• A good way to understand mindfulness is by thinking about light – where the light is that is mindfulness, and where the light is not, that is not mindfulness! The light is our gentle non-judgmental awareness.
• Our normal way of dealing with painful or frightening feelings or thoughts is to turn a blind eye to them, so to speak. We don’t attend to them, we look the other way. We block them out. When we ignore these difficult feelings and thoughts in this way it is as if they are in shadow. There is no light on them, and so we are no longer aware of them. We can get away with pretending that they are not there.
• The short-term advantage of this tactic is that the ‘difficulty’ temporarily recedes, and so we experience an ‘immediate relief’, which becomes dangerous addictive. The long-term disadvantage is however that dark or scary things always grow when left in the shadows. Not only do they become more ominous and more sinister (like any fear when we pretend that it isn’t there), all this repressed negativity builds up and builds up as more and more difficult stuff is ‘added to the pile’. Ignoring difficult stuff causes it to proliferate and intensify. It thrives and grows strong. It rules us in secret – it rules us without us knowing that we are being ruled. It determines the pattern of our life.
• Bringing light to repressed pain has a short-term ‘disadvantage’ in that is frightening and challenging and we fear that we are going to be totally engulfed or overwhelmed by it. Our awareness of it is heightened. The truth is however that we are already overwhelmed – we are overwhelmed by our fear. Our fear is controlling us. The long term advantage of mindfulness is that the dense mass of negativity slowly shrinks and dissolves – it gradually (but inevitably) becomes lighter and as a result has less power to distort our lives with its hidden influence.
• Thich Nhat Hanh compares awareness to the sun –
Awareness is like the sun. When it shines on things, they are transformed.
The sun shines without expectation or judgment and it shines equally on everything. What the sun shines on, it nourishes. When the sun shines on a plant or a seed it is not pressurizing the seed to sprout, or coercing the plant to grow. There is no ‘moral blackmail’ going on!
• The sun just shines, without any agenda. It gives its warmth, its unconditional acceptance. It shines, and the plant grows. It shines, and the seed sends out its shoot.
• The sun doesn’t harangue the plants when they don’t grow fast enough or cajole or threaten the seed when it doesn’t sprout on time. It doesn’t condemn the plant if the plant doesn’t grow, or try to make it feel bad. Neither does it blame the seed for wasting its time if the seed doesn’t send forth new life.
• The sun just shines, and what it shines on grows because there is no pressure, no agenda, no judgement or expectation.
• When the sun shines it is as if it is sending out a message of unconditional acceptance. It is accepting everything equally, nurturing everything equally. We don’t have to do something special (or be something special) to deserve the sun to shine on us. There are no criteria to be satisfied. The sun shines because it shines, that’s all. It is its nature to shine. It has no agenda.
• In the same way, the core of painful feelings that is in us does not dissolve and transform into something else because we are trying to make it go away, because we are trying to get it to be something else, but because we are unconditionally allowing it to be what it is. The dark and ominous force of negativity dissolves all by itself when we bring light to those regions within us that were previously in deepest shadow…