In his book “The Mindfulness Solution,” Ronald Siegel, PsyD, defines mindfulness as awareness of present experience with acceptance. He also says mindfulness is a particular attitude toward experience or way of relating to life that holds the promise of both alleviating our suffering and making our lives rich and meaningful.
Practicing mindfulness does this through focusing on our moment-to-moment experience, and giving direct insight into how our minds create unnecessary anguish.
The Pursuit of Pleasure
Siegel points out that one of the areas of suffering for us all is our fear of losing pleasurable experiences. We all want to escape discomfort, and in our effort to feel good most of the time, we even begin to avoid situations that could result in discomfort.
This is especially true for the emotionally sensitive. They dread going to work because there might be problems to solve or the boss might criticize them. They don’t want to go to a party because they might compare themselves to others in an unfavorable way. They don’t want to join friends for dinner because they won’t know what to say.
We create suffering by worrying about discomforts we might experience. The constant pursuit of pleasure makes it difficult for us to just be.
The Wish to Control
Emotionally sensitive people in particular do not like change, yet life is constant change, and resisting inevitable changes causes us considerable unhappiness. Most of what makes us unhappy involves difficulty dealing with the inevitability of change. As Siegel points out, we attempt to control by thinking and planning, and can’t seem to stop thinking and planning, even to enjoy the moment, and even when what we are thinking about is out of our control.
People sometimes have a belief that in the past they must have made a wrong decision about something or there is something fundamentally wrong with them – otherwise they’d be happy. They wonder why they keep getting it wrong and obsess about making the next right decision. This pattern creates more suffering and pain.
Letting go of the struggle to control everything means you are less easily thrown by life’s daily ups and downs and less likely to be depressed or anxious. It means not rushing through your life to get to a better experience and not running away from your thoughts and feelings.
One of the ways people with anxiety suffer, even when life is going smoothly, is through worry. Worry about things they cannot control seems to the person like taking action – doing something. Yet it only anxiety and tension and can lead to depression.
Avoiding can seem like you are doing something. When you are fearful, avoiding what you are afraid of gives you relief in the short term but increases anxiety in the long term.
Many people with anxiety avoid their feelings. Their fears may even be about having feelings, such as sadness or disappointment.
Accepting Rather Than Avoiding
The key is to face the fear and step into what scares you; in this case, emotions. Accepting them and approaching them with mindfulness, instead of running from them, can bring you relief.
Mindfulness is the antidote to avoidance. By paying attention to how things actuall,y are rather than how you want them to be, you stop avoiding. You can work on your capacity to accept and tolerate the pain of life, since there is pain in everyone’s life, and solve problems when you can. That decreases suffering.
Note to Readers: I am grateful for your participation in the survey about being emotionally sensitive. If you haven’t participated, please consider answering the questions on our new survey. Results will be given in a future post
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Mindfulness and avoidance « onbeingmindful (June 3, 2012)
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Last reviewed: 2 Jun 2012