I remember the year 2011 as the beginning of a process that I could no longer deny. I started to be bombarded with painful situations and events that now I see were meant to wake me up – they were supposed to be that intense because, if they weren’t, I would not start peeling off all the masks that needed to fall down.
However, I also remember how I tried to pick up my life’s broken pieces in 2013, when I turned to mindfulness as a way to cope with my personal stress. It was very easy for me to dive into Buddhism and its teachings mostly. Until today I keep my loyalty to that body of knowledge, preferring it to the western psychology literature.
But the Truth is that mindfulness didn’t solve any of my struggles at that time. Instead I started to judge myself really hard for not being able to be mindful and for not being able to stop reacting so drastically to life. I felt like an impostor – and somewhere down the line I refused to teach mindfulness to anyone, because one of my masks was to be perfect in whatever I did.
I kept doing research on the topic and reading all the available papers at that time, maybe moved by that feeling of lack of perfection in mastering mindfulness. Though I only started to initially grasp what mindfulness meant when I finally delivered my master’s thesis. I thought “such a hazardous time and now it’s gone”. It was the end of my “academic learning” and the beginning of my “self learning” in what regards mindfulness.
I kept judging myself and feeling guilty for a little longer though. I would learn so much about mindfulness in the months to come. Meanwhile I moved to the UK, I attended a big international conference on mindfulness in Italy, I witnessed the egos’ battles in academia, and then I got another burnout crisis. I thought “I must still be doing something wrong… why can’t I just be mindful and stop getting so drained by what happens to me?”.
It’s not that I was doing something wrong; I was reacting to life from a level of consciousness that didn’t allow me to understand what mindfulness was all about. I had been trying so hard to “achieve” mindfulness throughout the years that I let myself get blinded by the idea that mindfulness was about being balanced all the time, a pure state of inner stillness, calm and peace. I was still reacting to life… instead of responding to it mindfully… and I was also feeling frustrated for not reaching that inner stillness, calm and peace that everyone talked about.
But Mindfulness it’s not that! Sometimes even the blue sky gets grey: that does not mean that the sky stopped being blue, it just means that grey clouds exist and sometimes they show up. Thus mindfulness will never take away your negative emotions and your negative experiences. Mindfulness will simply allow you to become the witness of your human experience, and thus to become more compassionate toward yourself, and more consciously alert in the moment.
Mindfulness is about accepting what there is, without pretending that you are a super-human… without the assumption that you can be “perfectly zen” all the time. Your nature can be zen, just like the sky is blue, but sometimes you will also feel anger, sadness and confusion, because you will be distracted and focusing on the grey clouds. Mindfulness is about being human and accepting both life’s ups and downs – that’s what I hadn’t accepted in all those years.
And you know what… no one is bulletproof. Recognising this is to be humble enough to know that you are in a continuous learning experience and therefore you will make mistakes – you will learn from them and you will keep journeying. Of course there will be grey clouds, but as long as you keep yourself in the moment and fill yourself with the needed courage to face whatever gift life brings you, be it in the form of a bad or good experience, the sky will clear again. It always does.