© Andrew Safer 2014
Relationship troubles, bills to pay, job stress, your child is going through a rough spot and you’re trying to figure out how you can help. What does mindfulness have to do with all that? It seems like there’s the tidiness of our mindfulness practice and the messiness of the rest of our life, and a gulf in between.
When the world is closing in on me, all the negatives in my life at the moment suddenly spring to mind and take on a life of their own, like actors in a riveting drama. This isn’t working out, that’s not working out. It’s all heading south. A train wreck waiting to happen. Like a well-aimed bowling ball, the sheer force of it all knocks down the pins.
This is where mindfulness practice comes in—not in an airy fairy sense. It’s very basic. In meditation practice, we experience how easily we get caught up in our thoughts, ambitions, dreams, plans, regrets, hopes, and fears, and we also see that these urgencies come and go. Since we know they don’t last, we don’t take the drama quite as seriously as we used to. My mental action figures have become less convincing. Their chest beating and flag waving don’t hold up so well under scrutiny.
These song lyrics come to mind: How ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paris? In this analogy, “keeping ‘em down on the farm” is believing that these mental action figures are real—that what I’m imagining is true. “After they’ve seen Paris” equates to seeing that my storylines don’t last. Bottom line: I don’t spin out quite as much as I used to. It helps to have guidelines, or reminders, that provide a sane reference point at times like this. We can restore a sense of balance, raise our head, and begin to see the forest instead of staying stuck in the trees. The Four Foundations of Mindfulness can help with this.
Mindfulness of Body, Life, Effort, and Mind point out that there’s another way to deal with difficult circumstances. I don’t have to overreact, catastrophize, and panic—and if I do, I don’t have to keep going in that direction. Mindfulness of Body tells us that no matter what’s happening, I can ground myself. Independent of my thoughts, beliefs, and concerns, there is something we call “reality” that exists, and it’s always accessible—right here, right now. Knowing how to ground ourselves is as essential as knowing how to weigh anchor if you have to park your ship in a storm.
Mindfulness of Life shows me that I can transmute my automatic fight-or-flight reaction into the realization that I have survived. Proof positive is that I am surviving right now. The future will, most likely, take care of itself. Mindfulness of Effort is a reminder of goalless effort, which inspires an atmosphere of wakefulness. Mindfulness of Mind highlights the directness of simply being here—free from the compulsion to multitask and achieve, and the constant search for entertainment.
These four foundations—or cornerstones—of mindfulness can help shift our mind-set from doom and gloom, struggle, and defeatism to groundedness, openness, awareness, and presence.
For information about the upcoming seminar on Living Vitally: The Four Foundations of Mindfulness, click here: Four Foundations of Mindfulness seminar