There is a perception that meditation and mindfulness connect us with a feeling of relaxed and contented peacefulness. Listening to meditation music we could be forgiven for thinking that mindfulness is some kind of mystical experience.
But meditation and mindfulness in reality simply connect us with how we are feeling right now; good or bad. I’ve experienced meditation as deeply calming and relaxing, but I’ve also found it puts me in touch with the fact that right now I’m feeling pretty pissed off.
That sounds like common sense, if not a little disillusioning, but if we meditate with the expectation that it’s going to be a happy experience then it comes as a disappointment when we come face to face with our own grouchiness and irritability.
Usually when we feel bad we find ways and means of escaping. We turn on the telly, go on the internet and do just about anything to escape from feeling horrid. Over the years, we get so good at escaping that we can spend hours zoned out, absent from ourselves, and stubbornly avoiding the experience of how bad we feel right now.
Why would we want to meditate and be mindful when we feel bad? Particularly, when by being mindful we come face to face with just how miserable it is to feel down. Why not hit the default option and escape into distraction.
Of course, the reason for not escaping is that as unpleasant as it is to feel bad, it is at these times that we can learn most about ourselves. We might not be able to escape our black moods, but there is a chance we might find other, healthier ways of dealing with them.
So, how do we stay engaged with meditation or mindfulness when we drop in on ourselves at a bad time? When the last thing we want is visitors, especially our annoying, curious, mindful self.
I found Jon Kabat-Zinn has a wonderful analogy for mindfulness; he compares it to a large saucepan, and suggests that without getting caught up in the thoughts and feelings that we discover during meditation we simply toss them into the pot and see what happens.
I love the imagery of this dispassionate curiosity. I can almost see myself shrugging my shoulders, picking up that strange heavy feeling, observing it with idle curiosity, and then dropping it into the saucepan. To add to the analogy, I imagine myself gently stirring it with a wooden spoon while simmering on a low heat. The whole imagery allows me to loosen the strong grip that feelings and emotions hold on me, and gives me the opportunity to observe what I am experiencing at these difficult times.
Thich Nhat Hahn has some great advice on this subject too; he recommends that when we encounter those familiar bad old feelings we should smile gently at them and say, “Hello my old friend, how are you?”
Of course, we shouldn’t just treat the bad feelings in this way; a truly mindful approach would be to treat both good and bad feelings in the same manner, with compassion and gentle inquiry. To quote Kipling, “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same.”
So if meditation isn’t actually a mystical experience, a transcendent visit to a fantasy world. If it is simply a more alert and aware experience of how we are feeling right now; good or bad. Then developing a means of disconnecting our self from the power of our thoughts and feelings is important, otherwise we will continue to run from the bad and celebrate the good.
So next time before you meditate, gently oil your saucepan, put it on a low heat, and wait patiently with your wooden spoon until your ingredients pop up, whatever they are!