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Mindful : February 2015
pain, we can feel that intimately, without holding on to it or rejecting it, or buying into stories about it. If we feel we’re failing even at befriending, that too becomes something to embrace with compassion. It’s okay to be with whatever comes up, including feeling not okay to be with it. With this radical acceptance, as it’s sometimes called, we’re no longer in opposition to life. We have put out the welcome mat. We have moved into flow with things as they are. When times are tough, most of us rage against this approach—it doesn’t seem right to stop fight- ing when we hurt. It doesn’t feel right to allow our suffering. But adopting the way of mindfulness isn’t to deny the value of skillful action—it just mea ns recognizing that the only skillful way to be with this moment is to compassionately embrace it, treating it as a trusted teacher. Opening to the difficult can’t be rushed or forced. Sometimes it’s best to wait before turning towards, especially if our experience feels overwhelming. Sometimes we need to seek the support of others first—friends, family, or a counselor. We can accept that sometimes things feel like too much to bear— we aren’t deficient for feeling flooded. Defenses are put in place for a reason, and while they may become unhelpful, they can be honored and respected for the job they try to do. If we choose to drop them, we can do so gently, when we’re ready. Acceptance and compassion are essential com- ponents of turning towards. Without them, the approach can feel like a forced endurance test, a hav- ing to “put up with our lot” that can seem harsh or self-blaming. When we turn towards difficulty with a muttering of “Just deal with it” or “Can’t you be more mindful?”, we’re subtly rejecting what’s happen- ing, and our feelings about it, rather than engaging warmheartedly. In mindfully turning towards, we’re making an offer of loving connection. This work isn’t easy, and it helps to bring with us a sense of self-care. Our hearts are best coa xed to open gently. The importance of body posture In our practice, we work to adopt a posture that embodies mindful attitudes. By feeling our feet on the floor, we’re cultivating a sense of groundedness. By inviting the spine to rise and our body to be uplifted, we cultivate confidence a nd wa kefulness. By allow- ing the chest to expand, and letting go of tensing the muscles, we move towa rds connection a nd openness. The posture we adopt seems to be importa nt— there’s a link between how we hold ourselves physically and the tone of our experience. In a famous experiment, a group of students were asked to put on headphones and rate sound quality. The researchers said they wanted to check if the head- phones would work when people were running, so they asked some participants to move their heads up and down, simulating a jog. Others were asked to move their heads f rom side to side. Actually, the experiment had nothing to do with running, or even sound quality—the resea rch- ers wanted to test whether the head movements affected the students’ perspectives. They did—when asked to rate the headphones, those who had nodded rated them more highly tha n the head-shakers. The voice in the headphones had been discuss- ing proposed rises to tuition fees at the college, and when later asked to take part in a survey about the changes, the head-shakers suggested a much sma ller fee rise than the nodders. Simply moving the head seemed to unconsciously influence how the students felt about two very different issues. There have been many experiments on the effect of body posture on perception and mood. Psycholo- gist Ja mes Laird discovered that people feel happier when asked to make facial movements that created a smile, whereas they felt more angry when asked to clench their teeth. Another study found that adopting a strong sitting posture for just one minute increases confidence. Just as mood and perception affects behavior, so behavior affects perception and mood. As the US philosopher William James sug- gested over a century ago: “I don’t just sing because I’m happy. I’m happy because I sing.” You ca n experiment with this yourself. Try tak- ing a hunched, slouching sitting posture with your shoulders slumped, head down, and arms folded. Now say to yourself, “I feel cheerful a nd connected.” Most people experience the posture and the words as incong ruent. Now take an upright, dignified pos- ture, and notice the difference. Most people say they feel more energized and confident. If we take a n uplifted a nd open posture, embody- ing a willing ness to turn towards difficulty with resil- ience, we’re sending a sig na l to our minds and bodies that this can be done, without being over whelmed. Pay attention to body posture. Ask yourself, “Am I holding myself in a way that cultivates qualities of mindfulness: centering, confidence, cheerfulness, and compassion?” Let go of self-judgments a nd be interested in what you find. Experiment with mak- ing mindful posture adjustments, and notice what effect, if any, this has. Ask yourself, “Is there anything I’ve been putting off in my life, something that needs attention and which I’m avoiding?” If an issue comes up when you ask this question, notice how the avoida nce feels and explore possibilities for mindfully shifting towa rds it. Remember to be gentle—if what’s being avoided feels over whelming, it may be best to sta rt with something sma ller. Remember also that approach doesn’t always mean action. You ca n explore how shifting towards feels by first bringing the situation to mind a s a dif- ficulty in your meditation practice. ● From Mindfulness: How to Live Well by Paying Attention, by Ed Halliwell. Reprinted courtesy of Hay House UK. 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