When we start practicing mindfulness, it is not uncommon to experience a boost in the quality of our lives. We feel so excited with the progress we are making that a desire emerges in us: we want the people with whom we share our lives to do what we are doing and experience what we are experiencing: we want them to practice mindfulness too. And if this does not happen, we feel frustrated, because we think that we are changing for the better and they are not. But if we look deeply, we will notice that our assessment that others are not changing is inaccurate. Mindful observation makes it very clear that all of us are changing all the time. No one stays the same. It is very clear for mindfulness practitioners that change is unstoppable and perpetual.
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 to see who they really are now.
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. You need to meditate. Meditation will fix you.” We didn’t say that, but that’s what, the majority of the time, they will hear; and no one wants to hear that there’s something wrong with them.
Whenever feeling compelled to talk about the benefits of mindfulness to people close to us, let us remember the saying, “No one is a prophet in his own land,” and not get disappointed if what we have to say falls in deaf ears. Let us remember that despite our good intentions, unsolicited advice is often misinterpreted as criticism. So let’s be very cautious and gentle when suggesting meditation, or inviting others to practice it. Also, whenever we catch ourselves considering that others are stuck in their old ways, stubbornly ignoring our advice to do what we believe could improve their lives, we should pause and ponder. Let us realize that believing that we know what is best for others reveals arrogance and conceit, which may be an impediment for a leveled relationship. Let us mindfully investigate our drive to dispense advice and see the possible presence of a sense of superiority in us.
We should remind ourselves that the challenges we face are great teachers. They offer us opportunities to practice. For instance, whenever we catch ourselves desiring the people in our lives to be different than who they are, we should congratulate ourselves for noticing that. The mere fact that we are able to notice our judgment of others, and the upsetting emotions associated with our lack of acceptance is, in itself, a great step towards understanding 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, equanimity, acceptance, patience, and trust in the process of change.
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 notice our own rigidity and prejudices. 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 and unfold as they will, while focusing on living mindfully and enjoying the present moment. If the situation we wish is to come about, we trust that it will at the time it is meant to, without the need on our part to 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.
Finally, trying to bring the people in our lives to practice mindfulness may be difficult. We can invite others — gently and skillfully — but we should never insist. People will experiment mindfulness when they see us changing for the better, become curious about it, get informed about its benefits, or are in such a degree of suffering that they are desperate to try. Everything considered, the best thing we can do is to avoid proselytizing and just practice it ourselves. Period. One of the rules I have adopted is, “Don’t talk about mindfulness meditation, unless asked.” But I am not completely strict. Sometimes — very seldom I must say — I take the initiative to talk to other people about the benefits of mindfulness, but I do so only in those instances when I feel that the person is under too much suffering and could really benefit from learning and practicing.
It’s not up to us to change others; it’s up to them to change themselves. It’s their work, not ours. The best thing we can do is to be inspiring examples that will instill in them the desire to do something, perhaps the same we are doing, in order to make their lives and the world better.
If you want to read the first part of this reflection, click here “Desiring Others to Change – Part 1.”
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”