Mindfulness practice simplifies things, drawing together the scattered parts of our mind and our life and helping us in the process of integrating our lives. It does this by encouraging us to hold in awareness all the parts of our lives, even those things which we find frightening or threatening. We try to sit with events in our lives – or parts of our selves – that are difficult and then we work on the mind’s tendency to flee. It seems that personal growth happens more quickly if we are open to working with difficulties rather than trying to constantly run away from them. Mindfulness helps us to see that whenever we feel that we are really stuck, it is because we have not looked deeply enough into the nature of the experience.
However, this sounds much easier than it is, especially in times of crisis or when someone we are close to lets us down. It is in these moments when we feel overwhelmed, that we are most likely to judge ourselves or others most harshly. We have a tendency to identify with a difficulty and that affects how we see ourselves or how our life is going. One favoured way of dealing with feelings provoked by this is to split the world into “good” and “bad”, them and us, solidifying our sense of self, maximizing distance in order to increase a sense of safety. Splitting is an early defense mechanism which can be activated in response to a perceived threat, and means that any complexity in the situation or the person is not allowed. It is common in individuals whose early experiences meant that they did not form a healthy bond with their primary caregivers and thus have an impaired capacity to trust in adulthood. Because of this it is difficult for them to allow that other people are not always perfect and sometimes make mistakes. It means there is no grey area, histories are frozen into a moment and that moment defines the other person. We solidify the most negative core beliefs about ourselves or others and let them define our life, seeing it as threatened or hopeless. This causes a lot of difficulty in relationships as it tends to go hand in hand with intense anger and blaming.
Mindfulness practice can help us be aware of these defense mechanisms arising, see fear and anger forming, and help us to notice when the desire to withdraw appears, normally accompanied by a kind of defensive story-line. If we can spot this happening we may have enough of a gap to see the whole drama. If so, we can question what is feeling threatened, whether it is really actually me, or some story which I have about myself and my life. If we can resist the tendency to split or identify we can come to see that everything is workable. We can then experience for ourselves that it is ultimately possible to work with everything, and to keep a compassionate heart open to others and to all that occurs in our lives.