Meditation is a practice of resting with the mind as it is in the present moment. Mindfulness is a form of noticing what we are thinking and feeling without judgment or condemnation of ourselves. Working with this form of radical acceptance acquaints us with our habitual patterns. With this alchemy of loving-kindness, knowledge and acceptance we are more able to let go of negative and self-defeating patterns. We can then begin to rest in the spaciousness of awareness, curiosity and becoming.
When I began meditating, I had no idea how to “rest with the mind in the present moment.” In fact I was terrified of my mind and all the hideous things it could say to me given half a chance! I grew up with a critical, condemning mother and had internalized many of these hurtful and hostil thoughts. In my first months of meditation I would often struggle with “attacking” thoughts. “You’re not sitting correctly, you’re meditating wrong, you’re always thinking! You’re bad!” I was caught up in right and wrong and constantly trying to figure out if I was “doing it right.”
Slowly but surely I continued to return to the breath and identify my thoughts and feelings as “thinking.” I began to relax in my mind and body. If a thought came up I would see it go by like a cloud in the blue sky. Slowly I stopped reacting to my thoughts and felt greater connection with the breath. Struggling gave way to calm, and I could rest in the nowness of my meditation.
Practicing mindfulness allows us to accept whatever arises in meditation and to learn to let go of the “story lines” that accompany our thoughts. However, before we can let go of our story lines, we need to become acquainted with them first. This is where a mindfulness-based practice and psychotherapy interface. With my therapist, I could explore and untangle the origins of my overly harsh, critical thoughts. Then I could notice the texture of my thoughts, where they appeared in my body and how I felt.
Through self-compassion and acceptance, we are able to identify habitual patterns and develop the ability to engage or change these patterns. Working with meditation and mindfulness gives us powerful tools with which to loosen the grip of destructive habits. The spaciousness that we create allows for new ideas, feelings and information to facilitate our work in an intentional and progressive way.