When we have practiced mindfulness for a while, we may begin to notice a subtle softening of resistances – a gradual opening to what is. Most of us have been conditioned to be on guard and protect ourselves from perceived threats. Through a dedicated mindfulness practice, we can develop the trust and courage needed to experiment with previously unquestioned habits and beliefs, giving way to a more spacious mode of being.
When unexamined, the “self” is like a castle keep, a fortified panic room collecting all the cherished treasures that compose “I, me and mine“. Through observation of unfortunate role models, the school of hard knocks, or our own misguided logic we learn to hoard and protect these treasures, becoming vigilant, arming ourselves, building walls and motes, and attacking enemies (including ourselves). We often do this by:
- Presenting an image we view as beyond reproach
- Avoiding vulnerabilities such as making mistakes, reaching out, trusting (especially ourselves and “strangers”), giving or receiving
- Maintaining an ever-critical eye for ambiguity, inconsistencies, and differences – things that we think might indicate danger
- Defending ourselves by failing to acknowledge mistakes, rationalizing or explaining away harmful behavior, making a preemptive strike, or retaliating
- Devaluing or resenting others’ successes or celebrating their failures
- Seeing ourselves as different from others – like we are a special exception (in either direction of a given duality) – which makes us feel safer, yet also disconnected and alone
Another common strategy is striving to gain respect or approval from others through pursuing what we believe to be favorable judgments and reactions. Unfortunately, this often compels us to go after “low hanging fruit” such as:
- complaining about things that most people dislike or find difficult – seeking company in misery
- broadcasting or making fun of others differences, flaws, mistakes, or weaknesses – exploiting others for a quick laugh or to elevate oneself
- flaunting our perceived unique gifts or good fortune
- intimidating or striking fear in others
Despite all of this striving and defending, the fear seems to increase rather than decrease. If we continue down this path, we become harder, more insecure, withholding, judgmental, cynical, and even a little bit stingy. We may gradually become the people we most fear.
What happens when we develop the courage to surrender these strategies and allow ourselves to be vulnerable? What if we opened the drawbridge and left our ego treasures undefended? We may discover that many of our assumptions are unfounded and most circumstances are actually quite workable. Softening and opening allows us to disarm, so that we become more authentic and loving. Consequently, we have more to offer others.
When we stop reacting to the urge to guard the ego and reduce our striving for approval, much energy is freed up for other purposes. The focus of attention can shift to higher values. Creativity may increase and we may become more flexible. Best of all, this new way of being ripples out to others, who are in turn freed up to be more authentic and receptive if they so choose. It is only when we are all able to lay down our arms that peace can truly flourish.
If you surrender completely to the moments as they pass, you live more richly those moments.
– Anne Morrow Lindbergh