This is a reflection on mindfulness practice during an intense period of loss, grief, confusion, anger, and resentment - in other words Dukkha. My father passed away on March 29th of this year. Eleven days later, upon returning to work from burying my father, I learned that my job had been eliminated due to deep budget cuts at my place of employment. Either one of these events would create significant stress in a person's life. Both happening in such quick succession left me in a fog. I was stunned, dazed and confused.
It was like a bad dream. I found that I had lost confidence in my own basic wisdom-mind and that I began to close down to myself and others. My reaction to these events took me by complete surprise.
What I found (in part) is that my expectations regarding my Mindfulness practice were actually getting in my way. I had thoughts that somehow I shouldn't feel this poorly as a result of my practice. That somehow, I should have been immunized from at least some of the impact of these losses. That I could just spend a little extra time on the cushion and basic equanimity would return. I felt like I should get a pass on some of the grief, anger, sadness, depression, anxiety, and sorrow that embodied my experience. Heck, I had been paying my mindfulness dues for a long time...right? Wrong.
I discovered that I had been trying to find ground in the shifting sands of my current struggle. I had been trying to impose my will upon events as a way to somehow bypass the effects of these events. I was faced with what Pema Chodron calls "the big squeeze".
To paraphrase Pema, the big squeeze is the discrepancy between our inspirations and beliefs and the situation that presents itself. It is the rub between reality and vision that causes the big squeeze. She goes on to state that it is this big squeeze that causes us to grow, to wake up, to live a mindful life, to be alive with compassion and understanding. Pema states that this "...is one of the most productive places on the spiritual path and in particular on this journey of awakening the heart."
In hindsight it seems that, to some extent, I have realized some immunization from this onslaught of dukkha. My years of training and practice, on a daily basis, in the meditation discipline of shamatha-vipassana have been of great benefit. As a result of my years of practice I began to comprehend and understand that I had to return to the basics as a way to deal with this inundation of dukkha.
I had to find my breath, get in touch with my body, and return (again and again) to the present moment through concentration practice during formal meditation. I reached back to the very basic skill sets that I had learned as a practitioner of Mindfulness as a means to find some balance again in my life. I started with counting breaths during my daily meditation. I began to name and note the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that were flooding my experience. This was hard work.
A return to the basics of sitting practice also put me in a position to more consistently move through my daily life in the present moment. However, it was not until I actually engaged in the mindfulness practice of immersing myself in the present experience, of embracing the gestalt of the current events in my life and my responses to them, that I actually started to see the fog that had enveloped me begin to dissipate.
I had to be with the pain, anger, loss, resentment, and grief before I could start to let go and settle back into equanimity. I rediscovered that I had to go through the s*&# before I could get past the s*&#. I could not circumvent it; I could not ignore or deny it. I had to look at it squarely and know it for what it is. I had to embrace dukkha.
I am immensely grateful for my Mindfulness practice. The practice is, and has been, many things for me over the years. It has helped me to realize suffering when it arises. It has engendered both self-compassion and compassion for others. I have improved upon my ability to recognize emotional reactions as they begin to arise within me and to reduce the times when I get caught up in them. Gratitude, empathy and the ability to live in the moment are also artifacts of this practice. But what I am most grateful for at this time is the way that Mindfulness helped me through these most difficult of times.
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