By John Lee Pendall
Suffering—you’ve gotta feel your suffering. Not with the intention to do something with it, to see past it, or move through it. You just have to feel it to feel it.
Everything else—all the whys—are rationalizations. Really, you just have to feel it because, well, it’s there. And since it’s there it deserves your attention, it’s begging for your attention. And there will be times… there’ll be a time when all you want more than anything else in the whole world is to be held, but there might not be anyone there to hold you. It’s going to happen, if it hasn’t happened already. It happens to all of us.
In those times, you have to hold yourself. Look for that clarity, that natural watchfulness, and hold yourself with that—see yourself, and your feelings, with that. We have to feel our feelings, but we don’t have to be consumed by them. One aspect of mindfulness is watchfulness, learning to watch things and being aware that you’re watching them.
That little loop there is integral. It isn’t mindfulness if it doesn’t involve meta-cognition.
That’s what practice really clears up. It’s sort of a meta-meta-cognition. You’re aware of your thoughts and feelings, and you’re aware of what you think or feel about your thoughts and feelings, and you’re aware of being aware of all of that. Sometimes, you’re even aware of being aware of being aware of all of that. It’s like a software upgrade for your brain. I can totally understand how people like Brent Oliver make mindfulness their primary focus.
Mindfulness doesn’t deny our humanity, or urge to us to be something other than who we are. It doesn’t make promises of release from suffering; it promises that we’ll learn to see our suffering as a natural, dynamic part of what it means to be alive. That’s what I’m all about: being alive.
The only way I’ve managed to survive for 31 years is by finding beauty in both the light and the dark. Because darkness always comes, In some ways, it’s even more natural than light since darkness doesn’t require a cause to exist—it’s the absence of cause. Daylight needs the sun, but what does the night need? The night doesn’t need a fuckin’ thing. And in the brain, happiness is caused by serotonin; what’s sadness caused by? Nothing. It’s the absence of serotonin. So, unless we can learn to find some kind of majesty in all aspects of life, then it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
I had my heart broken recently, and I was only able to recover from it quickly (and not make things too weird after the fact) thanks to mindfulness. It had nothing to do with any of the philosophies I’ve learned. Just mindfulness, just watchfulness. Because of mindfulness, I experience things deeply and completely, but I process them quickly.
Sitting there, bawling my eyes out, I wasn’t thinking about how clinging causes suffering; I wasn’t thinking about how all things are impermanent. I was just a living, breathing, human mess—but I was aware. There was an element of, well, almost appreciation in even my deepest misery. I appreciated the fact that I could feel it, that I was alive to feel it, that I was human enough to feel it. And I was aware of appreciating it. It actually brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it. Not the misery, the mindfulness among the misery.
Mindfulness is appreciation, and it’s patience. It’s being generous with one’s attention, and learning to withstand the storm by viewing it with the eye.
It provides space for freewill; without that space, we have no real ability to choose, we’re just tossed around by our own genes and conditioning. It provides the clarity to contemplate things without getting hung up on set views or preferences. Basically, mindfulness is the Six Perfections.
Anyway, she was the center of my universe for a short period of time. It’s like I couldn’t even see anyone else but her. Everything else faded into the background. It’s amazing, isn’t it? How our passions can snare attention. This was all quite a blow for a demisexual with an INFP personality.
But, I’m recovering, and you can recover too from whatever it is you might be going through right now, and I’m sure you’re going through something—everyone is. It doesn’t stop, ya know? There’s always some other ongoing catastrophe to deal with, some issue in need of tending. There are always more weeds in this garden; you’ll never pick them all. If you’re trying to, I implore you to abandon that pursuit immediately—it’ll just waste your life.
We all have this belief that, “Once I get through X, then everything will be fine.” We think that, if we can just withstand these choppy waters for a little while longer, then it’ll be smooth sailing from here on out. What ever gave us that idea?
When has life’s to-do list ever drawn a blank?
There’s always something, whether it’s pulling your hair out while trying to manage a household, kicking yourself for not getting that strike (people really should bowl more), or getting your heart broken by misreading someone that you care about—there’s always something. Your choices are to:
1) Ignore it
2) Totally lose your shit and land yourself in the psych ward, or
3) Deal with it. Mindfulness is a way to deal with it, and it’s a lot cheaper than weed.
I like mindfulness because I tend to wander.
Last week, I was into some kinda Rasta Zen. This week, I’m investigating the Absurdism of Albert Camus. I’m like my birth father in that way: I never stop moving. Except, in my case, my Bohemian wanderlust is mental rather than physical. The world is great; it’s vast, and there are so many things to see. But the mind is, for all practical purposes, infinite and inhabited by far stranger critters than those known by the deepest seas, and landscapes more alien than the mountains of Mars.
Maybe I’ll settle down, someday, if I can find some view that appeals to all aspects of my personality. But, I sorta doubt that. No matter what, mindfulness has got my back. It’ll be there for my next heartbreak, and it’ll be there for my first genuine romantic relationship. It’ll be there when my child is born, if I ever have children. It’ll be there even when I’m on my deathbed, while I’m hooked up to half a dozen different machines, with the air permeated by various boops and beeps. The lemon-scented antiseptic assaulting my nose. And, maybe, even when I’m dead, it’ll be there, as I go on that final, personal hallucinatory journey as my brain starves for oxygen and is flooded with DMT.
What this whole experience has finally hit home to me is that it’s impossible to find something resembling lasting happiness by relying on anything external. You have to rely on yourself. Sure, you’re not lasting either, but you’ll last as long as, well, you do.
It’s like Billy Joel said: “Either way it’s okay you wake up with yourself.”
Editor: Dana Gornall
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He has a B.S. in psychology and lives between two cornfields in rural Illinois. His errant knowledge base covers Buddhism, philosophy, psychology, astronomy, theology, music theory, and quoting lines from movies.
Feel free to check out his Facebook page, and his blog "Salty Dharma".