On the misuse of mindfulness and the power of feeling fully.

In 2015, I read Ekhart Tolle’s book, The Power of Now in a single day. That day happened to be the day before I birthed my first child.

I remember the first months after the birth being shaped by the experience of that book. Tolle’s insistence that anything, anything can be tolerated in the moment that it is happening was absolutely invaluable in those first few busy, tiring months of nursing, loving and welcoming a new baby. Unlike many mothers who have shared their experiences with me, those first months passed as an ecstasy. I had never felt more alive, more deeply connected to my world, my deepest self and my Creator. It was pretty intense and I really feel grateful to Tolle for providing me with the tools to leap into this experience.

Over time, imperceptibly at first and then with a growing vigour, this experience of intense mindfulness faded. Life with a baby became familiar. Our family was rocked by the waves of a particular crisis. I found my grip on the tools Tolle had taught me floundering.

Throughout this period, I found myself scolding myself with increasing insistence to return to my previous positive state. I found myself insisting that I elevate myself to the place of no-mind, that I concentrate on the gratitude that had come flowing so naturally in my previous state. I found myself becoming more and more cranky with myself, feeling betrayed and angry at my low mood, my outbursts of anger, my lack of perfect attentiveness with my growing child. Guilt pooled inside me. I am capable of so much more.

I knew I was in toxic mind-noise, but I couldn’t silence it. Reading The Power of Now became akin to scolding myself. The words that had chimed so sweetly in the past now clashed and barked orders. Focus on the present!

As the waves of crisis receded, I emerged into a place where I thought mindfulness should come more easily. And yet, it still didn’t come. I began to despair. Perhaps, I thought, I have fallen to a very low place, or perhaps I was never in such a great place before. And the ferris wheel of negative thoughts went around, and around.

At a certain point I stumbled into Pete Walker’s The Tao of Fully FeelingIn this spectacular book, Walker makes the case for the value of the complete range of human feelings. He says that by not acknowledging and fully feeling our negative states, we cut off huge swarths of our emotional range, creating frustrated energies a narrowed experience of life.

By acknowledging our range of feelings and the obvious yet innovate fact that our feelings change over a given period of time, we can open ourselves up to welcome negative feelings as well as positive ones. Negative feelings, fully felt, Walker argues, generally resolve themselves with time. Positive feelings, even when fully felt, fade with time and by clutching on to them past their expiry date, we only create more pain and psychic tension for ourselves when they inevitably fade. Rather, Walker argues for the full integration of our whole emotional experience and the development of healthy channels for the expression of all our emotions and feelings which are truly the joy of human life.

In many ways, I do not believe there is a contradiction between Tolle and Walker. In fact, acknowledging our present states and accepting them is a significant part of the work described by Tolle. However, the mindfulness ogre created in my find was not an accurate reflection of Tolle, but rather a denizen of the positive-thinking cult that pervades current thinking on personal growth.

What I needed was not to be told to focus on gratitude or scolded to get above my worries and fears, but to fully experience the deep pain and sadness I felt in these difficult months. I needed the chance to cry, to be angry and to express these feelings in healthy, protected, non-harmful ways so that they wouldn’t sneak, uninvited into my interactions with family and friends.

I highly recommend Pete Walker’s The Tao of Fully Feeling to anyone but especially those coping with the experience of difficult and painful parental relationships.

I hope you enjoyed the first blog post. I hope to post at a minimum, weekly, with each post being uploaded by Friday morning, Israel time.

Have a wonderful week.


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