We are living in an uncertain world with a constant barrage of information.  Thanks to an initial course training as a mindfulness teacher and regular mindfulness practice, I am better at recognising and minimising unhelpful thoughts. Here I share one of the practices I learned, sometimes referred to as primary and secondary suffering, in the hope that it helps many more of you.  

We can call our direct experience primary and all the reactions to that, we can call secondary experience. Mindfulness practice consists of distinguishing between our primary and secondary experience and then letting go of the secondary and simply being with the primary experience.

Imagine you are stuck in a traffic jam, our primary experience is simply one of sitting in a stationary car, wanting it to be able to move. That’s all that’s happening. This is unpleasant, mindfulness won’t make that OK or change it into a pleasant experience, but you don’t have to endure the escalation of thoughts, emotions and judgements on top of that.  Thoughts – “I’m going to be late now. If I’m late, I might miss the delivery. My boss is going to have a go at me. I’m already not in her good books. What if this is the final straw for her and I lose my job?”Emotions – Anger, frustrationJudgements – “Why wasn’t someone paying attention? Why do they have to dig up the road on a Monday morning anyway? What ridiculous timing! It’s my fault. I should have left earlier. I know that traffic can be bad on Mondays. Why do I do this to myself? Why am I so stupid?”

Once you recognise that your thoughts, emotions and judgements are getting involved, you have a choice as to how you respond. Getting angry about it is reactive, whereas accepting the situation with grace and humour is a chosen response.  

Acceptance is not resignation. It is the choice to act intentionally, without judgment, in the present moment.

Secondary suffering is optional. Self-compassion is helpful; “I might be late. I made a mistake, I’ll remember to leave earlier tomorrow. There’s nothing I can do about it now so I’ll just take the time to breathe. I will be ok. I am just a human doing the best I can.”

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