While life is such a long way from normal, it’s hard not to wish things were different right now. If you’re open to interacting mindfully with your more difficult thoughts and emotions, you may discover that mindfulness can help you to change your thinking.
Most of us are doing whatever we can to keep our difficult thoughts at bay and much of it is imperfect. Almost everyone I speak to tells me they’re drinking more wine, eating more chocolate, spending too much time shopping online and scrolling mindlessly through social media.
Without any real sense of control, we’re all just doing the best that we can in order to manage our worries. The problem is that some of our choices create their own set of problems and they can even inhibit our wellbeing.
Soften into your thoughts and feelings
With practise, you may find you can soften into everything you feel. Even the most uncomfortable emotions and experiences become easier to bear as you work to change your thinking.
Mindfulness teacher, Jack Kornfield describes how to do this well. He says, “There is a deep joy that comes when we stop denying the painful aspects of life, and instead allow our hearts to open to and accept the full range of our experience: life and death, pleasure and pain, darkness and light. Even in the face of the tremendous suffering in the world, there can be this joy, which comes not from rejecting pain and seeking pleasure, but rather from our ability to meditate and open ourselves to the truth.”
It might seem a bit of a stretch to suggest that joy is an option right now but there really can be a sense of freedom – and even lightness – when we let go of the idea that we have control over anything.
Jack suggests that the path to inner peace involves changing the way we think. His approach is about recognising that there will always be the potential for suffering in our lives. There’ll be a mix of wonderful experiences and painful ones too. When we have the courage to love someone deeply, we risk losing them one day too. When we attempt to pursue a new career path, we risk appearing inexperienced or potentially even failing. Even when we invite a new friend for coffee (or a socially distanced walk), we risk the uncomfortable experience of rejection.
A mindful approach means learning to go with the flow of life rather than fighting against it. This is not an easy thing to do, but what I’ve found when I do this myself is that it really is quite liberating.
First, pay attention to the thoughts and feelings that stop you from feeling hopeful and positive about the future. Just notice them for now and if you can, make friends with them. Say hello to fear or loneliness and be curious about what it’s like to experience those feelings rather than pushing them away. Become aware of how your body feels when there’s fear, find out where it’s located in your body and just name it. ‘This is fear, I’m noticing fear.’ It’s enough to just do this for now. Soften into it, stay with it, don’t resist it
Don’t run away
Notice your tendency to want to numb the emotions that are most difficult. Learn about your habitual ways of dealing with pain. What do you feel like doing to get away? Instead of giving in to whatever you usually do, take another breath and keep making room for the emotion you feel in a mindful and open way. Keep naming what you feel. Stay with your emotions. You’ll be surprised at your capacity to bear discomfort when you stop fighting and over time, you’ll come to see how you can change your resistance when you change your thinking.
What really matters?
Once you’ve made room for the emotion and taken the time to sit with it for a while, you might want to think about what is within your control. What are your deepest desires about how you want to live your life? Even in the midst of this painful experience, who and what really matters?
Do one tiny thing
Rather than choosing your habitual behaviour, choose one tiny action step that is aligned with your values. For example, if you have a value of inner harmony and you know that mindfulness practice helps, make time to listen to a mindful meditation at the beginning or end of your day. If you have a value of connection, call someone you care about and talk with them. If you have a value of kindness, think of one small thing you can do to brighten another person’s day.
Don’t be afraid
Sometimes people worry that if they acknowledge and make room for difficult feelings, they’ll become consumed by them. In fact, the opposite is usually true. Fighting our fearful thoughts and pushing away our worries only serves to escalate them.
When you begin to trust that you can manage whatever life throws your way you come to recognise that within you is a great capacity for inner peace. From this place, you then have the opportunity to embrace the small pockets of beauty that can be found in the every day.