As much as we like to imagine that the future holds for us magic, promise and positive events, we know, as the Buddha taught all those years ago, that suffering is part of being human. This can sound like the most depressing statement to people who aren’t familiar with mindfulness or Buddhism! In fact the opposite is true and if we go through our lives blinkering ourselves to the fact that nothing negative could ever lie ahead for us, we only partially exist. This leads us to exist in a state of denial where fear can grow bigger and bigger about what could lie ahead. We shelter ourselves because we don’t know if we are strong enough to weather whatever could lie ahead for us if we truly put ourselves out into the world and live fully. And when the inevitable happens we fall apart and we struggle to piece ourselves together again.
There still exists the notion that when people practice mindfulness that their lives become completely serene and ‘zen’. We imagine the most chilled about relaxed people who can’t be shaken by anything. And maybe these people do exist in the world, but in the most part they are the ones that lives outside the ‘real’ world, up in mountains or harmonious communities, and it’s not that they don’t suffer, but their practice is so developed that we don’t see externally the causalities of the storm.
Practicing mindfulness does not shield us from the realities of life sadly. It is not a quick fix to patch up the problem or problems that we are facing. It does something so much bigger and more important than that. Mindfulness gives us the insight to spot when we are becoming overwhelmed by life. It gives us the awareness to notice that we cannot go on existing in the eye of the storm, expecting to reach our ideal state of wellbeing here. It gives us the courage and self care to say, do you know what? That blow really knocked me off balance. But I know how to take care of myself to pick myself up again to carry on this life. To not live with a huge fear that another blow will come and wipe us out. Because we know that every day of our lives, we, and the world, change. And despite our attempts to cling onto what has been, our freedom lies in moving forward, giving in to the flow of life.
And our practice too must adapt when we awake to find ourselves in the eye of the storm. Some days we can’t try and surf with sky scraper waves. Grounding the body is the most important focus of practice during these times and the more structured practice the better. Maybe we can’t sit endlessly with the breath, maybe we can’t go to the unsafe place in our body where the pain hurts the most or the breath is unbearably tough, but we can go somewhere. Maybe we can go to the feet or the knees or the hands and ask, what is here today? Maybe we can do a lovingkindness practice where we soften to our pain even for a second. And more likely than not we need some help to stay on our surfboard, maybe we need friends and loved ones to join us on theirs too, somewhere where the waters are a bit calmer and join boards and hands and wait out the storm. You have not failed because you found yourself in the eye of the storm. This means that you are human. You have succeeded because today you got up and tried again. And one day, whenever that may be, the dark clouds will part, the birds will sing and you will realise that this storm has passed.