Practice as resting (in the flow of our inner life)
We work so hard at everything. And anything can become one more task to do – including our mindfulness practice.
Most of us have come to the practice with a sense of wanting to get something from it, and rightly so! Here are some of the good reasons I regularly hear:
- a pragmatic way of learning how to calm down and not be so emotionally reactive
- a way to reduce my blood pressure
- a way of dealing with the constant stream of anxious thoughts that can dominate my day
- a way of managing my physical pain
- a way of engaging more in my life, despite my depression
- a way of coming to terms with my breast cancer diagnosis and soothing my nervous systema way to get to know myself a bit more
- a way to be more present with my kids and partner
And mindfulness can provide a systematic way of learning how to do these things for us. And to generate these kind of results it is a good idea to practice in a sustained regular way and most of us give that a good go during the eight-week course.
But what about as we go forward?
As we attempt to bring practice into our lives as a regular thing, we may find it a bit lonely. We are mammals and social animals and do better in community in terms of building habits and sustaining them. Finding a gang to practice with can really help.
We also may find ourselves constantly critically evaluating our practice and wondering “Am I doing it right?!” and “ How come it ‘worked’ last week and not this week?’ We have a “new brain” that is constantly making evaluations and plans, so this makes a lot of sense. The rapid progress we seemed to be making over the eight weeks can feel like it is stalling.
However the practice is so much more than a series of techniques that can “work” or “not work”.
Jon Kabat-Zinn writes: “Mindfulness can only be understood from the inside out. It is a way of being and a way of seeing that has profound implications for understanding the nature of our own minds and bodies, and for living life as if it really mattered.” It is this quality of genuine, responsive care for ourselves and this precious life that can become stifled if we are relating to it as a duty or burden or a task.
Practice as a process of “being with”
Did you know the word attention has the same root as tenderness?
So what if we thought of it as a few moments of intimacy with ourselves, a few moments when we are not being “instrumental” with ourselves, not pushing and pulling ourselves, not trying to improve. But just some moments of “being with”, honouring and getting curious about these minds and bodies and how they tick. Being curious about the kinds of meanings we make of things. Giving our ourselves a rest from the usual way of managing, sorting, making things happen. Seeing into ourselves with care and interest.
Discipline or love?
In my late twenties and early thirties, I practiced Aikido – about 6 times a week for 7 years until I had to stop when I was having my first baby. People would sometimes say what a disciplined person I was. I am not very disciplined at all actually, but I had fallen in love with this movement practice. This feeling of loving something is such a wonderful motivation to engage in it again and again – like visiting a beloved friend: life.
Today I want to offer an open awareness-type practice that undermines some of our sense of “task” in our practice and may open up a sense of falling in love with the practice again. I would recommend you perhaps listen to the practice a few times, and then, knowing the ropes, let the audio go, and find your own way with it.
There is a piece by Ajhan Chah…who offers us some guidance….towards this quality of rest in our practice. This quality of “practice as resting in the flow of our inner life” is very related to our practice of equanimity with what arises in practice.
"Let it be, grasp at nothing, resist nothing.
Step out of the battle where it is cool.
Why not give it a try? Do you dare?
Then your mind will become still in the any surroundings, like a clear forest pool.
All kinds of wonderful animals will come to drink at the pool, and you will clearly
see the nature of all things. You will see many strange and wonderful things come and go, but you will be still. This is the happiness of the Buddha."
The practice is around 15 minutes, so feel free to set your timer for 20 or 30 minutes if you want to sit longer in silence once the track completes.
Download the practice here: Practice as resting (in the flow of our inner life)