It’s easy to sometimes regard the practice of mindfulness and/or meditation as being some kind of magical elixir (especially by new practitioners), as though we could (and should) use them to cure us of our woes and ailments – that somehow if we are mindful enough and meditate enough, we’ll be able to fix whatever it is we feel needs fixing. But, the truth is, sometimes, things are just hard. Having a mindfulness practice and sitting in meditation can strengthen our ability to stay present, balanced, and well-grounded in our own experience of whatever is unfolding – which can be invaluably beneficial – but, in the end, neither mindfulness or meditation can alleviate the causes and conditions of struggle, pain, sorrow, and so on. Our relationship with life can change, but life itself will always entail a certain degree of suffering, difficulty, challenge, and heartache.
What I’m trying to highlight here, is that it’s important not to use the practices of mindfulness and meditation to form some kind of emotional smoke-screen to hide or otherwise distort the simple and very real truth that sometimes life is just hard. And, in my experience, there is a strange and great relief in coming to this understanding. There is a powerful release in being able to simply state, with clear intent, that things are just hard sometimes – without trying to explain further or apologize or rationalize or sugar-coat something for someone else’s perceived benefit. Sometimes, things are just hard. End of sentence.
I recently watched a TED talk given by Susan Kaiser Greenland on the ABC’s of Attention, Balance, and Compassion. In her talk she stated that mindfulness isn’t about changing or fixing, it’s about understanding and being aware. And on one of her slides, it stated: Wisdom comes not from being perfect but from being present. I think we can get carried away and swept up in the false notion of perfection when it comes to a lot of things. But perfection is a relative construct – and I would go so far as to call it a farce.
Life is as life goes, and the true feeling of our experience is all we can really know. The practice of mindfulness does not remove feelings of stress, worry, sorrow, anger, upset… With diligent and proper attention, however, we can learn how to better orient ourselves amid the fray, so that our boat doesn’t capsize when the waves swell.
I wrote this early this morning, in my journal:
There are things that will always be hard: war, disease, addiction, mental illness, incarceration, homelessness, starvation – some will end in death and devastation, some will equate to living in a state of perpetual fear.
So, how do we go on? Amid such global atrocities, environmental havoc, and infliction of hardship – how do we go on living this one precious life, in the wake of so much suffering?
We are nothing if not fluid – ever-changing, while maintaining a relatively consistent shape and form, like a river. The very nature of impermanence is our salvation, affording us the forward momentum to keep going, despite the obstacles and drop offs and trenches that come along downstream.
This moment inevitably will spill into the next, it can be no other way.
When one set of circumstances crescendos into class 4 rapids, the next stretch of river yields to something entirely different, eventually. We learn how to navigate the waters. We learn when and how to dig our paddles in to maneuver around obstacles, and when to sit back and enjoy the ride.