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Mindful : February 2016
It’s a predicament. You can’t outrun your own thoughts and feelings, so your meanest critic can follow you any where. And does. Relent- lessly. As you read this, you may recognize an important and fundamental truth: The pain of shyness is not only created by these self-critical thoughts and feelings, it’s exacerbated into per- sonal suffering by our efforts to avoid or escape those thoughts and feelings. It’s only natural that you would try to use the same escape and avoidance strategy with thoughts and feelings as you’ve used with exter- nal threats. It’s what most people do. Unfor- tunately the very effort to escape thoughts or even suppress or control them usually intensi- fies them. As a result, this way of trying to deal with mental and emotional difficulties can lead to entrenched patterns that create a confusing mess, and more suffering in our lives. Avoidance is like Miracle-Gro for anxiety. Fortunately, you don’t have to try to avoid or control painful thoughts and feelings in order to reduce their power and influence in your life. You can simply let them be and instead put your energy into what you value in life. There’s no need to seek out personality flaws and fix them in order to have fulfilling interpersonal relationships. In fact, being flawed has noth- ing to do with deep and satisfying relationships with other people any way. (You’ve got to know it doesn’t, otherwise satisfying relationships would be impossible for everyone.) The practice of mindfulness can help you come into a health- ier relationship with painful thoughts and feel- ings. It can help you come home to being who you are and where you are—without judging or trying to change anything that we experience. Problematic shyness is inherently self-critical and rejecting, whereas the nature of mind- ful awareness is compassionate and accepting. Learning, through daily meditation practice, to look at yourself with awareness rather than crit- icism is an enormous benefit. It will allow you to begin to see the habits of mind and behavior that create the pain of shyness. This new aware- ness can loosen the grip of these old habits and reduce their power to influence you. BREATHING THROUGH THE HARSH JUDGMENTS Because the breath is always coming and going, you can practice mindfulness of the breath anywhere, anytime. This well-known basic practice is a powerful and convenient way to not only remain present wherever you go and in whatever you do, but also to undermine negative mind-chatter that causes us undue pain. If you’ve done this practice many times before, here is an oppor tunity to try it with par ticular focus on harsh judgments. 1 Sit comfortably where you are right now, in a typical meditation posture that feels comfor table but wakeful and aler t. 2 Bring attention to your breathing at your belly and notice the breath coming and going. If you like, place your hand on your belly to feel this movement. The belly rises and falls. Please make this rising and falling the center of your attention and let the breath come and go as it will, in its own way and at its own pace. It knows how to “breathe you” and you can let it do what it does without trying to change it in any way. If your mind wanders from the breath you may return to it again by feeling the belly’s movement. Use these sensa- tions of the breath as your way to be present, here and now in each successive moment for at least the nex t five minutes or longer if you like. 3 This practice is an ideal place to begin cultivating non- judging. You will likely soon notice that the mind is not all that interested in following the breath. You have to bring it back to the sensation of the breath again and again. Take notice of the judgments arising. No need to enter into a conversation with them. Simply return to the sensa- tion of the breath. By simply noticing the judgment you can quickly see through it. It’s just a fleeting thought. That’s how you will gradually, breath by breath, undermine the power of harsh judgment: “Just another judgment, back to the breath.” With as much kindness as possible, begin again. This is how you may erode the power of judg- ments to define you. And you can do this anywhere— whether you are with others at a social gathering or alone in your room. 72 mindful February 2016 practices insight