Why do so many people worldwide practice mindfulness meditation? Because of its proven physical and mental health benefits! Mindfulness helps relieve stress, treats heart disease, lowers blood pressures, reduces chronic pain and insomnia, alleviates gastrointestinal difficulties, is used in treatment of depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, couples’ conflicts, anxiety disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Overall, it leads to a greater sense of wellbeing. (Source: Helpguide)
As if these benefits aren’t enough, there’s something else that often comes as a welcome surprise to new meditators – that’s the impact of mindfulness practice on relationships. For instance …
One afternoon during the early days of my mindfulness practice, I was impatiently waiting at a checkout counter, utterly amazed and irritated by the very slow cashier.
I shifted my weight from one leg to the other, looked at my watch, thought about everything else I needed to do, and felt my irritation surge to anger. The customer behind me and I shared knowing looks of disapproval. This was taking way too long! Who hired this slowpoke?
Then I remembered what my teachers had taught me to do during moments of distress. I grounded and dropped into the present moment, even though it was one I didn’t like. I took a few deep breaths and reminded myself that this “forever line” will end eventually.
It was then that I noticed the cashier’s stiff and gnarled fingers. She was struggling to keep up with the mounting collection of groceries on the conveyer belt. Glancing up, I saw that her face looked worn, her tired eyes appearing like they’d seen too much. She looked like she didn’t want to be there. Maybe she didn’t want to be anywhere at all.
My anger began to dissipate. I wondered what it was like for her to stand all those hours, barely able to meet the demands of the job and facing irritated customers – like me. I wondered if she had lost her spouse and now needed to endure this low paying job to make ends meet. Or perhaps if she had worked jobs like this her entire life.
Compassion began to replace anger. I felt a connection with this stranger who, like me, had problems and struggles … who was just trying to make it through the day, through the week, through life itself.
When I came face to face with the cashier, I made eye contact and offered a warm smile. Her tense face softened a bit. Perhaps she realized that she was actually human in my eyes … not just an anonymous impediment to accomplishing my agenda.
If anger towards a stranger can change to compassion in the checkout line, just imagine the shifts that can occur in feelings about family members, friends and colleagues! Mindful awareness can help us recognize when our partner has had a hard day at work, when our child needs a hug, and when we ourselves need a break.
Mindfulness meditation greatly increases presence. Increased presence leads to clearer seeing. And clearer seeing leads to awareness of one’s distorted views and habitual patterns of reactivity. Clear seeing can be like shining a light into the dark corners of one’s house. We’ll suddenly see the cobwebs and dust but we’ll also find the lost, forgotten treasures. Most importantly, we’ll live more in harmony with the life’s reality.
Standing in that line, I initially felt entitled to quick and competent service. But then I realized that my “should” was devoid of knowledge of the bigger picture. Was the storeowner struggling to find capable employees? What about the dynamics of making a profit amidst competition and consumer demand for low prices? And so on.
That 15-minute wait held a valuable lesson: the world doesn’t revolve around my schedule (or me), a truth that’s so easy to forget in the midst of stress and pressure. What was the real problem in that store – the cashier or my attitude?
Our interactions with others will put us in the “slow line” at times, no matter how hard we try to avoid it. Mindfulness may not always fast track us to compassion, but it can help a lot. For me and for many others, it has changed everything.