Updated: Jun 11
Writer: Jace Loi
Tagline: Unless there is enough pain, mindfulness meditation practice might not "work"
(This article was first published here.)
Sufferings First; Then Meditation
I have been playing with this idea for a while now. I am not sure meditation, specifically mindfulness meditation, will ‘work’ for everyone all the time.
Evidence-based research found that an 8-week Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy Program creates the most impact in a person who had gone through multiple episodes of depression but less so for those who only had one major episode; the latter group might still benefit in some way but are less likely to sustain their practice.
It makes sense. There is always some safety and comfort in our existing life, and mindfulness suggests a rather different approach to life. To radically change how we experience and view life takes significant motivation. And the motivation rarely comes from the pull of happiness or enlightenment. What usually sparks strong interest is the push of unbearable pain and struggles. And not just once but repeatedly.
Understanding the Power of Pleasures
20 minutes of television. 20 minutes of social media. 20 minutes of exercise. 20 minutes of meditation. Which one is easier to engage in?
For most people, television or social media trumps exercise or meditation anytime. Meditation tends to 'lose' to everything else. In fact, without some form of guidance, meditation practice mostly becomes boring or pointless at some point, contrary to its association with relaxation and calmness.
After all, if simple pleasures can take away the pain, why not? Or if one doesn’t perceive or experience sufferings strongly, then why would one bother 'suffering' sitting in meditation?
Major Sufferings Propel Major Changes
Health scares. Relational issues. Persistent inner conflict, anxiety, or depression.
With utter despair, opportunities arise. Therein comes the willingness to open to something completely different from our usual mode of mind.
A different mode of mind that is open to surrendering.
For everyone else going through their usual life, this can be seen as passive, lazy, and weak. Hence there is usually much resistance to practicing this alternative mode of mind. When we want to drop into it, it is because the pain has already pushed us to the edge. Maybe time and space matter when it comes to opening to meditation. For many, that time and space are characterized by conflicts, changes, uncertainty, or distress.
Pain Is the Way to Joy
It’s perhaps no secret or coincidence that mindfulness practice originates mostly from the Buddhist tradition of wanting to end suffering and not pursuing happiness. We are not doing it the positive way, and that’s ok.
The question is, are you willing to open to this other way at this moment in your life?
Maybe the way to joy is to know your pain and sufferings deeply.
Sometimes we focus too much on searching for ‘new doors’. Why not get clear on the old doors you want to close first? The pain and struggles you experience — don’t be in a hurry to hide or run away from them. Could we give ourselves an opportunity to see and examine clearly? Maybe, that’s the ticket to real change.
And one can only see them clearly if one takes time to sit and observe the self. How else do you get comfortable with any difficult emotion - the inevitable in heartbreaks, illness, death... in life?
What if cultivating a sustainable and joyful life is by allowing or even welcoming our negative inner experiences — what we have always thought to be the enemies of happiness?
All that we experience within us can be welcomed and embraced. They can be transformed. But first, are you ready to say yes to your pain?
Pain and meditation, anyone?