I am a sucker for those “regrets of the dying” lists that circle the Internet. Imminent death has a way of revealing precious jewels of wisdom, and I always love to hear what wisdom has to say. It turns out the regrets of the dying revolve around one thing: relationships. Whether it’s not honoring their own personal dreams or wishing they spent more time with their kids, the regrets of the dying reveal that relationship with self and others is what matters most.
So why are relationships so difficult to master?
I am not a psychotherapist, counselor, social worker, doctor of any kind, or self-professed relationship expert. I am a meditation teacher who knows a little bit about big subject called Mindfulness.
Mindfulness is paying attention to what is actually happening without labels, stories or judgment. Mindfulness is easy to understand but not so easy to do for more than a few moments, especially in relationships. If we can employ mindfulness within our relationships, we have a shot at mastering them.
The most fundamental and sacred relationship we have is the one with our self. Unfortunately our self is the first person we tend to fail in terms of a mindful relationship. We are quick to judge our self, talk negatively to our self, and withhold love and acceptance from our self. Our attention is everywhere but in the present moment. We are busy grieving over the past or speculating about the future to the point that we aren’t experiencing our life, but rather a story about our life. We have disconnected from our true self and feel lost. This makes us sad, anxious, and unhappy, so we go looking elsewhere for our true self.
One of the places we can look is in relationship with others.
Relationship with others can be the perfect playground for personal growth and discovery. In my experience, bringing mindfulness into relationships fosters rich and meaningful connections and allows space for amazing experiences to unfold naturally. It has the added benefit of reminding me of who I am and what I really want. I get to know all kinds of people, including myself, while having a great time! Sign me up!
But before I practiced mindfulness, I was often triggered by the behavior of others. A relationship that isn’t employing mindfulness is often filled with battles between what is actually happening and what we wish was happening, filled with stories about how things “should” be instead of noticing how things are, filled with scorecards and blaming, and filled with a lack of attention for the other person. These kinds of relationships can result in resentment, anger and victimization and are destined for the regret list.
Putting mindfulness to work in a relationship with our self and others requires three main ingredients: 1) paying non-judgmental attention, 2) communicating desires, and 3) being open to receiving but not attached to outcome. Mindfulness doesn’t eliminate challenges that will inevitably show up. It keeps us from being swept away in the heat of the moment and gives us space to make nourishing choices, not knee-jerk reactions that take us off course.
The mindful relationship mines what is already here in the present moment. It reveals what is most precious to us, so we don’t have to wait until we are dying to discover it.
~ this article appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of Yoga Iowa.