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Mindful : April 2013
April 2013 mindful 73 in practice 2. mindfulness a nd pain, beautiful music and a screech. Mindfulness doesn’t mean these all flatten out and become one big blob, without distinction or intensity or flavor or texture. Rather, it means that old habitual ways of relating—perhaps holding on fiercely to pleasure, so that, ironically, we are actually en- joying it less; or resenting a nd pushing away pain, so that, sadly, we suffer a lot more; or numbing out, disconnecting from ordina r y, not very excit- ing experiences, so that we’re halfinadreamalotofthe time. All these self-defeating, limiting reactions don’t have to be there. We can easily misunder- stand mindfulness and think of it as passive, complacent, even a bit dull. I was teach- ing somewhere recently and began the formal meditation instruction, as I often do, with the suggestion to simply sit in a relaxed way and listen to the sounds in the room. Someone raised his hand right away and asked, “If I hear the sound of the smoke alarm, should I just sit here ‘mindfully,’ knowing I’m hearing the smoke alarm go off, or should I get up and leave?” I responded, “I’d ‘mindfully’ get up and leave!” I understood his ques- tion. When we hea r phrases commonly used to describe mindfulness, like “just be with what is,” “accept the pres- ent moment,” “don’t get lost in judgment,” it ca n sound pretty inert. But the actual experience of mindfulness is of vibra nt, a live, open space where creative responses to situations have room to a rise, precisely because we’re not stuck in the well-worn g rooves of the sa me old habitual reac- tions. In mindfulness, we don’t lose discernment and intelli- gence. These qualities, in fact, become more acute as stale preconceptions and automatic, rigid responses no longer rule the day. → Mindfulness refines our attention so that we can connect more fully and directly with whatever life brings. So many times our perception of what is happening is distorted by bias, habits, fears, or desires. Mindfulness helps us see through these and be much more aware of what actually is. Imag ine you’re on your way to a party when you run into a friend who mentions an ear- lier meeting he had with your new colleag ue. He says, “That person is so boring!” Once at the party, who do you find yourself stuck talking to but that new colleague! Because of your friend’s comment (not even your own perception), you end up not really listening carefully to them or looking fully at them. More likely you are thinking about the next 15 emails you need to send or fretting as you gaze about the room and see so many people you’d rather be talking to. Everything this person is saying increases your ire and frustration. But if you realize what’s going on, it might be that you drop the filter of your friend’s comment and determine to find out for yourself, f rom your own direct experience, what you think of your new colleague. You listen, you ob- ser ve, you are open-minded, interested. By the end of the evening you might decide, “I concur. I find that person really boring.” But perhaps not; life also provides many surprises. What’s impor- tant is that we’re not merely guided by what we’ve been told, by the beliefs of oth- ers, by dogma or prejudice or assumption. Instead, we shape our impression with as clea r and open a perception as possible. Mindfulness does not depend on what is happening, but is about how we relate to what is happening. That ’s why we say that mindfulness ca n go anywhere. We can be mind- ful of joy and sorrow, pleasure insight