A friend of mine once explained to me that the attraction of Opiate use is that it makes a person feel ‘inviolable’. Clearly this is not just about drugs, it is pointing to something central in the human condition: our capacity to suffer and our desire to escape suffering. Surely this is the logical thing to do…
Yet it seems that all the things we do to escape suffering seem to increase it: avoidance behaviours, addictions (many other things besides drugs for example eating, shopping) and sadly, for some, hurting others! So what is the alternative to going with the automatic, knee jerk responses of trying to escape from what we feel.
Basically this involves ‘turning towards’ the experience, finding a way to ‘be with’ the difficult feeling. Initially this seems counterintuitive, why would this help? And indeed it is not at all clear how we might deliberately do this. To understand this we need to approach it more directly, through the body and senses, experientially.
In mindfulness practice we learn to turn towards our experience in ‘this moment’, starting with everyday things like the breath, sensations in the body, sounds. This helps to build the mental skill to ‘be with’ things; neither getting carried away with them nor bouncing off them. With practice this becomes a valuable skill in dealing with difficult feelings and thoughts.
This is why Mindfulness is not about relaxation (although the experience can of course be relaxing and calming) it is about learning to attend to things in a new way that sets us on the path to wiser, more compassionate responses and healing.
I will explore this further in future posts.