Getting through a mindfulness-based intervention program is a challenge for many reasons.
- We bring a lot of expectations that it will change our life in one way or another.
- We hope that we will find an answer to the questions that plague us and brought us to the course.
- We anticipate we will develop skills that will take away our pain and suffering.
These are very appropriate hopes and wishes to have when we are seeking relief from our life or lifetime situation. However, getting overly invested in these desires can be an obstacle to our ability to learn the very skills we are hoping for. So, here are 5 things we can pay attention to during the course that might help us get through the sticky parts of mindfulness training.
- Be realistic. Expecting to change our lives in 8-weeks puts a lot of pressure on ourselves, not to mention the theory and techniques of the program. Treating this desire as a broad-brushed backdrop of our life as it is in this moment helps to change the perspective. When we want huge changes, every little action becomes infused with deep meaning and we feel there are huge consequences to failure. If we think that meditation will change our lives (and although it might), a moment of struggle during a meditation can fill us with anxiety about not getting to our goal. We can lose sight of the reality that everyone struggles at one time or another (and sometimes, a lot of the time) during meditation. Stay focused on the moment to moment practice and let the larger wishes slide into the background.
- Set mini-goals. When we start out on something new, it feels fresh and that gives us the sensation that anything is possible. Sitting meditation for 10 minutes feels good so why not 45 minutes the next time! Of course, we know what happens then; we push ourselves past our limits and feel discouraged. It’s useful to remember how long it took us to learn how to walk, talk, read, write, drive a car, and so on. We didn’t start at the endpoint of our expertise. We began with small units that were digestible and built our confidence from there, moment by moment, behaviour by behaviour.
- Listen for the questions; don’t look for the answers. The poet Rilke invites us “to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves.” Often we are so focused on the question as we have framed it that we don’t hear answers that would have led us to better questions. Sometimes, participants sit hyper-focused on what the facilitator is saying, hoping that a word or phrase will contain the answer to their burning question. In doing that they miss their experience in that moment which is the very answer they are waiting for.
- Taste everything once. Mindfulness training programs are by their nature general in their approach, even those that are adapted for specific issues. Often participants will feel the practices don’t resonate with what they want or how they thought it would feel. Treat everything like a new tool that might come in handy one day. In the space of 8 weeks no single skill is going to reveal its full capacity to meet our needs. And, no specific skill will meet all our needs. Take this as a time to learn how to observe the process of inner and outer experiences; see it as surveying the building site rather than a boot camp for mental carpentry.
- Meet yourself where you are. The beginning of each practice period is a new start. It doesn’t matter what went before or may come after. In that moment of sitting, walking, eating, listening, speaking, we are beginning anew. When we meet ourselves right there, we are opening up a whole new range of possibilities. It’s common to want everything to unfold simply because we’re trying so hard. As counter-intuitive as it may be, not trying so hard can lead to better practice than having a death grip on the moment. Pain and suffering wax and wane through our life. In and of themselves they are not the cause of our dissatisfaction, but wanting them to be gone is.