Mindfulness practice makes it easier for us to focus on the present moment and not worry as much about the past and the future. It brings us to a place where we are more centered, and where we begin to notice that focusing on the present moment is very liberating. We perceive that we are calmer and happier, and this realization produces even more calm and happiness. As we practice, we develop a feeling that we are growing, developing, getting better, moving forward, all of which is very exciting!
But although we may be changing by practicing mindfulness, this doesn’t mean that those around us are also going through a similar process, or moving in the same direction, or even transforming themselves at the same pace as we are.
Sooner or later, as we progress to a place of greater freedom, we catch ourselves desiring for the people in our lives to experience what we are experiencing; we want them to evolve as we sense we are, not only for their benefit, but also for our own because we suspect that their growth will make our journey easier. Many times we feel that by not being on the same path as we are, they are hindering our evolution. We feel that they pull us back to old ways that we have concluded are not beneficial for us, ways that we want to abandon. So a desire emerges in us: we want the people with whom we share our lives to change as we are changing. We want them to be different.
Although this is not uncommon, it doesn’t pass the test of mindfulness. When this desire emerges, we need to be cautious and investigate it carefully.
The first thing we should remember is that stress is created by not accepting reality, or, in other words, by desiring the present situation to be what it isn’t, what actually is impossible. The present situation is what it is. Period.
If we are mindful, we will catch ourselves judging — not accepting others as they are — and notice that our lack of acceptance of ‘what is’ — our desire for people and situations to be different than who and what they are — is generating a disturbance in us.
In this particular case — of wanting people to be who they aren’t — we can immediate notice the 7 C’s in action: comparing and contrasting, classifying and categorizing, competing, criticizing and condemning.
The mind is full of habitual behaviors, and engages in the 7 C’s process a lot, if not all the time. We are unceasingly comparing and contrasting how things and people are with our ideas of how they should be. “Do I like this, or not? Looking at these two, which one I prefer? Which one is better: this or that?” We are also constantly classifying and categorizing, in other words, labeling, putting things and people in this or that specific class or category. “I like this. I don’t like that. This goes over here, together with these. This goes in that shelf. That one goes in that drawer. This one, in that file.” Unfortunately, once we have made up our minds of what goes where — for example, which group, in our minds, an individual belongs to — we begin to live with our ideas about them, not with the reality of whom they are. We don’t see them; what we see are our ideas of them. And when we criticize others — which happens most of the time — we unconsciously engage in a mind-created competition in which we compare ourselves with others and invariably declare ourselves to be the winners. “He is not as good as I am. I am much better.” Finally, we become presumptuous judges and proclaim our verdicts, condemning others: “Guilty! Irredeemable! Sentenced to punishment!” It is a very seductive process, difficult to get out. Fortunately, mindfulness practice allows us to see how often we put ourselves on a pedestal, high above others, from where we judge everyone and everything.
We can notice that our assessment that others are not changing — that they are stuck in their old ways, unwilling to change — is inaccurate. Mindful observation makes it very clear that all of us are changing all the time. No one stays the same, and no situation lasts forever. It is very clear for mindfulness practitioners that change is perpetual and inexorable.
A deeper examination may reveal that we are the ones who are stuck in our old ways of seeing. Perhaps, we are not approaching the people in our lives with a beginner’s mind, with the necessary curiosity to discover who they really are now, in this moment. We have classified and categorized them in the past, and we continue to rely on the old assessments, conclusions, and labels that we have given them. We are oblivious to the fact that as we have changed, they have changed too, and that we need to look at them with fresh eyes in this present moment.
The diligent practice of mindfulness makes the impermanence of everything very evident. By paying attention, we realize that as we are changing, the people with whom we share our lives with are changing too. Therefore, challenges like this one — the desire for people to be different — allow us to grow in acceptance, patience, and trust. They remind us that there is a time for everything, and that the wisest thing we can do is to let things be as they are, let them unfold as they will, while focusing on living mindfully and enjoying the present moment. If the new situation we wish to come about is to take place, we trust that it will at the time it is meant to, without the need on our part to interfere or strive forcefully.
Mindfulness also makes it very apparent how interconnected we all are. This produces an inner knowing that understanding, compassion, and acceptance of others are not only good for them, but also for us. The awareness of our interconnectedness also makes us realize that our growth and evolution are already affecting the people in our lives in positive ways, and that as we change, they will change too; it’s inevitable.
We should remind ourselves that the challenges we face are great teachers. They offer us opportunities to practice mindfulness and augment the space between stimulus and response which gives us more time to consider options and choose the wisest and most constructive responses. We should congratulate ourselves for noticing our judgment of others, and the upsetting emotions associated with our lack of acceptance, because this, in itself, is a great step towards personal peace and liberation from suffering.
All these aspects should be calmly considered when we feel the desire for people to be who they are not, but who we want them to be. Whenever these desires come up, may we be able to slow down, pause, take a deep breath, observe, and gleefully welcome these moments as great opportunities to mindfully cultivate curiosity, acceptance, patience, and trust in the process of change.
Finally, trying to bring the people in our lives to practice mindfulness is difficult, if not impossible. We can invite them, gently, but we should never insist nor force anyone to do so. People will experiment mindfulness meditation when they are curious about it, get informed about its benefits, or are in such a degree of suffering that they are desperate to try.
Remember that despite your good intentions, unsolicited advice is often misinterpreted as criticism. Telling someone, “You should meditate. Meditation would be good for you,” is usually not well taken. What the other person hears is, “You are flawed, defective. You need to meditate. Meditation will fix you.” You didn’t say that, but that’s what they hear, and no one wants to hear that. So be very cautious and gentle when suggesting meditation, or inviting others to practice it.
Also, consider that thinking that you know what is best for others reveals some arrogance and conceit, which may be an impediment for a leveled relationship. Mindfully investigate your drive to dispense advice and see the possible presence of an unconscious sense of superiority. If so, exercise humility.
Everything considered, the best thing you can do is to avoid any proselytizing and just practice it yourself. Period. And wait until they show interest.
Try to change others and you will fail miserably. It’s not up to you to change others; it’s up to them. It’s their work, not yours. The best thing you can do is to be an example, an inspiration which will instill in them the desire to change.
May we be able to look at the people in our lives with lover’s eyes again. May we be able to look and see the new in the old. May we be able to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. May we be the ones who bring understanding, compassion, and healing. May we be the ones who do all we can to promote reconciliation, rekindle strained relationships. and end all conflicts with renewed love.
This reflection continues here: “Desiring Others to Change – Part 2”
Piero Falci is an author and educator who believes that the inner work that leads to personal awakening and transformation is indispensable to create a wholesome world. He is an explorer of the mysteries of life who loves to observe, reflect, and write, and who not only strives to live a life that matters, but also hopes to inspire others to do the same. He is a promoter of peace who believes in advancing the idea that Heaven is here if we want it to be. He teaches mindfulness meditation, mindful living, and the acclaimed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program as taught at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society of the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He organizes Silent Peace Walks.
Take a look at these books at the Peaceful Ways online store
– “Peaceful Ways – The Power of Making Your Wishes Come True”
– “Pay Attention! Be Alert! Discovering Your Route to Happiness”
– “Silent Peace Walk”