The Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programme is not only about stress. The profound impact of the course on peoples’ lives, derives from its invitation to examine how we live our lives. This ‘how’ is important. It is empowering. It asks us to be accountable, to show up, and be responsible for the ways our lives are unfolding. One of the ways it does this is by exploring perception. The way we view things.
To understand the ways in which perception works, we use perceptual puzzles. The puzzle opposite is one experiential example, it demonstrates the fact that there is more than one way of viewing things. Some of you may see an old lady in the image, some a young lady. Who is right?
When we lack awareness, we may invest in habitual ways of perceiving things that cause us a great deal of unhappiness. We can see it in the world around us. Politicians argue about who has the ‘right’ point of view. They neglect to factor in that there are many ways of viewing things. Being human, we all find ourselves locked into opinions at one time or another. When we do this, we lose our capacity for empathy. Hardened by our opinions, we lose sensitivity. I speak from experience.
However, when we practice mindfulness, we learn to bring awareness to what is going on in our body-minds. In this way we have a greater capacity to notice when we are becoming locked in our point of view. We then have the choice take a step back. To look from a different perspective. It occurred to me, after many years of practice, that mindfulness is about grey, rather than black and white. Rumi puts it beautifully:
‘Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.’
What would it be like to live in a field beyond right and wrong? This need not be a fantasy. When we practice mindfulness meditation, we learn to see how the mind fixates on dichotomies of right and wrong. Dichotomies, that frame us. For example if I have an idea that my meditation practice should be peaceful and calm, to be ‘right. When thoughts arise and I am agitated, I will make it ‘wrong’, and I will suffer. I am putting myself and my experience in a box. Being mindful asks us to go outside the box of our expectations and perceptions. We can include the whole picture. Both calm and agitation can be held in a space of acceptance.
There is something deeply kind embedded in the growing willingness to meet life on its terms. We suspend judgment and experience that we inhabit a wider space.