“Mindfulness doesn’t care.” That is what my teaching partner said to the group of teenagers who eagerly listened, hungry to learn from us. I get (and love) where she was coming from, however, the way I like to phrase it is that mindfulness has no hierarchy of experience: sadness is no better or worse than happiness, when seen through the lens of kind awareness. Neediness is not inferior to self-sufficiency. Bravery no better than fear. Mindfulness doesn’t prefer one over the other or label one as good and the other as bad. Mindfulness just sees what is true. Mindfulness is the kind awareness that allows the experience to be deeply known by us, whatever it is. It is our passport to being more fully alive amidst everything feel.
As Sharon Salzberg said, “ Mindfulness practice is not about having a certain kind of experience it is about how we are relating to the experience we are having.”
Imagine the beam of a flashlight shining in a dark room; as it moves around the room it illuminates different things inside the room. Mindfulness is the beam of light. It illuminates what is in the rooms of your heart and mind. The beam does not prefer to illuminate one thing inside the room more then another — its “job” is simply to illuminate. Because we are conditioned to believe in this hierarchy of experience and then tend to unconsciously avoid what is on the bottom of the list we often choose not to turn on the flashlight at all, believing that if we don’t illuminate what is inside of us maybe it isn’t really there. Without the flashlight of mindfulness our unwanted feelings don’t cease to exist, they just remain unseen (for a while that is, until the day that they can’t be held at bay any longer and they come crawling out of the darkness whether we like it or not).
But when we do illuminate what is inside these heart and mind rooms, what is “in them” transforms and we are strengthened and healed through this deceptively simple practice. A “beam” of kind awareness free of any hierarchy of experience changes what is inside the room. Things that once made us anxious when they “went bump in the dark” become allowable and understood. Feelings like loneliness, anger, or jealously change from unwanted demons lurking in the shadows into experiences of being human that we come to understand and even have compassion for. They are no longer something to be avoided or denied, they are part of us and part of being a whole person.
An excerpt from Rumi’s beloved poem The Guest House
This being human is a guest house
every morning a new arrival
Welcome and entertain them all
The dark thought, the shame, the malice
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in
Though we each have our own hierarchy of feelings, most of us have the idea that feeling calm is better than feeling agitated or feeling happy is better than feeling sad. For some, bravery tops all, for others it may be calmness, or wisdom, etc… And yet for all of us, the opposite experience—fear, overwhelm, confusion–will also be in the rooms of our heart and mind sometimes. We regard them as unwelcome guests that are uncomfortable to have around, so we try to close the door quickly when we hear them knocking. With mindfulness we can begin to see that these “unwanted” feelings and thoughts do visit us (all of us). In moments like these, remembering that “mindfulness doesn’t care” or that mindfulness has no hierarchy of experience can help. It can be just the thing we need to internally open the door to the guests and turn on the flashlight of kind awareness, and without any agenda let it illuminate whatever is there.
It is often the case that when we go looking for only the “top of the list” experiences we keep unwittingly bumping into those at the “bottom of the list”.
Winnie-the-Pooh said it so well while he was lost in the forest with his friends,
“We have been looking for home, but we keep finding this sandpit. Maybe if we start looking for this sandpit, we will find our way home.”
Indeed when you are lost in your own woods, if you sit with your experience for a few quiet minutes, shining the light of mindfulness into your sandpits, as Winnie-the-Pooh suggests, you might be surprised that you end up finding your way home.
Rebekkah LaDyne teaches in person mindfulness and meditation sessions in the San Francisco Bay area and internationally through Skype.
Contact her at info @thismindfullife. info
To read more about her visit www.rebekkahladyne.com