Most of us are very adept at avoiding undesirable situations. For instance, the kitchen is an area I avoid consistently, despite my true desire for it to be clean. In order for the kitchen to be clean, I have to put in the work, get my hands in there, and clean it. Noone is going to clean my kitchen for me. The thing is, I know that despite how many times I clean the kitchen, it is going to become dirty again. Cleaning it seems like a pointless endeavor.
Now let’s focus on a particular part of my kitchen that really gets under my skin. There is a table in the kitchen where everything is deposited from my family that does not have a place. I guess you could call it the junk table. On the table, you may find: my kids’ artwork, unopened bills, catalogs, newsletters, more bills, toys in various stages of decomposition, Christmas cards, lists, receipts…you get the idea. No matter how many times I clean it by throwing stuff away and organizing everything else, the junk quickly and miraculously reassembles itself to look like an episode of Hoarders. Whenever I look at this table, I feel like I have failed at life. I know, I’m making a mountain out of a molehill with that statement but how can keeping a table clear and organized be such an impossible thing to do?
Then the blame sets in: my husband and my kids are at fault. They are messy and never help me try to keep the house halfway decent. But I know full well that even if I lived by myself, that table would look exactly the same. Now the self-critic has a turn: I tell myself I am lazy, that I never make a serious effort at anything, that is it only a matter of time before the junk will accumulate again.
Of course, these are all stories my mind's made up for me to believe...hook, line, and sinker. The truth is if I were to poll every married woman with small children, I bet 99.9% of them would have a similar table in their kitchen in much the same disreputable state as mine.
So what does this have to do with Mindfulness? When we avoid undesirable situations, we essentially make them exponentially worse. Accepting the bad stuff along with the good is part of the journey. Leaning into unhappy situations to determine why they trigger us helps us to understand ourselves better. If I never cleaned the kitchen or attempted to organize the junk table once in a while, imagine how utterly disgusting my nuclear waste site of a kitchen would be. And how miserable I would be with pointless unhappiness in the form of self-criticism, anger, and judgement; an endless cycle of suffering.
Accepting the undesirable situation without adding the stories to it takes away its power over our peace of mind. That gives us the willingness and autonomy to plunge our hands into that sink of dirty dishes and clean the kitchen...again.