“What are we waiting for to be happy? Why are we waiting to start celebrating? We can celebrate now. Every step is to celebrate life, thanks to mindfulness, concentration and insight”
… Thich Nhat Hanh
Our brains are wired to seek pleasure and avoid suffering. I had devoted many years to the latter, when I discovered that the way to happiness was by not avoiding what was causing my suffering. The more I resisted knowing my emotions and feelings the more they persisted. It is a paradox that we create suffering by not feeling the sensations of anger, disappointment, shame, and fear.
Most of my life was spent running. Running to work, running errands, running to pick up the kids, running on empty. I remember as a child running from danger in the same dream over and over. I held onto the belief that if I just kept on running, eventually I could celebrate. With all that I had accomplished professionally and personally, happiness was ever more elusive. I always thought I was running towards happiness or something greater in the future, and found that like in my childhood dreams I was running from perceived danger. Running was the habit I had developed to avoid facing and confronting my fears. I had spent most of my life running from feelings and emotions I did not understand or want to feel. Constant running also kept me from hearing the voice in my head, and when that didn’t work I would engage in addictive behaviors to try to stop the madness. I eventually hit a wall. In my pursuit of happiness, I was habitually avoiding feelings associated with anger, heartache, and disappointment. I was suffering from chronic disengagement.
Finding the willingness to be with strong and uncomfortable feelings, experiencing the discomfort I tried so hard to avoid did not come easy. Everything I thought mattered, no longer mattered. Mindfulness meditation required that I do nothing except breathe. This alone was intolerable at times, but I kept practicing, one breath at a time. Slowly I began to lean into my discomfort. I found pockets of time throughout my day to take a few moments of breathing space when things were more challenging, or whenever I recognized I was on automatic. My focus shifted from what I didn’t have to what I have, a shift in perspective. Over time I noticed my emotional life, and had developed the ability to pause and allow for some breathing space to expand my awareness. Life can be challenging and stressful and neither will be eliminated by practicing mindfulness.
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non judgmentally.”
… Jon Kabat-Zinn
Mindfulness is attention training. It increases awareness and strengthens our concentration muscle, improving our capacity to regulate emotion, and step out of habitual patterns of thought and behavior. New brain science indicates that we can actually change the structure of our brains through a practice of mindful awareness. Daniel Goleman is a psychologist whose book Emotional Intelligence, recognizes research that shows that happiness and productivity in life is grounded in our emotional intelligence. Our minds are wandering 50% of the time. Emotions in the brain, lead to attention in the brain. Concentrated focus depends on the ratio of concentration to distraction. The more practiced we are at bringing our mind back from wandering and into the present, the more we increase our ability to focus, our ability to concentrate and our ability to change our relationship to our thoughts and feelings.