When we change the way we understand something – a person, a situation, ourselves – we change the way we feel about it. When we are suffering, we can ease our suffering by looking at our situation from a different angle. We often think we know the truth about it, and this truth saddens or angers us. But the truth is always complex. It multi-faceted. We can broaden our understanding, zoom out, so to speak. When we look at the bigger picture we can be more hopeful, more compassionate.
An example is when someone we love says something hurtful to us, and all we can see is our pain. We are hurt and angry, and we blame them for the terrible thing they said or did. And we get stuck in our anger (anger is so sticky!) We ruminate, playing it over and over in our head, having imaginary angry conversations with them about how wrong they are. We want to tell everyone else how wrong they are. We are looking through an angry lens and we are absolutely convinced that this is the correct view, the complete truth. But when we judge something, we cannot see it clearly. We are seeing only one perspective, one facet of the truth. Only when we are calm can we look at things through a clear lens.
This is the purpose of the practice of mindfulness – to learn to calm ourselves and clear our mind so that we don’t have to suffer so much from negative emotions and attachment to our view. We can broaden our understanding, look at things from a different angle, and see things as they really are. This is necessary before we can change anything. Until something shifts, and we see that our loved one was upset at the time, stressed, afraid, and what they said reflects their own pain, not their disregard or disdain for us. We can come from a place of compassion and get unstuck from the barbed wire of our anger.
In any journey, the only place from which to begin, from which we can have any traction to move forward, is where we are right now. Often, we fail to make progress because we imagine only what we should be, could be, or might be, and try to start from there. But these are not yet real. We can get no solid footing in an imaginary world. We have to be in touch with what is real, and only the present moment is real. Not the past, not the future. These are imagined. Not even our memories are real. They are a hazy view of what happened the past.
So the good news is we can stop torturing ourselves with endless thoughts and worries and regrets about the past or the future. It takes some time, some practice, but it is possible. One very powerful tool in the practice of mindfulness is to observe ourselves without judgment. The idea is that once we judge something, once we are attached to a view about it, we cannot see it clearly. By developing understanding and acceptance of ourselves as we are right now, we can begin to heal. Our destination is wellbeing, and our vehicle is mindfulness.