If you read my blog regularly, you will know that this time last week I was supping on Italian cuisine and soaking up the charm of Bologna. It was a fantastic trip filled with amazing food, historic sites and the most beautiful, creamy cappuccinos that anyone could imagine! I came home with a grin on my face and a desire to order an I Love Bologna t-shirt- only I didn’t as I know my kids would die of embarrassment.
I felt grounded. I felt mindful. The sounds, the smells, the tastes, the eventual Italian sunshine on my face all supported my practice and truly helped create the space for a deeper dropping into my body. Well, for the most part that is. Indeed, I was feeling incredibly out of body when I climbed the 498 steps to the top of one of Bologna’s tower- only to look down from its dizzying height. This was an exception, though. For, as we made our way to the airport to go home, I felt a deep sense of gratitude for my life and the wonderful opportunities that seem to arise when I am least expecting it.
Sounds all warm and fuzzy- and it was. However, this all started to shift when we got to the airport. Once we arrived, we immediately checked the departure board. All flights leaving before ours was scheduled to leave had been cancelled. This seemed strange. Why? The sun was shining in Italy and surely there couldn’t be bad weather throughout the whole of the Western world. Flights that were destined for Spain, Sweden, England, Greece… the USA- all cancelled! Well, it turned out that there was a strike happening at the airport. This meant a later departure time, a missed connection and a night in Amsterdam.
Spirits were still OK. Mind was still stable and mindful moments were still weaving themselves through the experience. Although, the odd feelings of frustration and worry were starting to rear their heads. I could feel tension starting to build in my shoulders. However, I could also feel a softening with my breath.
Then, after all of these travel mishaps, I was unable to get to work where I was scheduled to teach for the weekend. My ‘what felt like’ unwavering, mindful equilibrium started to waver. Worry, some panic, sadness and frustration had invaded my headspace. Tension and heat were now radiating throughout the whole body.
What happened to my mindful gratitude?? It was here less than 24 hours ago! I could feel it slipping, being replaced my rumination and anxiety. And just like that, things started to get topsey turvey.
So how do we cope when life seemingly goes from relaxed, cool, calm and collected to what feels like the rug being pulled from under you?
Well, I started to practice moment to moment mindfulness- three small breaths. These breaths would bring me back from my ‘try to fix it mind’ and into the body and into the environment that was all around me- instead of a meditation hall, I was now actually in a warm, sunshine filled apartment with the sounds of Ireland beating Scotland in the 6 nations Rugby coming from the TV. (Something that cheered the mood for this Irish inhabitant).
And even though I was not sure that I felt up to it, I went for a walk through the Scottish snow, finishing with a picnic in the sunshine. The crisp air and the connection with the elements stimulated my senses and I once again could feel my awareness drop into the body. This created a space and a clarity where I could still see the opportunities, still feel the gratitude and still find a sense of presence in the midst of the struggle. My equilibrium was still a bit shaky but I was, as Jon Kabat Zinn says, ‘riding the waves’.
I eventually returned to Ireland. The snow had cleared and I was home in the warmth of my own bed. That’s when I got the news that my father’s health was not doing so well. And that’s when, once again, it felt like I had been sent into a tail spin with the ground being swept from beneath my feet.
The waves were beginning to swamp me and at times throw me into the green room. ( In surfing terms, this means the inside of the barrel of a wave).
So while, for the most part I was able to keep my balance on my own and through my practice, I was starting to lose my footing completely. However, and thankfully, during a peer teacher supervision meeting, a fellow practitioner and friend asked me what was alive for me in this moment. I began to speak and share, feeling a bit shy and almost needy in my struggle.
Thoughts like ‘God Jane, get yourself together’ ‘Everyone has their problems’ ‘You need to toughen up’ kept hitting my chest like a ton of bricks. I was feeling unstable.
Yet, when I finished speaking and looked up at my friend, all he said (with hand on heart) was ‘This is suffering sister. I feel for you and can so understand where you are. How can you take care of yourself through this difficult moment?’
Boom. There it is was. ‘This is suffering, sister’. Or, this is Mindfulness- knowing what is happening while it is happening. I was suffering. His acknowledgment of the suffering allowed me to accept it. His use of the word sister told me that I was not alone. And his question of how I might take care of myself through this tough time gave me permission to be kind to myself.
I had an epiphany:
This is practicing mindfulness in times of difficulty.
We all have times of difficulty. We all struggle and feel alone from time to time. I’ve been through many of these moments myself. However, sometimes when the difficulties arise we can forget that perhaps our practice needs to bend and adapt to the moment. Also, sometimes we forget that speaking with other practitioners, and indeed maybe even our teachers, can be extremely helpful in remembering.
I am grateful for those words ‘This is suffering, sister’. I am also grateful for my practice and for the training that I have received and for the ‘practicing mindfulness in times of difficulty’ sessions that I have delivered and for the reminders that come when we are mindfully aware of all that is happening around and inside us.
Practicing mindfulness in times of difficulty can carry me through.
So, this week’s challenge is to see if you can identify someone or maybe even a group of people.to support you in your practice- to ask the question ‘what is alive for you?’ To remind you of all that you know so that you can find your footing.
If this feels impossible, why not sign up for our membership? Our new site that will be launched at the end of the month and will have the facilities to accommodate practitioner gatherings via Zoom, discussion boards and ways to connect with others. (click here for more details)
We also meet once a week for a weekly sit or a live teaching (tonight Heather Regan Addis will be joining us to introduce us to the practice of On/Off duty.
Or, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask about some tips on practicing mindfulness in times of difficulty. I would love to share with you any resources that I can.
Sometimes our practice can be difficult, just like life. However, if we can come together to practice and share, we can create a community that not only supports our practice and us but sustains it and us.
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