Friday, February 28, 2014

Welcome the Visitor

I practice mindfulness for many reasons although the biggest reason I practice is because it makes me feel better. I am one of the 21 million adults in the U. S. alone who is easily swept away by powerful emotions.

In the 13th Century, the Persian poet, Rumi, told us that being human is like running a guest house. Every morning, according to him, there is an unexpected visitor at our door. The visitor may be joy or perhaps anxiety, depression or mania.

But even if we are met by a crowd of sorrows, he instructs us to "Welcome and entertain them all equally. Meet them at the door laughing and treat them honorably." Why? Because he says, they have been sent to us as guides and that they come to prepare us for new delights.

That's clear enough but not so easy to do without a little help. That's where mindful practice comes in. Enlightenment brings us to a place of freedom and joy, a state of timeless grace, where we are transformed from shy, timid creatures into fearless ones. But you don't have to practice mindfulness for years in some secluded spot high in the mountains or deep in the forests. Enlightenment is a common occurrence and it is close at hand. It happens every time we meditate.

How does mindfulness work to help us stay calm and carry on normally when depression and anxiety begin to stir? The simplest explanation for the immediate effect is that meditation encourages the formation of the "feel good" brain chemicals. The long term effect results from the formation of new neural pathways in the brain that transform our "normal" way of seeing the world from a negative set of expectations to a more positive one.

The first noble truth of the Buddha is that life is suffering. For me, that suffering is most often recognized as anxiety and depression. Buddhist thought offers an antidote for this suffering in the cessation of craving. Just stop trying to change everything and accept life as it comes. It seems impossible until we realize that we don't have to do it forever, just for right now, in this moment.

That's mindful meditation in a nutshell. For just this moment, I can let it all go and just be content with things as they are. Soon, another disturbing thought will arise and I will be carried away with it's story. My anxiety will resurface and I will be uneasy and uncomfortable. Fortunately, the mindfulness monitor will detect my distraction from the innate calm that resides deep within, and I will remember once more that I can release those thoughts, allow them to dissolve, and I simply accept things exactly the way they are, just for this moment.

Meditation--many short moments of healing, transformative calmness that arise from my conscious decision to accept life on life's terms right now.   

It is through meditation that we transform the visitor we find at our door. We welcome them all equally and then soothe the anxious, cheer the depressed and calm the manic. Fighting them only feeds them and gives them more power. We don't fight them, we face them without fear remembering the words of Rumi.