I find writing this blog so helpful for my self in terms of learning how to communicate effectively what I experience to others. Last post I was wanting express some of my concerns about the limitations of positive thinking and found myself feeling I had not quite conveyed this fully and had perhaps painted too bleak a picture. Of course the positive thinking/positive education/positive psychology/wellbeing initiatives can be an excellent starting place for many as we try to understand and address the unhappiness and mental health issues in our world, and in people of all ages perhaps especially the young.
For me though it’s not so much about things being either positive or negative. This like most binaries does not seem useful to me. While polarities are the stuff of life – yin/yang, male/female, east/west, day/night, white/black, positive/negative, they often contain a hidden hierarchy where one is deemed ‘better than the other’.
What I didn’t express in the last post was that yes of course it’s true that our thoughts do affect our emotions and changing our thoughts can change our behaviour and even the situation to a degree but what comes first is our awareness, we need firstly to be aware of the thoughts before we can change them. So the awareness is the most important aspect for me and perhaps not yet addressed enough in positive psychology although the work of Csiksentmihalyi in ‘flow’ is a significant exception.
There are certainly times when we want to ‘go with the flow’ and feel what we are feeling… perhaps a tinge of melancholy of sadness, of grief perhaps if we have experienced a loss. Certain urgent and intense experiences ( often relating to death or illness) can jolt us from an everyday state of existence to the authentic state of mindfulness of being as existential philosophy Heidegger and existential psychoanalyst Yalom suggested. During these liminal ‘border’ experiences we are often fully self-aware, in an existential, heightened state… and if we overlay a whole lot of rationalisation we are going to miss the beauty, power, significance, message, learning and healing.They may be more powerful than years of sitting meditation practice so we want to be able to let go into them.
More and more I see that the mindfulness work is about realising we are not our mind.So using our mind to change our behaviour while perhaps effective to a degree in the short term (rationalising to reduce panic as I did last year when I thought I had messed up some online grading!) it doesn’t go anywhere deep enough.It may perhaps help though in building some ego-strength, enough resilience to be able to begin to accept some suffering and undertake the process of dismantling the ego!
It’s not about trying to stop thinking though , that is like using the mind to defeat the mind and it’s too clever for that to work!
The best way to realise we are not our minds it seems to me and many spiritual teachers is to get into our bodies through a form of meditation that takes us right inside, (see http://www.barrylong.org/statements/meditation.shtml ) to experience the pure sensation, the sensation in the soles of the feet, the toes, the fingers, legs, arms, head, nose, lips.. try it now, are you able to sense it?
As a woman in one of my workshops said “When I was doing the exercise I couldn’t think!’.
As Australian meditation teacher Linda Clair ( Simple Meditation ) says is about changing the reference point from the mind to the body, ‘a very powerful thing to do’.
Its realising that our wellbeing is not dependent on where we are or what we are thinking, it has to do with tapping into this inner awareness which is behind all thought and emotion and is always present whereever we are in whatever situation if only we can connect with it. Over time it becomes stronger and stronger as well and less likely to seemingly disappear… which reminds me of a colleague who had some technological difficulties during a conference presenting,and telling us that ‘My wellbeing just flew out the window!” It doesn’t really disappear though, our awareness of it is just hijacked by the mind which is very powerful in those situation.
The grounding and stabilising of awareness as Linda and Barry Long acknowledge takes time, it has to take time.
The mindfulness practice is about preparing the body and when it has taken hold enough within, we don’t really need the practices anymore, being aware becomes a way of being, but hopefully this doesn’t mean we become too boring! as New York Times blogger Judith Warner ( firstname.lastname@example.org) suggests happened to one of her friends who was right into mindfulness:
I was beginning to wonder what body snatcher had taken my cranky friend away and left this kindly, clam, pod person in her place?
Is something lost in all this new, improved selfhood? That is, an edge. That little bit of raggedness that for some of us really is the heart of what makes us human?
I don’t think we need to lose our individuality – I don’t want to lose my little bit of raggedness and I appreciate it in others, very much.
Nonetheless it is good to be experiencing such an incredible slowing down, which is very softening!
I am finding that my questions, my need for answers is disappearing, that I am more happy to just be here, not bothering too much. We do need to give ourselves time for this work, to connect with this awareness that is already within and not live so much on the surface of the mind with this likes/dislikes, opinions, arguments. There is a challenge for those of us who work in education, which so much emphasis on ‘mind work’.
I see that university teaching and research should ideally include time and space for deep reflection, for sanctuary, for insight, intuition, creativity, relationship.I found this email from 2011 the other day from a friend and post-graduate student…
I had a dream the other night I had forgotten about but something triggered the images again. I was helping you set up a new contemplative education center at the university! It was a bit of an experiment to see if it would work and it did. It became very popular. It started slow, mainly because the land they gave us was the outskirts of the campus and quite hard to find and access, but we built this amazing multi-layered, open, plan, lush, colorful place that was quite magnetic.
People couldn’t drive there, they had to walk but they came in spite of the terrain because they could abandon their books and bags and just come as themselves. There were lots of people’s bags and books left along the path and when they arrived they were so relieved and happy to be there…..
It’s such a lovely image.. I hope the mindfulness topic and our mindfulness special interest research group (contact me if interested in either email@example.com ) might be part of something bigger like this…I do think I might be dropping some bags and even maybe some books ( I deleted some books on my I Pad just this morning!) along the path as well!
much love to you all and thanks for the comments and emails- will post something from Massachusetts I think after a visit to Walden Pond!