by Karen Schwisow
Mindfulness says that pain in life is inevitable, but the degree to which we suffer from it is optional. It isn't so much what happens to us, but our thoughts and reactions around what happens to us that leads to suffering.
This truth smacked me upside the head last fall on the morning we were to take my daughter back to college. I came downstairs to a mess and a packing job that wasn't close to being complete. We were on a strict schedule and within minutes I was saying things to her that made her angry and then had her crying. I was frustrated and self-righteous and unrepentant.
I sat down for my habitual meditation practice with absolutely no enthusiasm. I groaned inwardly when my reading for the day included words on forgiveness and taking responsibility for one’s own feelings. "Pshaw, I am so right and she is so wrong and she needs to hear it and....blah, blah, blah" went my mind.
And my sitting practice went like this: I’d hear my inner narrative, I’d let it go and return to the breath; I’d get lost in my own justifications, I’d return to the breath – and rinse and repeat maybe, oh,150 times. I wish I could report that was unusual.
I did begin to notice the physical sensations that accompanied these thoughts and allowed myself to simply feel them. And eventually, in all that thinking and feeling and breathing work, came the realization that the constriction in my chest was not due to anger about the schedule, it was due to sorrow about my daughter’s leaving, a sorrow that was an overwhelming feeling of loss and emptiness. And then I had the unpleasant feeling of THAT icky emotion washing over me again and again. As it did, though, the anger drained away, and while I was left with sadness, I was also left with love and tenderness for my dear daughter who occupies such a huge place in my heart.
When my meditation time ended, I went to her and confessed that anger was easier for me to feel than sorrow and I apologized for my harsh words. She is a person who holds no grudges and forgives instantly. Soon we were hugging and crying and laughing together.
The giant pain hole being created by her departure for college was still there, but I had been the source of my own suffering, her suffering (and probably my husband’s and even the dog's suffering) by my resistance to feeling it.
Mindfulness asks us to turn towards and attend to our own hard pain and miraculously, when we do that, we make room for softness and healing.