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GET CURIOUS TO BECOME MORE MINDFUL WITH PAIN One of my spiritual teachers told me “Get curious about your experience.” This week I had an opportunity to do just that. I had never before stayed with pain long enough to be curious about it, much less to investigate it. Whenever my feet or knees hurt during meditation, I escaped into counting breaths or repeating a mantra or prayer. I might notice when the pain stopped, but I noticed nothing of its nature. Was it burning, stabbing, throbbing or dull? Was it steady or intermittent? Were my muscles clenched or relaxed? What thoughts did the pain trigger? Lying in the dark that night, I greeted a stabbing pain in my feet as a sensation I'd never met before, and explored each flutter, burst and twinge. In time, the pain eased, and I drifted off to sleep. If physical pain can change under scrutiny, I wondered if the same thing would happen with emotions. For many of us, aversion to physical suffering is nothing compared with our fear of facing emotional distress. Mindfulness serves as a profound tool to investigate emotional states. Under observation, the mental chatter slows down and becomes less frantic and distracting. When painful feelings arise, we are able to note them without retreating, investigate them without obsessing. Troubled relationships and longsimmering resentments began to unravel. Deep feelings of inadequacy and roots of self-doubt are gently exposed. Free floating obsessive thoughts and fears are calmly observed with detached compassion. It’s not always easy or effortless. In meditation I struggle, bouncing my attention back and forth between focus on the scattered narrative about my various distressing physical and emotional states and focus on my breath or mantra. When not meditating I still surrender to fear


more often than I'd like, leaving myself open for new obsessive and distorted narratives about sensations. Even a semi-awakened mind, however, has a harder time kidding itself. The more that I practice mindfulness, the more I can tell when I act without integrity. There's a saying in Alcoholics Anonymous: “AA ruins your drinking.” In like fashion, mindfulness ruins a thousand negative habits, whether they are disappointment, laziness, blame, addiction, overspending or any number of tired old stories we mindlessly tell ourselves to justify holding onto our suffering. Mindless behavior has less kick when you've been practicing mindfulness for awhile. The classic teachings on mindfulness point to one end—realization and release from suffering. But there are many rewards along the way, among them: greater compassion, a clear conscience and, even, happiness! We all want to be happy but there's a big difference between aspiration and achievement. The quick fixes and immediate gratification we think will make us happy never last long and end up leaving us empty-hearted. Mindfulness digs the truth out from under the excuses and confusion, lighting the way to a deeper and longer lasting acceptance and contentment.