The busier our lives get, the more we get pulled into different directions. Often people describe this experience as being on autopilot. The Buddhist describe this experience as suffering. The old Buddhist thought is that if we are always on autopilot we must be fighting feelings that we do not want to feel. As a result, the suffering increases enormously and we try every attempt to avoid the initial feelings we were fighting by staying in autopilot. With awareness of every thought, image or sensation, simultaneously there is a feeling attached that is either pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. If you’re like most people and you’re running on autopilot daily, these feelings usually go unnoticed and you’re left with just your thoughts, and perhaps even an emotional reaction or two.
Naturally, our mind wants more of the pleasant feelings in life and we want to avoid those feelings that are unpleasant. The more we react to the pleasant feelings, the more we are strengthen a neuro-connection in the mind that reduces the unpleasant experience. In other words, you either attach to something pleasant or move away from the unpleasant feeling. The more we attach to sensations, the more we build habitual reactions. These habitual reactions then become the basis for our emotions. When we avoid these feelings, they often produce anxiety within us.
If we open ourselves up to every experience we will realize that we can increase our tolerance and acceptance for uncomfortable feelings. This is the basis of mindfulness. Mindfulness works by being attentive, accepting, and non-judgmental towards every thought and feeling that arises. By being insightful towards your emotional life, you will start to become more aware, in control, and less reactive. As a result, you may be able to increase your tolerance in situations, rather than reacting to the situation.
Mindfulness and meditation has traditionally been used to cure chronic pain. The cure does not come from moving away from the pain, but instead from opening up to the pain, which makes it more livable. The Buddhist idea is that we need to become aware of the internal battle within us by staying in the pain until it passes. Ultimately the noble truths in Buddhism is that: Everything changes. The experience will always pass and there is a way out. An analogy that is commonly used in Buddhism is drowning versus floating: Instead of fighting the water and drowning in it, we need to float on the water and let the current lead us to where it’s going to go. If we flow into things, we’ll be okay, not comfortable, but okay.
How to Practice Mindfulness:
Take a non-judgmental stance. Observe, but don’t evaluate the situation. Simply, understand the facts.
Detach your opinion from the facts. Focus on what the experience is, rather than focusing on if it the experience is good or bad.
Accept each moment, rather than avoiding it. Acceptance of whatever that moment may bring you. If that moment brings pain, remember that pain will pass because everything changes.
Acknowledge what is helpful in the situation and what is harmful. Avoid judging the situations or your actions.
By Dr. Reena Sandhu
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA