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Exploring difficulty meditation: Tiptoeing towards acceptance

Photo by Elena G on Unsplash

Hi, and welcome to the fifth week of the Mindfulness Program!

If you’re new here, feel free to go back to the previous sessions:

Please note that all exercises and meditations are from the book Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World by professor Mark Williams and journalist Danny Penman.

Let’s get started!

Overview: Week 5 Mindfulness

Week Five introduces a meditation – Exploring Difficulty – that helps you to face (rather than avoid) the difficulties that arise in your life from time to time.

Many of life’s problems can be left to resolve themselves, while some need to be faced with the spirit of openness, curiosity and compassion.

If you don’t embrace such difficulties, then they can increasingly blight your life.

Main idea: Tiptoeing towards acceptance

Acceptance comes in two steps.

  1. The first involves gently noticing the temptation to drive away or suppress any unsettling thoughts, feelings, emotions and physical sensations.
  2. The second step involves actively “meeting them at the door laughing” and greeting them honourably.

This can be a hard and, occasionally, painful experience, but it’s not half as difficult as resigning yourself to live a life blighted by unsettling thoughts, feelings and emotions. The secret is to take tiny steps in the direction of acceptance.

The point to remember:

Mindfulness is not about detachment. Mindfulness acceptance gives us choices.

Mark Williams

Week 5: Exploring difficulty meditation

The Exploring Difficulty meditation very gently invites you to bring unsettling situations to mind and then observe how your body reacts.

It’s more skilful to work with the body because the mind can become too goal-oriented when directly facing a difficulty. It will want to help by suppressing negativity or by trying desperately to analyse and solve whatever is troubling you. Working with the mind in this context is just too difficult.

Focusing on the body, by contrast, puts a tiny sliver of space between you and the problem so that you don’t immediately become entangled within it.

In a sense, you are using the body to turn towards negativity rather than using the analysing mind. You are processing the same raw material, but it is held within a different mode of mind, letting the deepest, wisest part of the mind-body do its own work.

This approach has two other benefits as well.

First, the body’s reactions to negativity often provide a more coherent “signal”, on which it’s easier to stay focused.

Second, you’ll come to realise that physical sensations tend to flux, and this can help you realise that states of mind also tend to wax and wane from moment to moment.

When I do the Exploring Difficulty meditation, I often experience tension and pain in areas like the neck, shoulders and sometimes the chest and stomach.

You will come to learn that everything changes: even the worst-case scenarios imagined in your darkest moments.

Mark Williams

Habit releaser: Sow some seeds (or look after a plant)

Nurturing a plant, or sowing some seeds, are among those very simple things in life that can have a surprisingly big benefit. It might even save your life.

In the late 1970s, Harvard University psychologist Ellen Langer and her team conducted a now-classic series of experiments in which they asked a group of elderly people in a care home to look after a plant in their room.

They were told it was their responsibility to water it and make sure it received enough food and light. At the same time, another group of elderly people had a plant placed in their room, but were told “not to worry about it.” The nurses would look after it for them.

The researchers then measured the levels of happiness in the two groups of people and found, to their surprise, that those asked to actively look after a plant were noticeably happier and healthier. They lived longer too. Just the act of caring for another living thing had markedly improved their life.

So this week, why not sow some seeds or buy or borrow a plant from a friend? If you plant seeds, why not sow those that bees can feed off? There’s something mesmerising about bees at work. Alternatively, why not sow the seeds of a plant you can later eat, such as tomatoes, lettuce or spring onions?

Practices for Week 5

Carried out these exercises on six days out of the next seven. This week, three meditations are practiced in sequence, effectively rolled into one, and practice once each day in the following order:

Over to you

What resonated with you this week? Remember to be compassionate and kind to yourself as you explore your own difficulties.

Just reply to any of my emails or leave a comment on this article below. Please keep me updated.

Take care and stay safe!

Thanks for reading.

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