awareness and compassion helps us not only relate to it with more steadiness and calm (or equanimity) but also helps us see all the sides of the experience while it is happening because we’re not just caught in the story, the wound, or the tangle of the challenge. We're giving ourselves permission to stay in the discomfort, even for a moment, so we can take a closer look. What does this feel like in my body? What feelings are present? We pause, so we can make a decision about how we want to be with the experience rather than reacting with our blinders fogging up our perspective.
You might think, oh yes looking back I can see how that difficulty made me grow or taught me something. We often can see this for the really big challenges we face retrospectively. But the tiny moments of our life make up the whole. Can you practice this when the dog rips up a pillow or when you get a flat tire? Can you practice this when you are tired, overstimulated or annoyed? Perhaps it is difficult to see how things like these are helpful to us, but the opportunity to build patience, resilience, ease (even when you feel stressed), and less attachment to the negative is there.
Holding the question in your awareness, how am I relating to this challenging experience? can be really helpful for noticing how we are orienting our attention. And when we pause to check in, just noticing what is present is a helpful first step. If irritation is present, label that and bring some compassion in, breath deeply, allow awareness to open a bit. If anger is here, notice that - anger is here, this is what anger feels like in the body. Allow what is here to be here, acknowledge it with loving awareness and often that is enough to help us go, “ok, is this how I want to be with this experience?” Resisting the irritation or anger won’t make it go away, it just dives deeper into the body. When we allow ourselves to acknowledge it in an honest way, we can open the space up to change it.
Jack Kornfield, citing an unnamed Tibetan poet in his book No Time Like the Present: Finding Freedom, Love and Joy Right Where You Are put it this way:
“One hand on the beauty of the world, one hand on the suffering of all beings, and two feet grounded in the present moment."
When you're here, you become big enough to hold it all.
The next time something small happens that feels like it doesn't belong,
pause and notice what is present inside the body, heart and mind
name the emotions and sensations that are there with some tenderness
remind yourself that you are not alone in experiencing this suffering - others are as well
and bring self-compassion in by breathing consciously, placing a hand on the heart or a few words of reassurance like: "and this too" or "I'm ok" or even "hello annoyance, what are you teaching me today?"
We are practicing something all of the time, so it’s really important to know what we are strengthening in the mind and heart.