Yesterday I completed my 8th and final mindfulness meditation workshop. Over the course of the 8-week program, I learned a number of meditation techniques and had the chance to talk about my difficulties with a very supportive group of people. It wasn’t group therapy per se, but I think everyone in the group felt as though they shared similar mental and emotional difficulties, and of course we were all seeking a solution. Mindfulness in itself isn’t really a solution to life’s problems, but a way of coping with them.
At our final session, one group member brought up an issue that she had been having with one of her relatives. The relative was a constant complainer and a rather negative person, which in turn upset the group member. As a group, we started talking about trying to show more compassion to someone like this relative, because he/she is probably hurting, and just trying to express the pain, whether it be physical, mental, or emotional.
That brought us to the topic of validation. Perhaps when someone complains, he/she just wants to be heard and validated. When someone gets grumpy, telling that person to lighten up or think differently or whatever isn’t always helpful. The grumpy person may just need to know that someone else understands why he/she is grumpy. Nothing more. So, we suggested to our group member that the next time her relative starts complaining, she say something like, “you know, you’re right about that,” or, “I can imagine why you’d be so upset.” Not a bad strategy, in my opinion, because I’ve often been a complainer myself, and in those moments I’m not looking for advice.
I have a friend, Elle, who I used to work with (she has a brief cameo in my book). She and I still call each other once in a while to see how things are going. This past summer, when I was in the worst shape of my life, I really appreciated that Elle didn’t try to give me advice, or tell me to think differently, or feed me some other bullshit that I wasn’t in the mood to hear. I told her about my surgery-gone-wrong. I told her about my month-long stay in hospital. I told her about how frustrated I was that I couldn’t work and that I had to live at home. Elle’s response?
“Oh my god that sucks.”
Yes! Thank you! That’s all I really needed to hear. I just wanted someone to understand that I’ve gone through some heavy shit and right now life just sucks. Don’t tell me to think positively. Don’t remind me that other people have it worse than I do. Don’t tell me to be grateful for what I have. Don’t tell me everything will be okay. Just tell me that my anger and sadness and frustration are justified. Just tell me that you can see why I’d be so miserable. Sometimes cranky, negative people have damn good reasons for being that way. As George Carlin said, “Inside every cynical person, there is a disappointed idealist.”
Elle went on to say, “your life is in a giant pause right now and that sucks.” She’s not one for lengthy pep talks, and that’s why I like her. Elle could not understand just how physically painful my surgery had been. She could not understand how difficult it was to have tubes shoved in my nose and down my throat and up my ass. She could not understand how being so dependent on others made me feel horrible. But she understood one thing – sometimes life is just plain shit. And in those times, you just need someone to recognize the shittiness and tell you that it’s perfectly fine to feel upset about it.
I’m really going to miss those mindfulness workshops, namely because the discussions we generated often sparked some self-reflection on my experiences over the last few months. I did learn some interesting meditation techniques during the workshops, and I’m still practicing them at home to help calm me down. I figure they’ll come in handy the next time someone tells me to lighten up.
Image via PoachedMag