For those who tend to obsess about the future or who can’t let go of the past, quieting the mind can be a welcome reprieve that, as science has shown, is good for both mental and physical health. Meditation provides an immediate grounding in the present moment, but for some it can be a surprisingly fine line between using it as a tool for avoidance instead of a path to acceptance.
Instead of using critical thinking to address a situation, some seek a retreat in mindfulness, a place to disconnect and avoid real-life challenges and emotions. A recent SIYLI blog, “Work Stress: Retrain the Brain,” explores ways to recognize the symptoms of stress and then practice pausing, actually stopping to breathe for a moment before reacting. In these circumstances, mindfulness is a tool to slow down long enough to dissipate the fight or flight response and then, hopefully, move forward with more awareness.
But time spent meditating, whether for that one breath while stressed or for prolonged periods, isn’t an escape from reality. It’s not a magic trick, a panacea or special sauce that obliterates problems. The stress caused by these situations is a signal that we shouldn’t ignore, so it’s important to acknowledge our thoughts and feelings, without judgment, in a way that brings acceptance and greater awareness to the experience, even if it’s stressful or painful. As David Frank Gomes, a regular LinkedIn contributor on the subject of mindfulness, puts it: “…can you accept the moments of anger, fear and worry as guests, be willing to receive them with kindness without feeling obliged to serve them a five-course meal? That’s mindfulness in action.”
The New York Times recently interviewed Allan Lokos, the founder of a meditation center in Manhattan who survived a harrowing plane crash in Myanmar a few years ago. In the interview, “The Zen of Plane Crashes,” Lokos describes how his years of meditation practice helped him remain calm throughout the ordeal, a state of mind that he attributes to his survival, and accept the aftermath of emotions he felt while recovering from serious burns and adjusting to his new life. He didn’t detach from either experience, but his practice helped him handle both situations.
Acceptance versus avoidance. Acceptance is the goal, and it’s an important distinction: Meditation doesn’t change reality, but it can change how we approach reality.