The Blessing and the Curse and the Blessing of Mindfulness

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I never thought I’d ever quote a Britney Spears song but, “Oops! I did it again.”

Last night I went to a workshop on relationships, empathy and communication. A friend had invited me and I wanted to attend, more for the opportunity to connect with her than to actually participate. It was the only social event I had scheduled for the day, so I was looking forward to it.

Unfortunately, the early part of the day was an emotional disaster. It was a beautiful summer day, the kind I live for, but I had nothing to do and no one to see. This being NYC, there were any number of things I could have done, but I didn’t want to do them alone. I did my best to be grateful and boost my mood but the loneliness was overwhelming and overtook me. When it came time for the workshop, I was in a real funk. I felt like a kid in the back of the classroom, wearing a hoodie zipped up tight and covering my face in shadows so I would barely be seen.

There were a couple of people there that I knew, and one of them was even happy to see me because she was hoping I would add something to the conversation. I don’t know her well, but in the brief conversations we’ve had, she seems to have been impressed with my perspective and wants to hear more from me. It was flattering and an honor. I wanted to oblige, and as the workshop progressed there were things I wanted to say, but my hoodie was pulled too tight and I couldn’t — or wouldn’t — take it off and give myself a chance to speak. I was aware of the internal tug of war taking place as I recognized both my impulse and my resistance meeting in a stalemate, my relentless pattern of holding back that happens even when I’m conscious of it. I convinced myself it didn’t matter if I didn’t say anything, and afterwards simply went home, with the residue of the day and my unexpressed thoughts wrapped around me.

This morning, as I sat in meditation, yesterday washed over me. I’d been miserable being on my own, but when the chance for connection came, I withdrew. I’ve been seeking opportunities to teach and let my voice be heard, but when a moment presented itself — not just presented, but was invited! — I was so wrapped up in my armor that I told myself it didn’t matter. But as I confronted this defense, I had to admit that I know better. Every opportunity to change a pattern is significant, like when you gradually exercise a weak muscle until it’s strong enough to take on a much greater weight.

Mindfulness feels like a blessing when we come to understand ourselves, recognizing our patterns and their roots, and creating opportunities to choose new ways of being. It can also feel like a curse because when we find ourselves repeating old patterns, we have to confront them head-on, realizing “Oops! I did it again.” This can be really painful, and for me it’s usually accompanied by a hearty dose of self-bashing. Fortunately, I reached out to my friend to thank her for inviting me and to apologize for my obvious ill humor. She provided the kindness and understanding I couldn’t offer myself, buoying me enough to remember another fundamental blessing of mindfulness practice — no matter how hard or how far we fall, or how often we have to get up, we can always, without exception, begin again.

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