In our current world of pandemic fear and lockdown, it could easily seem almost flippant to talk about mindfulness.
But what mindfulness really means is being awake to our lives, neither avoiding reality nor indulging in all of our hopes, fears, fantasies, and freak-outs.
More importantly, it means appreciating the ordinary humanness of these emotions and caring for ourselves with empathy and attention. Mindfulness is not just for the privileged; it is the nature of our human experience.
In mindfulness practices we deliberately place our attention on an object, like the breath, giving our minds a rest from the usual endless parade of thoughts and worries. We notice how our attention wanders back to habitual thought patterns, and then we return to the object of our meditation.
Doing this again and again, gently but persistently, habituates us to being more present and ‘reboots’ our brains. We become familiar with how our minds and bodies operate, moment by moment, and develop a more loving and accepting relationship with ourselves.
So in that spirit, I offer this contemplation called L.O.V.E. It’s a way to relax the struggle with physical or emotional pain and relate directly and lovingly with how we’re feeling. I’ve edited the version below to work specifically with emotions, but it’s also for relating with physical pain.
When all else fails, you can just rest your mind on your breathing, in and out, gentle and slow. If your breathing is compromised, you can use the sounds around you as an alternative to your physical and mental distress.
Remember that pain is natural, but if we can reduce our struggle with it, we are able to reduce our suffering. And we can be calmer and more available to help others.
Contemplation: The Practice of Loving Abiding
L.O.V.E. = Locate – Observe – Validate – Embrace
Begin by settling yourself comfortably, sitting or lying down. Rest for a few moments, or as long as you like, as you bring your attention to your own natural breathing. Then, follow these steps, as slowly or briefly as you like:
Locate: Reflect on how you’re feeling at the moment, and choose an emotion to focus on for this practice. For example, you may feel anxious, sad, fearful, angry, exhausted, tender, hopeful. See if there’s a place in your body where you feel this, and if so, you can focus on that area. If not, just keep the feeling of the emotion in mind. This may take a little time as you begin to slow down and tune in to yourself.
Observe: Then, observe this feeling without attaching names or judgments to it. Notice how it feels, how small or large it seems to be, how strong it is, whether it feels sharp, dull, pulsating, intermittent or constant, if it feels hot, warm, cool, and so on. This observation has the mindful qualities of being curious, interested, and caring, as well as nonjudgmental.
Validate: Accept this feeling, as it is. Accept that you are experiencing it, as only you can. It is happening; you feel it. No one else can tell you how to experience it; there are no “should’s.”
Embrace: Rest with this feeling, just as you are experiencing it, directly and personally. Notice if you start thinking about it, talking to yourself, rather than just being with it. As you breathe in, imagine you are breathing into the feeling, embracing it and accepting it; and as you breathe out, rest in your awareness of the feeling and relax into the space around you. You are breathing healing oxygen into the sensation, and breathing out tension, fear, and thoughts about the sensation. You are embracing it as you would an injured child you are holding and comforting. Continue with this for as long as you like. When your mind wanders, just gently come back to it.
Finally, let go of this practice and rest in an overall awareness of your body and breath, for as long as you like. When you’re ready, get up gently and go forward into your day.