Mindfulness: But what if the moment sucks?

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If you are a human being living in the 21st century you have probably been exposed to a life-philosophy/holistic preaching called mindfulness. To be short, mindfulness is being fully present and aware in any given moment. According to Buddah, mindfulness is one of the steps on the eight-fold path to enlightenment. Buddah reasoned that mindfulness eliminates the suffering experienced when living in the past or present and allows one to obtain complete fulfillment. Now, not to undermine the teachings of Buddah or anything, but I have a theory that practicing mindfulness during certain moments in your life can cause far more suffering than would a brief mental departure from the situation.

Here is a little back story… I recently started a new job that requires me to stand for hours and do repetitive work. This is when I began to think about mindfulness and how it could help me get through the present monotony of my work. I am handling beautiful flowers and being fully present to their  delicate simplicity has certainly increased my happiness. However, the other day we were working with mini cactuses for Cinco de Mayo and, as my shift progressed, I accumulated more and more micro-cactus thorns in my fingers and palms. After a few hours my hands were ablaze with burning and itching.

It was at this moment that I encountered a mindfulness road-block.

I tried to stay with the pain and take away its power but it only grew. The hours turned to days and each movement was more excruciating than the last. I believe that if I had stayed mentally aware of my suffering I would have spiraled into a pit of crippling sadness. This is when a question popped into my head:

But what if the moment sucks?

Off the top of my head I can come up with a large list of un-pleasantries that may not merit a fully mindful approach:

  • During a colonoscopy
  • Immediately after the breaking of any limb or skin
  • When someone farts on the crowded bus
  • The duration of a migraine
  • When someone is unnecessarily yelling at you
  • When you have the stomach flu and are doubled over the toilet
  • When you are sick at work
  • When you go to eat something that appears to be hummus only to discover that it is made entirely of fish (aka Fish Mousse)

Am I totally off base here?

I think that there is a different type of meditative action that one can take during moments of distress that will not result in a twisted and masochistic mental process. My mother calls it ‘going to your happy place’. It is an exercise where you think of something, someone or somewhere that makes you happy and psychically immerse yourself in that scene. This technique has seen me through many a bus fart and, like mindfulness, it is something that is with you where ever you are. Should we really strive to be fully mindful at the expense of our happiness and sanity?

What are your thoughts on mindfulness?

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12 thoughts on “Mindfulness: But what if the moment sucks?

  1. I think mindfulness is the refuge of those who lack imagination.
    In all seriousness, though, life for me would be unbearable without daydreams and flights of fancy. Many a day would go by miserably if I weren’t thinking about vacation or what I’d do with a million dollars or who would you rather marry. In my most meditative acts- washing a sinkful of dishes, knitting, staring vacantly at the tree in the backyard- I am usually engaged in revisiting the events of the day, (the evil past!) to make sense of them, or thinking about the book I’m reading or have just read or read a year ago, or something else that’s vitally important to helping me understand the world a little better. I am a firm believer in letting your mind wander as it will.

  2. It’s fine to go to your happy place or whatever. To do it mindfully is to be aware of what you are doing and why you are doing it. If you live in your happy place at work most of the time or find yourself thinking about absolutely anything but what you are doing in the moment, that’s an indicator that you are not happy with the consequences of your choices and it may be time to make new ones. If escape is always necessary, then it may be time to think about those sucky moments that you inevitably have some part in creating. Not all moments are zen inspirational, but chronic escapism is a bad life strategy in general, in my opinion. Find ways to create fewer sucky moments. Eat healthier food so you spend less time doubled over the toilet. That kind of thing.

    1. a bit simplistic. Doing something mindfully is surely something everyone does anyway. its overrated and if life sucks a lot of the time for reasons beyond your control- eg you have a paralysed spouse…then escapism is great. go for it. Esp if it keeps you from the edge of the bridge…

  3. Mindfulness, or spirituality in a pure form, (not covered up materialism), does not encompass trying to smoothen the ride of life to the point you are not suffering anymore. If anything, it is the opposite: of course it is nice to be fulltime present while having great sex, and of course it sucks to be fully present during a fight with your spouse. So, if you only want to be mindful of pleasant things, mindfulness should not be too much of a challenge. In my opinion, being mindful of the challenging moments, is were the real benefits come in. This is were you learn to be patient with the painful aspects of life, and no longer run away. This is were you truly learn what is courage. This is were your ego is actually diminished and your true spirit is not repressed by the ever busy mind trying to cover up all pain and obtain as much pleasure as possible. If you only use mindfulness to get away from unpleasant experiences, it just fortifies this big fat ego we all have that is the root cause of most of our suffering. The ego that wants to have pleasure so bad, that we willingly spend our money on iPads = gadgets, in stead of taking responsibility and do something about glue sniffing kids in Kathmandu, lonely elderly, drug addicted people in ghettos, I mean: those are all the result of a small group of people being totally caught up in the ego, and not realizing that their drive for getting what they want is defective: we are destroying the planet, and the cause is ego!

  4. Try to read some work by Pema Chodron, a buddhist teacher. She explains things much clearer than I ever could. If you could master mindfulness to the degree she has, I think you would almost run back to those cacti, repeat the experience and see if you can still get out of the experience what you could have gotten out of it, and now, to my humble opinion have missed out on.

  5. I am prone to migraines, and *no one* can be mindful in the midst of one. Your mind is going, going, gone. Everything that comes into contact with your senses makes you feel like your brain is hurting. You can barely form coherent thoughts or sentences. Your cognitive mind is going haywire; it’s almost like a seizure. So it’s impossible to form the thought “I am noticing this migraine right now.” A migraine is a chemical, neurological thing, and all your consciousness is affected by it. The only thing that really works is medication. This is where modern science kicks ancient mindfulness’s butt.

  6. I think we have to distinguish 2 different kinds of suffering here: physical suffering and mental suffering. Also we have to distinguish 2 kinds of effects: short term effects and long term effects.

    If you have to undergo an operation, better not use that event to exercise mindfulness, but rather ask for full time anesthesia. Unless you are masochistic off course.

    On the other hand, what if for example I am in love with someone, and that person does not love me back, which causes mental suffering, a broken heart. In the short term I can diminish the pain by trying to think about something else, or use drugs (alcohol). This will surely alleviate the suffering in the short term, but not so much in the long term, and it may even create bigger problems, like drug addiction.
    In this case it might be better to look at the pain closely and analyse it and the causes for it. This may be painful in the short term, but may help to get you rid of the pain soon without leaving other problems.

    I once read a beautiful story about someone who suffered from nightmares. He was chases by monsters, and ran for his life. Night after night. This is a variance about running from your problems, not being ‘mindfull’ about them. He was advised by someone to try to remember not to run any more from the monsters who chased him in his dream, but try to be ‘mindfull’ about it. At first he didn’t succeed, because it was hard to remember his intention when dreaming. But one night he remembered it while dreaming. So instead of running, this time he looked around, although still very very frightened. And there he saw terrible, creepy monsters coming closer to him. He kept looking. And then the monsters slowely became more vague. After a while they started to look as cartoon caracters. And in the end they disappeared alltogether. And after that night he never had the nightmare about being chased by monsters again.
    There is a theory that in the long term you can make mental pain disappear not by ‘thinking about pleasant things’ every time it occurs, but by analyzing the (causes of) the pain very closely, analyse it through and through till the pain disappears.
    But if someone is yelling at you in a crowded bus, or farthing, or maybe combining both, please feel free to leave the bus and take another one.
    ‘Mindfullness’ could be used in all kins of situations, I say, try to figure out for yourself in what situations it might be usefull for you, and never use it in situations where you think it might be harmfull to you. Don’t consider it as a medicine that is effective to cause every disease. What might be a medicine to combat one disease, might be a poison if you take it in the case of another disease.

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