I was recently hired to offer a mindfulness workshop to my professional organization. I was a little nervous, but when it was over, I left thinking I had done a fantastic job. I felt high. I felt elated. This was one for the “Pleasant Events Calendar.” Then I got feedback. At first, I was excited about hearing from my contact how she thought it went. As she is a gentle person, she started kindly, noting how my outrageousness got people’s attention. I smiled thinking, “Yeah, I’m a comedic performer … I’m really good at that.” But she quickly left that topic to point out some clear-cut examples of how my blithely, glib tongue had caused much heated discussion after I left. Her examples included my so-called humorous and rather too familiar reference to Jesus (not very mindful of the Christians in the room) and my off-the-cuff remark about the unavoidability of suffering … as “One day, even those who have had the happiest lives have to face the death of loved ones.” (not exactly mindful of the woman in the room who had just lost her beloved daughter to a protracted and horrible death by cancer). Gulp. Even though I hadn’t known the makeup of the group, or what the underlying issues were, the experience had much to teach me about mindfulness in general. I wanted to stay open to her feedback even as I was experiencing my body deflating, noticing unpleasant sensation in my thighs, the back of the arms, my face, noticing shame, noticing confusion. As a professional performer, I would have thought that I had gotten good at receiving criticism, but I am still surprised to observe how the sting of anything that does not prop up a positive view of myself makes me want to cringe and pull back from what is being said or felt. However, instead of completely cutting and running, which is what I felt like doing, I did my best to try to stay in the conversation, seeking to recognize that my friend was offering me generous and needed service. This is what mindfulness looks like. We stay open, not because it feels good to do so, but because that’s where all the important information in life shows itself. We take it on the chin, feel it in the body, notice it in the barrage of thoughts and are touched by it in the tender-rawness of wide-ranging emotions. As I investigated how mindfulness could operate here, I started by:
- Softening my belly and calling upon courage to welcome new awareness, knowing that being with change is inseparable from mindfulness.
- Still with belly soft, I opened to allow the words and situation to really land. In “acting” terms, one director referred to the importance of being completely present and unguarded, allowing ourselves to be seen taking it on the chin. In other words, letting the impact of whatever is occurring – pleasant or unpleasant – be revealed.
- As I took a breath I consciously allowed for an internal spirit of appreciation and spaciousness, knowing that shutting down to awareness was never going to be a beneficial course of action … no matter how uncomfortable things got.
I find that I am constantly touching base with what mindfulness looks like in my life, always coming back to softening my belly, coming back to my breath, opening to the inevitability of change, over and over. It isn’t easy, or comfortable, but I notice that as I train myself to stay open to direct experience – pure and unfiltered, I find it offers me abundant opportunity to come out of automatic pilot and be fully in my life, and this is worth every challenge.
CC Image by Andrew