“You work so hard to fix yourself, but maybe what you need isn’t another tactic, another book, another five step plan. Maybe you don’t need to be fixed, maybe what’s really holding you back is the idea that you need to be fixed” – V Tugaleva.
Mindfulness does not seek to fix you. Mindfulness is a personal journey, that has all the hallmarks of an epic storyline. The hero sets out on a long and difficult journey, having to overcome physical and mental barriers, having left all the comforts of home far behind.
After many struggles and sacrifices along the way the hero reaches his or her destiny, has a deep insight or epiphany and returns home to inform his/her people of what they have found.
It will not have all been a struggle. There will have been love, awe and beauty experienced along the journey and many new smells, sights and sounds experienced that they had never experienced before. When they return, the locals might at first be suspicious, frightened or unsure what to make of this person who has returned seemingly so changed. Over time they realise this new person is authentic and perhaps even wise and they will learn to love, accept and enjoy their presence.
Pema Chodron, one of my favourite writers on Buddhism, also likens the journey into mindfulness as leaving the shore and she says that even though you may not even know where you are heading and perhaps even struggling to get over the surf, you have embarked on the journey.
Mindfulness is a journey into, what neuroscientist David Eagleman says is the most complex known thing in the known universe, the human brain/mind.
We study mindfulness to understand ourselves and to learn acceptance of all our quirks and foibles and let go of all the things we keep tightly held. It is often said that spending time in meditation is self indulgent, but logically if you are at peace with yourself and not needing to spend time ruminating about past events, you are going to be a far more effective mother, father, husband, wife and member of society. Having been meditating for some time now I believe meditation is a heroic act, as people are prepared to spend hours in silence studying their minds. They may have teachers and books to guide them, but because each mind is unique, we can only be given a rough road map with only the major motorways marked on it. We have to fill in the rest by travelling down the country lanes, marking our route along the way.
There can be too much of an emphasis in mindfulness on attaining Enlightenment/Awakening/Nirvana. There are many monks who are living in austerity, practising mindfulness, daily, for many hours, over many years, who feel that they are still only learning. The West has the problem, that unlike most Eastern communities, which are collective in their cultural orientation, the West tends to be individualistic. We can be quite competitive and seek short term goals and seek out pleasure (hedonism) over deeper meaning (eudaimonia) in our lives. Our journey as Pema says, starts where we are. It is the journey that is of importance, not the destination and what it allows us to give back to the community.