Years after that first experience, when I started practicing mindfulness, I came to understand that the purpose of meditation wasn't to HAVE a calm mind, though that did happen on occasion and it was a very pleasant side effect. And it certainly wasn't about "making" or "getting" my mind to be calm, as that usually leads to an "inner war" that the mind always wins--which can be very frustrating and humbling.
Rather, practice was about learning to be present with the thoughts, emotions and body in whatever condition and state they were in during the sitting period.
This is something I found (and still find) uniquely wonderful about mindfulness, and why it's so successful at transforming our lives on multiple levels--it teaches us acceptance of the gamut of experience--busy, slow, hard, smooth, pleasant, painful--the gamut. It's about learning to be with me as I fully am--the full catastrophe, as they say--which is radically accepting and offers enormous relief from the never-ending self-improvement merry-go-round.
As I share with students during the opening session of a Mindful and Intentional Living course: "This isn't a self-improvement course, it's one of self-discovery," we set the conscious intention to begin an exploration of who we authentically are, sometimes uncovering and shedding decades of conditioning that no longer serve us and block us from experiencing true joy in our lives.
The practice of mindfulness is about developing a spacious, allowing and kind attention so the nature of who we are can reveal itself. This is a tremendously powerful tool for unearthing our authentic selves! Who we are as living beings is as fascinating (if not more!) as all the seven wonders of the world rolled up into one. Cultivating purposeful presence with ourselves creates conditions for this self-inquiry--who am I really? What is this process unfolding we call life?
There is a lot I can do to create the safety needed for this type of inquiry including: practicing in a quiet and pleasant physical space at a time when I won't be disturbed; making sure I can be comfortable in stillness for a period of time; adopting an attitude of spacious acceptance; making a commitment to sit for a predetermined period of time; and setting an intention of responding to all that arises with a kind and loving, open heart--especially the difficult stuff.
Even when conditions are absolutely perfect, though, nature may not act as I want--the mind may still race, the body may still ache, and so on--I can't control it all. Knowing this, accepting this, and allowing this during practice sessions ends the judgement, the ensuing inner war, and the oft times painful struggle. Sometimes, this makes way for peace and calm and other times it just allows for a very intriguing experience as the mind weaves its way through the moment, thoughts spilling over here and there.
By wanting things to be different than they are--whether it's my thinking, my pain, or my body weight--my wanting them to be different creates a sense of dissatisfaction. When there is dissatisfaction, there can be no peace, contentment or happiness.
Mindfulness practice has taught me it's a myth to believe that I need a calm mind to have inner peace. Peace comes from allowing things to be as they are, when they are. Letting go of my desire for a calm mind (or anything, really) during meditation actually creates the conditions for the very peace I am desiring. (It's oxymoronic, I know, and sometimes a very difficult practice!)
And why is this inner peace important? Because, when there is inner peace, there's a chance for outer peace.
JoAnn Saccato, MA is a mindfulness teacher, life coach and author of Companioning the Sacred Journey: A Guide to Creating a Compassionate Container for Your Spiritual Practice and the forthcoming, Mindful & Intentional Living: A Path to Peace, Clarity & Freedom.
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