Welcome Everything, Push Away Nothing

Wouldn’t it be lovely to be happy all the time? Waking up with a big grin on our faces, bouncing out of bed and skipping into work every morning for a whole day of joy and laughter.

Unfortunately, our minds aren’t designed like this. However naturally positive we are, it’s impossible to be in a state of constant pleasure all of the time. Our brains have evolved to preempt possible threats (a leftover from when our ancestors were struggling to survive in a dangerous world) and, sophisticated though they have become, still have a tendency to act like Velcro for the bad stuff and Teflon for the good.

There will always be times when we are fearful, angry, bored or sad; and depending on our upbringing or genetics, some will experience these feelings more than others. The challenge arises when we do not welcome and accept these natural human tendencies and instead try compulsively to shut them out or make them go away.

In the attempt to be happy, many of us try all sorts of ways to avoid uncomfortable feelings. For example, when sitting in the car in a traffic jam, we might turn on the radio or start texting a friend - anything to avoid potentially feeling bored or irritated. In a more extreme example, we might turn down an interview for a dream job because we don’t want to put ourselves in a position where we might be anxious or embarrassed.

As well as trying to avoid uncomfortable feelings, many of us also chase after enjoyable ones, such as pleasure and excitement. Unfortunately, no matter how hard we try to hold on to these feelings of happiness, they will, at some point, change or slip away. When inevitably they do, we leave ourselves open to disappointment or despair, or a neverending quest for the next high. In fact, as Russ Harris in 'The Happiness Trap' writes: "The harder we chase after pleasurable feelings, the more we are likely to suffer from anxiety and depression".

So where do we go from here? Mindfulness-based approaches work on the belief that true wellbeing comes when we learn not to avoid uncomfortable feelings or chase after happiness, but to accept what is. By observing our minds and bodies, and how they react to situations, we practice a kind of self-awareness that allows us to be with challenging thoughts or feelings without allowing them to erode our quality of life.

So if we’re sitting in the car and notice thoughts and feelings of boredom or loneliness, instead of trying to distract ourselves, we can consciously turn towards these sensations with an attitude of non-judgemental friendly curiosity. We might ask ourselves: What exactly is my mind’s reaction to this situation and what kind of feelings do I experience in the body? Instead of immediately grabbing the phone to send a text, we can become mindfully aware of the arising thoughts and feelings and then make a conscious choice of whether we want to check the phone or instead be with what is.

The more we practice this, we learn to respond in a more mindful and attentive way to unpleasant experiences, accepting them as just thoughts and feelings that will, as with everything in life, pass away. By noticing and accepting as they arise and pass, we reduce their pull over us. We learn to 'welcome everything and push away nothing'.

Developing this mindfulness skillpower will mean we don’t have to go through life desperately trying to avoid challenging situations or chasing an impossible dream of constant happiness. It means we can have a choice of how we want to approach the circumstances we find ourselves in... and this will ultimately lead to a richer and more meaningful life.

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