My colleagues and I just completed teaching the first of three intensive 3-day weekends for our level 2 Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) teacher training. I am still feeling the glow. After these full days of practice and of digging our hands in the “dirt” of the MBSR curriculum, I am astonished anew by the radical invitation inherent in mindfulness: to turn towards our experience rather than turn away, to investigate what’s here rather than perpetuate patterns of reactivity, avoidance, distraction, and defense.
This might, at first glance, sound simple, but as anyone who has intentionally sat with their own wild mind knows, it’s a very big ask.
Consider: what do we find when we turn toward our experience, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally (aka: with mindfulness)? Not just in the pleasant moments, but the ones that are stressful and challenging? Speaking for myself, what I often find is all that I wish were different. A pain here, an irritation there, a relationship stress, fear. Whether on a societal, political, global or personal level, when we stop long enough to investigate how things are in this human experience, we regularly find what we don’t like.
In mindfulness practice, we start right here. We invite folks to be curious about whatever’s happening, including difficulty, pain, overwhelm. And then, as if that weren’t hard enough, we ask them to stay. We ask them to explore the possibility that they’re big enough, vast enough, spacious enough to tolerate even what feels intolerable. We ask this of them, and we ask this of ourselves.
The audacity of it astounds me!!!
It’s audacious because what we’re facing often IS too much—the climate crisis, social injustice and oppression, increasing societal polarization, to name just a few. Add to that whatever we may be carrying personally—challenges with our health or family or finances, our deep disappointments, grief, rage. In any moment, the challenges can be daunting.
Yet, as mindfulness practitioners, and as MBSR teachers and trainers, we stand in the heat of all this and assert: we’re enough.
Maybe. Just maybe. And we dig deep, and encourage others to as well, to see if we might just find within us what’s required to meet this joyful and searing challenge of being human, and in meeting it, to grow.
Walt Whitman wrote: “I am large. I contain multitudes.” These words land for me as both inspiration and aspiration.
And, the jury is still out. Maybe I rose to the occasion of the last unwanted stressor, failure, loss, but what about the next one, already coming down the pike? The jury is out because this is an experiment that must be lived, not a conclusion to make conceptually, or a final state to reach. When things change and something new hits the proverbial fan, might I discover largeness enough to face even this?
The truth is, we can only take it one moment at a time. Maybe in the end, for now, the greatest audacity of mindfulness is its encouragement to trust. Not a blind or ignorant trust, not naive, but a trust in all that is here beyond the narratives that say we’re too flawed, too broken, too small. Mindfulness dares to boldly affirm our sturdiness, individually and collectively, our largeness, and in doing so it nourishes the flowering of our full humanity. Audacious? Yes, indeed!