A young man goes to a monastery and says, ‘If I join you, become a monk and meditate every day, how long before I become enlightened?’. The Abbot says, ‘about 10 years’. The man thinks this sounds like a really long time. He considers for a bit and then says, ‘but if I work extremely hard, I’m really committed, and I meditate twice as much as everyone else, how long then?’. The Abbot smiles and replies, ‘well, in that case it will be 20 years’.
Sadly, there is no such thing as super-charged fast-track to mindfulness. Because there are so many benefits to mindfulness, it can be tempting to switch into ‘achiever’ mindset and see mindfulness as a destination we need to get to. But this goal orientated striving is counter-productive. It can easily result in us becoming tense, tight and stressed. It can leave us frustrated and feeling we are doing it ‘wrong’ or just not ‘getting it’. Ironically, trying too hard can prevent us from being present in the moment.
Mindfulness is a natural state that we can simply to rest and relax into.
The truth is that mindfulness is not a place that we can fight our way towards, but a natural state to rest and relax into. When we slow down and stop trying to be somewhere else, we are able to ease into a more mindful way of being and so we become more present for life.
We often think that in order to be useful or to achieve anything we have to work really hard. But sometimes the kindest and most beneficial thing we can for ourselves and others to stop grasping on to things outside of ourselves and learn to be still. As Pico Iyer says in his book, The Art of Stillness:
Going nowhere … isn’t about turning your back on the world; it’s about stepping away now and then so that you can see the world more clearly and love it more deeply.
Learning to let go and to rest can be a radical and deeply compassionate act.
If you can make time for a short guided meditation, I really recommend this compassionate breathing exercise by Kristin Neff which I find extremely helpful when I need to slow down and rest: self compassion exercise, it can be done sitting or lying down.
But don’t worry if you don’t have twenty minutes to spare. There are times for us all when it is not possible to do a formal meditation and that’s ok. You can rest and relax at any time, wherever you are, by turning towards your inner experience with kindness. Whenever you feel the drive to become someone else other than who you are, recognise this urge and soften around it.
If you are tempted to make a mindful New Year’s Resolution this year, ‘don’t try too hard!’ might be a good one. You are perfect just how you are! You can simply soften and relax into mindfulness in 2017.
Picture published with kind permission from Dave Coverly