Some of the most stressful situations are ones with no clear solutions. When stress is chronic, we often turn towards judging, criticizing, and blaming. We make attempts enhance or numb our experiences to avoid the pain. Many of us turn to things like food, drugs, alcohol, internet, television, video games, or just fill in the blank with your habit. What is your go to strategy? Think of the times you didn’t want to face a situation. Maybe an unexpected bill, a conflict at work, or the loss of a loved one had you mindlessly eating a bag of potato chips in front of the TV or drinking in excess.
We develop avoidance strategies like these because we don’t want feel unpleasant. While we aim to be happy, many of our habits only provide superficial relief or even worse they create new problems. The good news is that we can change our unhealthy strategies by pausing before we react. Victor Frankel says it this way “ Between the stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
By stopping to be mindful we can observe our experiences more clearly. Imagine your thoughts and feelings are just waves of experience that come and go. Just as we can’t stop the waves in the ocean, we can’t stop our thoughts and feelings. If negative thoughts or emotions arise, simply watch them come and go. There no need to judge or to create a story about your experiences.
One my most fulfilling roles has been developing mindfulness groups that teach people how to ride the waves of their experiences without identifying too closely with them. Teaching people to withhold judgment of one another and to pay kind and friendly attention to themselves and others has a seemingly magical effect. People put down their barriers, share their vulnerabilities and support each other without judging. People in these groups feel safe, and I would dare say, loved. When we feel safe, we can open to our truth, and share it with others.
Without compromising anyone’s confidentiality, I will share my experience of one of the more compelling groups. After a guided meditation, group members were given an opportunity to share something important to them. No one is required to share, however in this group each member shared their stressors and vulnerabilities openly. The level of honesty and compassion between these members captured my heart and left me in awe of their courage. These people were loving one another through attentive listening and sharing. They spoke of traumas, depressions, relational conflicts, and how they found strength through their adversities. Being a part of a loving community allows people to see that they are not alone in their pain and that there is hope.
“We waste so much energy trying to cover up who we are when beneath every attitude is the want to be loved, and beneath every anger is a wound to be healed and beneath every sadness is the fear that there will not be enough time.” -Mark Nepo. When we are willing to drop our masks, we can experience the freedom of living a life with holding back.
To learn more about authentic living attend my free mindfulness-meditation orientation April 16th from 6-8p at Myers Park Baptist Church. The eight week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course will start on April 23rd from 6-8pm. A six hour silent meditation retreat will also be included for the discounted price of $155. If you sign up for the orientation prior to April 9th then you will get $15 dollars off the price of the course. RSVP by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org