THE GIFT OF MINDFULNESS: The ability to be present in both joy and pain with gratitude

Boy fishing at sunsetFor the last fifteen years of my life I have been a spiritual wanderer. In my early twenties I left the fundamentalist Christian belief I was raised with and journeyed into the unknown. At times I felt lost and looked for belief structures to grab onto, but eventually found that my greatest growth has come in allowing there to be mystery, to let life and love offer me what it does without strict dogma shaping my outlook. Despite what I was taught as a child, I have found spiritual meaning even without knowing what I believe.

One of the spiritual practices I have grown the most from is the practice of mindfulness. In my childhood church, we were told that meditation opened the mind to demonic influences and that one must always have their mind active with scripture or prayer, including praying in tongues. This busybody way of being rarely allows for the rest and reflection I have found to be so meaningful.

Mantras I have adopted in my everyday life that have contributed to mindfulness have included: “Feel all the feelings,” “Be here now,” and a simple “I’m breathing in. I’m breathing out.” These mantras, and the practice of being present, have created beautiful moments from acts as simple as washing the dishes or taking a walk. They have also made me a more present and loving parent and friend. Most of all this practice has birthed in me a gratitude for exactly what is happening now, which has contributed to a deep contentment and joy that infuses my life even on hard or stressful days.

My husband and I have been going through a painful time in our marriage and we’re talking about and considering a separation. I’ve realized in the last couple months, and especially the last few weeks of acute pain, that while the practice of mindfulness does make you feel joy and happiness in a deeper way, it also can cause you to feel the pain in a deeper way. If you are open, you are simply open to it all. You are present in the joy and you are present in the pain. And I’m learning to be grateful for this too.

Last week my husband asked if we would all like to go to the river. We drove an hour away to a beautiful quiet river with green banks and wildflowers. He fly-fished while the kids took turns fishing with a spin rod, playing in the tall grass and finding caterpillars. I did some writing but mostly sat listening to the water’s voice and watching my children.

I felt tempted to decide what this day “meant.” Did it mean we would stay together? Was it wrong to have this healthy family day if we were headed for divorce? I have allowed myself to simply be and to practice being present in the moment so often, but I was unsure if I could move into that space while suffering from the heaviness of our situation and decisions to be made.

I felt a pressure to see the implications of such a day. And then I realized that all those normal, somewhat mundane days of practicing mindfulness had been preparation for a moment such as this. I opened the fingers of my mind, unclenched my mental fists and let go of everything this day might “mean.” I simply allowed a day that had nothing to do with the past and especially nothing to do with the future. I learned that day what mindfulness can mean in the middle of pain and uncertainty.

What meant to me that day was feeling the fuzz of a caterpillar my daughter placed in my hands. It meant breathing in the smell of the tree I leaned my back on and of my wet dog lying at my feet. It meant watching my children’s heads bob just above tall clover and my husband work with a large trout on the end of his fly line and eventually holding it in his hand. It meant laughter when my oldest son stripped naked and jumped into the freezing water. It meant the brush of my fingers against the tops of grass as high as my waist as we walked back toward the van. And it meant gratitude for the things happening each moment while still allowing the sadness and heaviness of my greater life to reside right alongside the joy.

This is the gift of mindfulness. This is why it’s a practice worth our time. This is how we live among beauty and grief and view them both with eyes wide open. This is how we see it all as sacred.

by Stacy Boe Miller
Image: Silhouette of boy fishing via Shutterstock
Posted by × June 13, 2016 at 3:08 PM

6 Comments

  1. craig reynolds says:

    let me start off by saying that im not trying to be mean just blunt short and simple to my point maybe something yu need to hear in this point in your life i read quite a few of your blogs at first i was like ok positive thinking is what im working on again and the right mind set but im having a really hard time identifying with you and dont want to continue you seem like a fairly decent person but all im reading is on and on about yourself and your minuscule over dramatized little problems its clear you have a very cushy and easy life and how do you be mind full at the same time staying away from negative people is hiding from negativity really the answer are you learning anything new in my experience when we are comfortable our views stop changing and we stop learning like i said im not tryn to be mean or judge you i have lived a far tougher and strinuus life i dont have the option of hiding from negativity or learning to eat less on a vacation i have been homeless for some time i have gone 3 to 4 days at a time with out eating occasionally and at the same time i am thankful for my struggles and live my life for others especially the negative people because they need some positiveness in their life the most if some one cuts me in line im to busy drinking my dollar tea im blessed to have for that day i have a challenge for you and trade me places for 6 months if you could come close to making it that long and you will come out a completely changed person even after 3 months and if you can do it and remain positive much knowledge you will have earned you will see the good in every one despite their appearance or the energy they put off you will see that people with nothing will share what little they have much more often then some one that has a lot and you will realize that good people make hard decisions in their toughest moments and many still do the right things no matter how beat down tired hungry and thirsty and still be thankful for what they have you really wanna find your self see what kind of person you really are take the homeless with nothing challenge and walk the foot steps and you will be rewarded beyond your comprehension its a path that must be taking in the search for your sol e

    • Hi, Craig. I am very confused by your comment as this is literally the first blog I have ever posted here. Perhaps you think that all of these blogs are posted by the same person? I only wrote this one piece about mindfulness and pain. I have no idea what the “eating too much on vacation” comment was about. That must have been another blogger. I am sorry about your difficult circumstances. Again, this is the only writing I have ever had on this site,.

  2. Hi Stacy, I thought your writing was beautiful. Thank you for sharing this with us.

    For the record, I was homeless a couple times, once for a year and a half stretch. No job, no food, no family, only the clothes on my back and I learned to hone and trust my survival instinct (which had been crushed early in life, in part by ‘church’). Fast forward, now a young mother with children. My first husband and I were living paycheck to paycheck, but those were some of the happiest days of my life. I have also had what some may call a cushy life, filled with comfort and love, during which time my beloved second husband suffered and died in excruciating pain from cancer. Not the first time, nor will it be the last surely, where even in the midst of abundance, I experience great struggle, loss, and suffering.

    Money, prestige, power, even Love – or lack of it – is not the issue here. This is about the practice of being able to sit with reality, both inner and outer. Allowing, permitting, training ourselves to be truly being in the moment which many of us learn brings the ability to simply observe without judgement.

    Pondering a divorce, especially when children are involved, is anything BUT miniscule or comfortable. This I know from personal experience. Loving thoughts surround you, your children, and your husband as you navigate these troubled waters.

    I believe your writing is universal, timeless, and personal. My dream is to change the course of my professional career – leave the stress of engineering and instead, teach yoga, write, and organize gatherings. I read recently that the first clue to being a good writing is to not write for a specific ‘audience’, but rather from your own experience. Thank you for modeling this, and sharing your journey with us.

    Walk in peace…

    • Thank you for your beautiful response. It sounds like your life wisdom and ability to reflect would make you a wonderful teacher and writer. Best to you as you move forward. Thanks again for your comment.

  3. Stacy, I think you responded in a simple, mindful way to a very difficult letter, with sympathy and clarity. I look forward to reading more of your writing. Best wishes.

  4. Thank you, Max.

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