I’ve had the pleasure of being part of a blogging group with Sandra Pawula for many years. I’m thrilled that she is sharing her mindfulness tools and suggestions with all of us today!
Please welcome Sandra Pawula!
For those that don’t know you, please briefly tell the readers about yourself.
I’m a writer at heart. I write about finding happiness and ease at Always Well Within. I also teach mindfulness meditation and stress reduction. My professional background includes working as a non-profit director for many years as well as a satisfying stint as a freelance writer.
I’ve been practicing and studying meditation for more than 20 years. That’s the perspective I’m bringing to our interview today.
Why were you inspired to start your blog Always Well Within?
I would like people to know that happiness lies within. You don’t have to be a slave to your difficult thoughts and negative emotions, which keep you discontent and searching for happiness outside yourself.
Pema Chödrön once said, “The most difficult times for many of us are the ones we give ourselves.”
Isn’t that ironic? You can turn this around through learning to work with your own mind. That’s how you’ll find genuine happiness and true freedom.
For those struggling with challenges or family trauma, what suggestions do you have to find true happiness and to realize that it is an inside job?
A good place to start is cultivating loving-kindness and compassion for yourself. Living the pain of family trauma can feel so out of control, chaotic, and complex. A stream of troubling emotions may course through your being – any and everything like self-doubt, blame towards yourself and others, anger, frustration, lack of control, paralysis, confusion, and even shock.
Start by loving yourself. Allow yourself the self-love, understanding, and compassion you so deserve. Whenever it all feels too much, whenever things seem to turn upside down or inside out, whenever you feel swallowed up by turbulent emotions, stop for a moment and send love to yourself, to the dark emotions, to your sorrow.
Loving-kindness is the antidote to fear and anger. This simple practice will begin to soften the pain, help you to feel whole, and slowly bring the space and clarity you need to make the best decisions possible.
Next, instead of getting entangled in all the excruciating thoughts and emotions, which add up to suffering, discontent, and despair, come back to the awareness of mind. That means being in the present moment and disengaging from troublesome thoughts and emotions.
This is how you find genuine happiness and true freedom, by identifying with the essence and awareness of mind rather than with the thoughts and emotions.
What is your definition of mindfulness and how can it help us live a happier life?
Mindfulness is being aware in the present moment.
There’s a relaxed quality to this present moment awareness. It’s not tight, over focused, or tense, but a sweet balance of relaxation and alertness.
This present moment awareness has a knowing quality, but it’s without judgment or conceptual thought. In other words, you know what’s happening but you’re not churning out thought after thought about it as we normally do. Thoughts may arise, but you don’t add on to them. You simply practice being aware of them as though you’re watching clouds passing by in the sky. Slowly the mind settles and you find more calm, clarity, and ease.
With practice, you begin to live in the awareness of mind rather than in the frenzy of thoughts and emotions. Most of our suffering comes from ruminating about the past or anticipating the future. Mindfulness frees us from the aspect of mind that creates suffering. It allows us to experience the richness in each moment instead and to flow into the next without holding onto the past.
That doesn’t mean you’re devoid of emotions. In the practice of mindfulness, you neither suppress nor indulge in emotions. You allow emotions to arise, but you don’t grab onto them.
Traditionally, mindfulness is called “calm abiding.” Doesn’t that sound nice? It means your mind calms down and you live with a gentle awareness in the present moment.
What tips do you have for parents who grieve because of their loss of their dream for their child?
It’s important to acknowledge the dream you’ve held for your child, and take the time you need to grieve its loss.
It can help tremendously to know the 5 stages of grief as defined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. Then it will be easier to accept whatever feelings arise as a normal part of the grieving process. You’ll also know it’s not just you; grief is universal. Everyone experiences grief at some point in their lifetime.
These 5 stages are seen in people who have lost a loved one to death, but they can also apply to any experience of loss. You may not traverse every stage of this process or proceed in a linear manner, but having this knowledge will help you when new emotions suddenly arise.
These are the 5 stages of grief:
At the same time, it’s important to realize that your mind fabricated this dream. The dream isn’t real; it’s just an idea or a wish. Holding onto it will only cause you suffering.
Life is always uncertain. Let go of your dream and live now, in the reality of the present moment. That’s where you’re most needed. Let your child walk his or her own path with your support, of course, but without your expectations or attempt to control him or her.
What is the value of meditation and how can it help our life for the better?
Meditation helps your mind to settle so clarity can arise. When the mind is calm, you’re able to see more clearly, make better decisions, respond more effectively, and create less pain for yourself and others.
Meditation helps you to see and transform your own unhealthy patterns of thought and emotion. Let’s say you’re a perfectionist. Normally, you just operate on automatic trying to make everything right. That probably brings you tension and stress rather than a deep, satisfying sense of contentment.
In meditation, you have the space to notice this pattern of perfectionism and the discomfort it brings. In fact, you’ll probably be driven by the same desire when you meditate. But you’ll learn to watch the impulse arise and let it pass by. This capacity begins to permeate your entire life so slowly perfectionism no longer dominates your way of being.
Now, you’ve had a taste of true freedom. Imagine what it would be like if you were able to free all your unhealthy patterns in this same way. That’s the path to genuine happiness.
People assume you must think “hard” to solve problems. But that’s not necessarily the case at all. That approach might just bring you a headache and serious frustration. Alternatively, when you mind is spacious and calm, new and better solutions tend to arise spontaneously.
So learn to stop. Start with just a few moments at a time. Bring your mind into the present moment, let the thoughts settles, and be receptive to whatever wisdom might arise. This will take practice as your mind is used to being busy, but with regular practice, slowly it will calm down.
If you need support, watch this simple tutorial on how to meditate. It’s only 10 lessons that are just a few minutes each.
It may seem like a paradox, but when you let go of all the thinking and emotions, small miracles begin to happen. You’ll be able to respond more positively and effectively to the challenges of family trauma. And you’ll feel happier, more spacious, and more free.
Acceptance is not always easy for any kind of disease. What suggestions do you have when people are feeling challenged by changes that they were not expecting?
As you say, acceptance is not necessarily easy. Just knowing that can make a difference. You may have moments of acceptance only to find yourself resisting your current reality in the very next moment. You’ll slide back and forth between denial and acceptance and all the stages in between many times.
So again, be gentle with yourself. Make the intention, again and again, to be able to gracefully accept what is. Trust that your acceptance will grow if this is your deepest wish.
We each must come to terms with impermanence as well. It’s the very nature of life. Suffering results from resistance to change, yet life rarely turns out as expected.
Learn to flow with change. Reflect on impermanence each day – the way the sun rises and sets or a flower blooms and slowly dies – to remind yourself that this is the natural order of life. Embracing the fragility of life will make it all the more precious and help you get your priorities straight.
This is not just your child’s problem; this is your life journey too. As challenging as it may be, it’s also an opportunity for personal growth, healing, and transformation. You may not have expected addiction to become a part of your life. But it’s here now so use it as your path of transformation and the chance to become the best possible you.
Your happiness and freedom lies in learning to let go of thoughts and emotions, hope and fear, and the belief you have full control over other people or the world. That’s the heart of mindfulness. That’s the heart of meditation. That’s the heart of healing.
Sandra Pawula is the heart and mind behind Always Well Within where she writes about creating a life of joy and ease. Her signature e-course, Living with Ease, The Mindful Way to Dissolve Stress, is a complete roadmap to dissolving stress and preventing it from overwhelming you again.