Myth #5: Mindfulness Will Cure What Ails You
With all of the hype in the media about mindfulness, it may be tempting to see it as a panacea – a cure for whatever ails you, a strategy for self-improvement, or a formula for getting what you want out of life. Unfortunately, this view often leads fledgling practitioners to disappointment, causing them to give up on the practices all together.
While mindfulness practices can indeed result in useful changes, it is a gradual evolution that unfolds in its own time by opening to and allowing what is rather than an effortful resistance to what is unwanted or straining toward what is wanted. Striving for results is a rejection of what is, and this is antithetical to the practice of mindfulness.
What many practitioners discover in time is that the things that tended to historically bother us, trip us up, or cause us distress us do not just magically disappear. Rather, we learn to relate to difficulty in new way. We discover on an experiential level (not just intellectually) that we are not the thoughts and emotions that compound our suffering – the assumptions, expectations, rumination, judgments, and worry that plague the untrained mind. Through a willingness to be with that which is unwanted, but is already here, we begin to decenter from it, becoming less personally identified with it.
All suffering is caused by my identifying myself with something, whether that something is within me or outside of me. – Anthony de Mello
Difficult thoughts and emotions still arise and we remain aware of them, but they no longer take a leading role in our experience. With practice we get better at witnessing and observing phenomena, rather than getting caught up and swept away by thoughts and emotions. The associated feeling tone may become less intense, reactivity decreases, and space is created for more skillful responding (or non-responding). The subtle consequences of this new way of being reinforce the practice through the creation of a beneficial cycle. We gain the courage needed to face ever-greater difficulty with equanimity. Self-compassion increases as we better understand our habits and patterns. Wisdom grows as we see things more clearly, free from the veil of a biased narrative.
People who struggle with various human afflictions will not be cured by the practice of mindfulness, but they may find they can cope more effectively and experience less suffering. When we approach the practices with a beginner’s mind, momentarily setting aside our dreams and goals, the fruits of our efforts ripen, even without undue interference on our parts.
It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them. – Aldous Huxley, Island