When starting with mindfulness practice it can be quite challenging. Especially if we have never been involved in a daily regular practice of any kind of meditation. Mindfulness practice offers us quite a spacious place to just BE with ourselves. This intimate encounter with our body, emotions, and thoughts comes also with some challenges.
The first challenge that we might come across is that we can get bored or perhaps annoyed with the practice, the audio recording or ourselves. This can feel irritating and somehow we might even get the feeling that this is not what is supposed to be happening within the practice or it is not how we have imagined it to be. But if you encounter this kind of unpleasant feelings, they are actually as welcome as any other. Such experiences, no matter how challenging, provide us an opportunity to work with negative emotions. This is the practice. This is where we need to bring our attention closer to, taking a non-judgemental stance. So how can we stay curious and nurturing when facing boredom or irritation? Perhaps we can think of it like welcoming a friend of ours that just happens to be in a bad mood today. His company might not be that pleasant at this moment but we still accept him and are interested in what is happening with him. The same way we can stay interested in our feelings and start a conversation with ourselves, bringing in the curiosity with questions like: At what point did these feelings arise? Are they staying the same or are they changing? Where did I notice them? Are there any other thoughts, feelings or bodily reactions that came with it? Any state of boredom or irritation is actually just our current state of mind that does not need to be solved or changed. This is just an opportunity to get more closely familiar with the ways our minds work and what are our habitual patterns of reaction to it.
Another challenge within the mindfulness practice can be if we come across painful sensations or painful emotions. Our typical reaction to pain is usually directed to avoiding it. Or perhaps we start thinking about it rather than actually feeling it. Feeling pain is anything but easy and sometimes a quite frightening experience. But pain is again “just” our experience right now, the same as any other. It is a form of information, telling us a story about what is happening for us right now. When dealing with painful body sensations or emotions, keep in mind that you always have more options of response to it. The first option is bringing the attention to your body and the area where you feel the pain. Then becoming attentive to the needs of the body and in which way or which parts of the body need to be moved to relieve the pain. So bringing our full attention to the painful part of the body and changing body posture with full awareness. The second option is that we can always return to our breath. The breath can be used here as an anchor that brings us back home to the present moment, as a safe place where we can return to if things get too painful. The third way to respond to pain is to explore it even closer. So first noticing where in the body you can feel the pain. And then very intentionally bringing the awareness right in the middle of it. Taking time to just “stand face to face” with the pain. And we do this with kindness, curiosity and sincere interest for this sensation. Just like adventurers on a mission to explore a new land in rough weather conditions. It can be frightening but it is also exciting to have the discovery of something new and really important within your reach. When working with the pain in this way, remind yourself of keeping the stance of an observer – I am here and pain is something that I am experiencing right now. What can be helpful sometimes is that we can also bring the breath into the area of intensity. Inviting the breath directly into that region of the body to help you explore what sensations are here in this moment. Not trying to make anything different from how you find it but simply exploring with openness and curiosity.
Within your practice you probably also found that our mind has a tendency to wander. This might feel sometimes as if we are not doing a good job or that the practice is not done right. But keep in mind that this is something that our minds do. They wander. A lot. Over and over again. The mind is just like a radio that is always on. We know it’s there and we can choose to tune in and listen to the program but we can also leave it to play in the background and get on with our lives. And when tuning in to the radio, we are also getting familiar with the voice on the radio. What kind of voice or commentator is it? A kind one? A critical one? Learning about our mental processes brings into focus information about the nature of the relationship we have with ourselves. So the learning doesn’t come from switching off our thoughts but instead from changing the way we relate to them. The wandering mind is not the distraction or a mistake that pulls us away from the practice. The wandering mind IS the practice. This is part of our experience. The essence of mindfulness practice is to notice whenever our mind wanders, becoming aware where it went and then gently bringing the awareness back to our focus of attention. This is the process of becoming familiar with the habits of our mind.
And for some of you what might have happened when practicing mindfulness is a state of relaxation or you fell asleep or maybe even nothing special happened. All of these states are just part of our experiences. With relaxation keep in mind that this is not something we are trying to achieve through mindfulness practice. If it happens, you can welcome it the same as any other sensation, give it your full attention and presence. But there is no guaranty that it will be there also the next time you practice. Also falling asleep is something natural. Of course, through practice, we hope this will become a way of awakening. So if you fall asleep, that is fine. But keep in mind that this is not the intention and be open to explore ways of staying present and aware.
When being mindful we are creating a safe place and sending out invitations to all kinds of experiences at any given moment. Anything that happens is just part of your current state or situation. Just as in life also within our practice… the good and the bad experiences are a living part of our present moment. Don’t be discouraged by the possible struggles you are having within your practice. This is all creating a place where a lot of important learning happens. Keep in mind that the deep stillness we seek does not arise because the world is still or the mind is quiet. Stillness is nourished when we allow things to be just as they are at this moment.