One of the purposes of meditation and mindfulness is to make us more present. Through cultivating our awareness, we can live fully in the moment, without being held back by the past, or feeling anxiety about the future. It helps us to experience life in a much richer, more subtle and sensitive way.
But being truly mindful is not just about being fully present when experiencing bliss; it also means being fully present whilst experiencing sorrow, grief, and suffering. This might sound strange to some people. Who would want to be fully present whilst in pain? Surely we should want to try to lessen and ameliorate our pain as much as possible, and use whatever physical or psychological painkillers we have at our disposal?
But numbness is the opposite of the truth. A follower of The Way is dedicated to fully experiencing the truth, however it manifests itself.
Naturally, our practice revolves around making our minds strong and secure enough to prevent pain from occurring to begin with. But once our pain has entered into us, we must accept it, and express it healthily. We cannot simply ignore it or misplace it, like a man who would much rather pretend his living room wasn’t on fire, and get burned up in the process; we must accept that pain as part of our present experience, and flow along with it, until it disappears, as it surely will.
Someone who has been on the path for long enough soon learns not to fear pain. Pain is always transient and never lasts. It is an impermanent part of existence – but it is not existence itself. This does not mean that we go looking for pain – just that we do not allow ourselves to be distressed by it once it arises.
This is something that I have noticed in my own practice. When I feel anguish, sorrow, or grief, I still feel calm, in spite of my suffering. My inner peace does not disappear just because my emotions are in ascendant – it simply shines a little less brightly. I am not afraid of hurting, or how long I will hurt – I reflect that it is an essential, inescapable part of growth, and submit myself to it until it passes. This very submission, acceptance, and awareness of its temporary nature, makes pain pass so much quicker. Ignored pain is like debt – it doesn’t go away just because we ignore it – in fact, it increases. Until we can face it boldly and courageously, it will always be there lurking under the stairs.