What is mindfulness for?

Sea, beach, mindfulness

Most people who come to my mindfulness classes in Whitley Bay or North Shields initially come along because they want to feel better. Perhaps they would like to feel more calm, less angry, more in control of their life. A regular practice of mindfulness may well help people who have been struggling with these and other difficulties, as many have attested. Yet mindfulness cannot be seen as a tool for fixing our problems. In fact it is quite the opposite.

It is normal for those of us who have grown up in modern day Western culture to feel that we need to strive, to improve ourselves, to have enough, be good enough, so that we can be worthwhile. We often feel that we must hide our vulnerabilities and feelings. It is common for us to suppress our problems and to feel that we must be strong.

This mindset has been very much reinforced by continual advertising which warns us that we might get left behind if we do not have the latest gadget, or promises a superior status if we buy expensive, luxury goods. We are constantly offered commodities as solutions to our problems. It keeps us spending money and is a very good marketing strategy which reinforces the Western view that we must strive to overcome our problems and weaknesses.

Mindfulness however is based upon a very different philosophy. This way of thinking asserts that there is nothing wrong with us. We do not need to fight what we experience. We are perfect just as we are. All we need to do is to learn to be with our experience, just as it is in this moment, without judging or tryinng to control it. Considered from the Western mindset with which we may be more familiar this can sound like exactly what we wouldn't want to do! Why should we put up with a problem or remain inadequate when we have the chance to take action to improve our experience or ourselves?

The answer comes back to the underlying philosophy. When we fight or try to change our inner experience, it's like banging a nail into the label 'something is wrong' that we have created about how we feel. The more we try to change it, the more solid it becomes. We start to focus on what we think is wrong, and in doing so add to and solidify our suffering. When we can learn to relate to it in a more allowing, more gentle way we find that the experience changes on its own anyway. Because there was never anything wrong in the first place. Our suffering was just something that arose in a single moment, something that perhaps needed our attention and care. The experience of suffering is shared by all humans and is not wrong in itself. Perhaps we simply needed to allow ourselves to feel how we felt and to be kind to ourselves about it. Mindfulness begins to teach us to do this. Rather than a 'doing', of making ourselves feel better, it's more of an 'undoing' of habits and patterns of mind that can keep us stuck in our own suffering. A way, not of doing something, but of learning to do nothing which helps us to get out of our own way. We can learn that we never needed to change anything, and in learning this we can allow change to happen all on it's own.

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