When challenging or unwanted thoughts, emotions or behaviors arise most of us want to avoid or distract ourselves. We may use food, drugs, work or exercise to temporarily sooth, comfort or numb the difficult internal experience. Unfortunately, repeatedly coping in this way creates a habituated pattern that carries with it more shame and fear, and the hope of change slips further away into a seemingly endless out-of-control cycle.
There is of course, a reason why in mindfulness-based work we turn towards what we believe to be so difficult that if we don’t run, we won't survive. And that is because when we come to know the taste, texture, temperature, shape, sound and movement of the unwanted thought, emotion or sensation, it is no longer a lurking shadow threatening to overwhelm us. It is felt and known for what it is: just a thought. Observed and held in awareness without judgment, it takes its right-sized place in the scope of who we are. Turning toward the difficult offers the possibility of freeing ourselves from the very patterns we fear the most.
Perhaps you’re thinking that this “staying with thing” is not the way you want to spend your day off. It's not a comfortable thing to do. It just doesn't have the same feeling that you get when you're angry, depressed or anxious and think: " A day at the beach is what I need.” or "A hot fudge sundae would do the trick right about now." But one getaway is never enough, is it? And then, of course, returning is too much. This jumping back and forth we do is wearisome. That's why the practice of mindfully staying with what is here right now, is so important. Ultimately it conserves energy, time, wear and tear on body and soul, and so much drama is avoided.
I’m aware that I ask participants in MBSR, MBCT and MECL programs to do a very challenging thing: be present to what is arising in the moment and to allow it to be known. It isn’t easy to not turn away from, to not disassociate, to not to run. Bolting is the norm. If it doesn’t feel good, leave. Leave the person, place or thing. I’m not suggesting that you stay if you’re being abused. I’m talking about the everyday moments when we think,
“I wouldn’t have to get so angry if only he wouldn’t ____________.
If she’d just ______________, I’d be happy.”
As I’ve sat with clients and participants over the years, I’ve watched so much “bolting,” that recently I thought a new reality TV show entitled “Extreme Bolting” might get higher ratings than the X Games since more people bolt than Cave Dive, go Wingsuit Flying or attempt Extreme Ironing. Look it up, it’s worth it.
In Part 2, I’ll share how in working with women who have experienced abuse or trauma mindfulness of the body can help them learn how to stay with what is difficult.