Mindfulness practice is not always easy. So why should we bother practicing it? Especially when we first start to practice mindfulness we might become even more aware of how busy and scattered our mind is, of tension in different parts of our body, or of memories we have been avoiding. Although we might sometimes experience a delightful sense of ease and joy while practicing mindfulness, this is not always the case. Why then would we want to do this?
One important reason to practice mindfulness is increased choice. We need to notice what we’re experiencing, thinking and doing in order to make different choices. This is key. Otherwise we act automatically. Lack of awareness of our choices means we don’t have the ability to see where we’re creating unnecessary suffering in our lives. Without knowledge and choice we repeat the same unhelpful patterns over and over again. Like most people, I know this from experience!
Around 10 years ago I experienced years of chronic neck pain after a car accident. As often happens with chronic pain, the pain continued even when there was no physical injury remaining. My yoga teacher, Tam James from yogaphysio took me along to a 7 day silent insight meditation retreat with Buddhist teachers Subhana Barzhagi and Carol Perry. Through calming my mind and practicing mindfulness on this retreat, I learnt something important about the pain that Tam had been trying to explain to me for some time. I saw that the way I responded to the physical sensations in the body was making it worse. I noticed thoughts like “This will never end” and “My neck’s going to be damaged forever” and I became aware that I was tensing around the areas where I felt pain in the body. Once I realised I was doing this I had a choice. With practice, I learnt that I could let go of the extra thoughts and tension I was adding to my experience. This was a big relief! I found that without the added extras the “pain” was less painful and could at times simply be experienced as strong physical sensations in the body.
The increased choice that can come with regular meditation practice allows us to learn to reduce the unnecessary stress and tension in our lives.