Ever since Gautama Buddha recommended living mindfully about 2500 years ago, people have been trying to live mindfully. In spite of it being such an ancient practice, people usually find that mindfulness is hard to practice. I am no exception. I have been practising mindfulness for a few years and have witnessed an enormous shift in the way I relate to life and the world. But, in spite of having been at it for a while and experienced its enormous benefits to my wellbeing firsthand, I still find mindfulness challenging.
So why is mindfulness so hard?
I understand mindfulness as living in the present moment, with all my attention to what is. There are a couple of good reasons why mindfulness is so difficult to practise. Let me share them as I have understood.
1. We are all creatures of habit
First, we are all creatures of habit, which has its pros and cons. But living mindfully needs us to become aware of those psychological habits that are detrimental to our wellbeing. Being aware at all times requires a tremendous amount of alertness. But what I have learned is that this alertness is not possible to achieve with effort or practice—in other words, we can’t make a habit out of it. It comes only by allowing, by letting it be, whatever it is.
2. Busting the myth of our goodness
The second reason why mindfulness is so hard is our belief in our own inherent goodness. I have learned that mindfulness requires shifting my attention from the outer world to my inner world. It means looking within, noticing my thoughts, actions and reactions. When I am mindful, the light of awareness puts the spotlight on those aspects of mine that I don’t want to accept and don’t want anyone else to see—not even myself. Little surprise then, that I find mindfulness difficult. It busts the myth of my ‘goodness’. Being mindful means confronting my own demons, coming face-to-face with my pet monsters. And that is unnerving. It exposes to me my subtle neuroses—my prejudices, my arrogance, my righteousness, my narrow-mindedness, my angst, my aggression—there’s so much about me that my ego camouflages under the guise of being busy, good and right. When I am living unmindfully, I push these aspects under the carpet of my mind, as if they don’t exist.
In being mindful, the façade of being better than others falls away and you realise that, at the core, we’re all the same. You notice that we are all ridden, to a greater or lesser extent, by human frailties of guilt, fear, envy, complexes, prejudices, insecurity and intolerance. And underneath the shell of our egos, we all have same needs and wants—to love and be loved, to feel joy, to express kindness, to know the self and to be at peace.
Why mindfulness is worth your while
Because of its revelational nature, being mindful can be quite shocking and unpleasant, especially in the beginning. The ego, of course, doesn’t want me to be mindful. It feels threatened because all its work, the carefully built palace of illusions, gets shattered. But then mindfulness gives rise to something more valuable and rare—courage.
This courage isn’t the kind that is glamourised in the movies. It doesn’t help you win any battles in the outer world. Instead, it helps you conquer something much more difficult—your inner world. With it, you see yourself as you are, and thus also see others as they are, beyond their respective façades. Suddenly, others are not enemies that you must be wary of, but fellow travellers.
Again, what I have gathered from my journey of living mindfully is that it has made me kinder and more tolerant towards others; I am no longer offended by thoughts, words or actions of others. Most of all, I am patient with myself at those times when I am not exactly living from my highest awareness. That is why, even though mindfulness is so hard, I am sticking to it.
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