I had an experience not long ago that really reminded me of why the practice of mindfulness is so powerful in helping people. I was driving to work and had a memory. This was not a pleasant memory, but rather a memory that comes up occasionally and it always evokes embarrassment and shame. I noted these feelings as I remembered and I also noted a desire in myself to get rid of these feelings. I had the urge to get rid of it by saying to myself, “you are horrible, everything is bad, nothing feels good” and many things of that nature. It is an urge that is familiar and that in the past I would often do when faced with feelings and memories that I found too painful and horrible to face. The things I would automatically say to myself would send me spinning into a numb and flat place where I would retreat into myself to feel safe from all pain and all intolerable feelings. Of course, I was left feeling not much at all and while I didn’t feel the horrible feelings, I also didn’t feel the good feelings that one feels at various times. My experience became about avoiding anything bad and therefore always feeling numb, and while I didn’t know it then, feeling much worse then I would have felt if I just allowed the memory and the feelings to be there and not get rid of them.
This time in the car, I did things very differently. I noted the urge to say everything is horrible and go into a dark, numb, and lonely place, and instead I allowed the memory and the feelings to remain inside of me and I explored it for just a little while. It didn’t feel nice, but I tolerated it and slowly it left and was replaced by a different feeling as my attention was moved back to driving my car. I didn’t fall over and die nor did I fall into a heap on the floor, I just allowed the ugly and difficult feeling to take its course and then the feeling and I both moved on.
That memory and those feelings will come back as they have now and then throughout my life. Luckily I know I can tolerate them being there, in part because I know they do not stay forever, they are there for a time and then another thought and/or feeling replaces them.