One of the most valuable lessons I was taught regarding meditation was to never preach, to never become caught up in the promotion of its benefits.
I was told to go about my meditation practice quietly and humbly. Not to hide it, but not to try and convince others that they should be doing it too; only to share my thoughts and experiences when asked.
I've stuck to this rule as the years have gone by. Sure, I share my musings here so people know where they can find me, and if I'm invited to speak somewhere I usually accept. But I never have, and neither do I want to, actively seek out people to convert to a life of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is a pathway we are drawn to at the right time. It”s a personal journey that shouldn't be used as a “best practice life” example. Trying to convert someone is likely to have the reverse effect and make them run a mile.
But often people seek me out, usually because they want advice on coping with a difficult life circumstance and someone has told them, “You should talk to Alfred”.
This happened to me recently.
I got into a conversation with someone I thought wanted my advice on how to deal with stress pertaining to a conflict with an old friend. But instead I found myself almost defending mindfulness.
The reason for this was because this person didn't really want my advice, or anyone else's for that matter. This person wasn't looking for a way to positively move forward. No, this person just wanted to vent their emotions and let off some steam.
To cut a long story short, when I began to talk about my experience using mindfulness meditation at difficult times of my life, the conversation took a turn, in roughly these words:
“No, no. I can't be like that, all care-free and thinking about myself like these yoga people. I think that's selfish, I'm too busy thinking about other people and living in the real world and facing my problems….You can't change someone's character. People are who they are, we think differently; some people think too much, others are impulsive, some people approach things calmly like you”.
I was quite shocked.
For a moment I felt a little precious about mindfulness. I felt as if it was an attack on my life, my person. Moreover, who said anything about yoga! These were assumptions and judgments with no basis of experience.
But before I said a word, my teacher's words rang in my ears. Don't preach to others about your meditation.
Realising that this person was exactly the sort of person who could benefit massively from mindfulness, and that me defending the practice would only seek to push them further away, I quickly reassessed the situation in my mind and replied, “
Maybe you're right… If you ever want to talk about this again, just give me a call”.
It would have been very hard for me to explain to someone in a state of frustration and anger that the mindfulness approach isn't selfish or character dependent. That it in fact leads to compassion and kindness, to oneself and others.
The pathway of mindfulness meditation is to release the exact feelings this person was experiencing around their personal situation; the irrational emotion, the projecting and the judging, the assuming, the speculating, the grasping, the anxiety, the fear, the insecurity.
It's a massive ask for someone whose mind is completely closed to any solution other than wanting to vent anger to understand that allowing yourself to let go of unhelpful emotions isn't about not caring what happens in your life, but about realising that no matter how much you dislike, worry or fear something, either because of something that happened to you previously or is yet to happen, such emotions can't help you move forward.
Mindfulness meditation relieves the mental suffering and allows the mind space to breath. Out of this space arises clarity of thought and awareness, opening a pathway to peace in whatever situation you're in.
Of course it takes some practice, and not every one is ready to start trying.
So don't preach, don't push, just listen and be gentle and mindful of where that person is at. And when they decide to walk with you a while, become their guide, not their leader.