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How to Approach Difficulties with Kindness for Mindfulness Meditation

When you’re faced with a difficulty in life, how do you meet it? How you relate to difficulties can be applied to your mindfulness meditation and plays a big role in the outcome. Your difficulties offer you a chance to put mindfulness into practice and see these difficulties in a different way. Mindfulness is about turning towards them with a sense of kindness rather than avoidance.

Difficulties are like ugly, scary shadows. If you don’t look at them properly they continue to frighten you and make you think they’re very real. However, if you look towards them, even though the difficulties scare you, you begin to understand what they are. The more light you shine on them the more they seem to lose their power. The light is mindfulness or a kindly awareness.

People can be very unkind to themselves through self-criticism, often learnt at a young age. The learnt behavioral pattern of self-criticism can become like an automatic reaction any time you’re faced with difficulties or you make mistakes. The question is, how do you change this harsh, critical inner voice that keeps attacking you?

The mindful approach is to listen to it. To give it space to say what it wants to say and listen, but in a gentle, friendly way. This ends up breaking down the repetitive, aggressive tone and ends up calming and soothing the self-criticism a little. Just a tiny shift in your attitude towards these thoughts makes all the difference in dealing with difficulties.

If a strong memory or worry of a past or present difficulty comes up in your practice of meditation, try taking the following steps:

  1. Become aware of the fact that something challenging has come up for you that keeps drawing your attention.

  2. Observe what effect this difficulty is having on your physical body and emotions at the moment.

  3. Listen to the difficulty as you would listen to a friend’s problems, with a warm sense of empathy rather than criticism.

  4. Say to yourself, ‘It’s okay. Whatever the difficulty is, it’s okay. Let me feel it.’

  5. Accept the difficulty just as it is for the time being.

  6. Breathe into it and stay with the sensations, even if they seem to grow larger at first. With practice, stay with the feeling of the difficulty for longer.

  7. When you’re ready, gently go back to the focus of the meditation.

Everyone experiences difficulties of varying degrees from time to time. Mindfulness is here to help you to be with it if you can’t change the circumstances that are causing the problem.

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