Monday, May 30, 2011
Mindfulness of Suffering
I’ve struggled this weekend with a vast collection of emotions. I believe everyone does this, but it’s another thing entirely to have an honest process with them. I am not perfect at doing that, far from it. I hide from suffering, as we all do. In drink, in movies, books, sleep, a hundred other distractions.
But at moments in the very difficult times, I also bring my training in mindfulness into play. The thoughts come so fast, they are difficult to see sometimes, and when I don’t see them, then the feelings that follow are often a mystery; why is that particular feeling there, now? The thoughts are a stream, they are driven, and a part of Self doesn’t know the difference between my dark imaginings and what is really happening.
With perseverance, with kindness for myself, I bring my attention to bear on just the feelings. What is the feeling that is hard, right now, in my body? I check, and find a huge, hot presence in my chest. It is almost sitting on me, it’s so dense. It is also threatening, pushing its presence into my face, a thing I don’t want, a thing that scares me. I watch, with all the equanimity I can bring to the process. I just watch, with bare attention. And the heat and weight subside somewhat.
What are the thoughts that bring this terrible weight to me? I watch the thoughts run past my point of attention, without answering any particular one, just greeting each one and letting is pass by. Some of them are quite surprising: I’m old, I’m unattractive, no one is interested in me.
All of these things I know to be untrue, and as I witness the thoughts, they slow down, and they become somewhat more realistic, somewhat more moderate. Most of them are based on fear, on old habits of fear, based on things that happened long ago, or worse, things that did not happen. As I watch, just watch, the feelings, the fear, the suffering, abate somewhat.
I come away from the process feeling some relief, but more importantly, feeling like I want to do things that will make me feel better. I want to go for a walk, eat something good, call a friend. I want to proceed into the next moment and the next, to greet each one and experience it without reference to what was or what may be. It’s difficult to focus on the now, when now is not very pleasant. I feel an urge to rush through this unpleasant moment, to get past it, to get to something better.
But doing that only increases the lack of attention. Without attention, the thoughts flow unconsciously again, and then the pain increases. The only real solution is to sit with what is, with courage, to greet it and watch it go by.
There is still a huge, hot presence in my chest, a terrible weight. But now the river path calls to me. Just the walking will be good. Then maybe a talk with a trusted friend. Eventually, the Good World will return to me, and it will seem as if it had never been gone, but rather that I had gone away from it.
That’s how it always is.