Old habits die hard, so the saying goes. And even though I’ve been practising mindfulness for a number of years, this is still true. I’m just more aware of those habits!
Like the urge to push uncomfortable feelings away.
I’m sure some of you know what I mean. That old familiar feeling you don’t like starts creeping up on you (in my case feelings of anxiety or sadness), and before you know it you’re in full-on problem solving mode.
How can I get rid of this feeling? What meditation will make it go away? Whose podcast of wise words can I listen to so I can find the mysterious ‘answer’ to stop myself feeling this way?
But here’s where the mindfulness steps in. I’m not totally lost in this automatic habit. These days, I notice myself doing this. I recognise more quickly when I’m caught in that seductive agenda of trying to control how I feel.
In these moments I’m reminded that I don’t actually need to find some new trick or perspective.
I just need to re-visit something I’ve learned many times before. That taking a mindful approach means turning towards these awkward, uncomfortable feelings. It means exploring them with curiosity and responding with kindness.
Mindfulness doesn’t remove discomfort so that we’re ‘fixed’ and never feel it again. In this human life, we’re going to keep on experiencing the unpleasant, the difficult and the challenging – alongside what’s beautiful, moving and enjoyable.
I’ve heard it said that mindfulness is a process of re-minding yourself. During a meditation we may need to re-mind ourselves to come back to the breath – 20 times, or a hundred times.
And so it is in life that we constantly re-mind ourselves to respond to our experience with kind attention. Often this means turning towards what we’re really feeling, so we can let it be felt and flow through. The alternative is to get seduced into trying to fix the unfixable, or try to ignore it.
Those times when we find ourselves caught in old patterns aren’t a sign that our mindfulness has lapsed or failed.
When we see our old patterns playing out and can notice – in the midst of that very difficulty – what’s really happening, we’re being mindful in the most courageous of ways.
So the next time you notice an old habit kicking in, try not to give yourself a hard time. Instead, celebrate this moment of awareness and bravery, which has brought you back to mindfulness.
Sheila Bayliss runs wellbeing classes in Heaton Moor, South Manchester, and offers personal workshops by Skype.