Most of us live with a medical ailment or two—and, quite often, our reactions to them undermine self-care. It’s easy to rationalize why not to attend fully to whatever we’re experiencing when we feel angry or overwhelmed or tempted to ignore it altogether.
For example, consider attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder. ADHD is a medical disorder. Its genetic inheritance is similarly strong to that of height, its rate similar around the world (in spite of how it is often presented), and it includes brain differences that have been documented in multiple studies.
As with any health condition, handling ADHD well means coming to terms with its full range of effects. ADHD affects a person’s life management, not only their attention. It can impact school performance, emotions, relationships, jobs, driving—anything requiring “management.”
As if all of that weren’t hard enough, external judgment runs high with ADHD. Children get labeled as lazy, unmotivated, or even bad because of their “disruptive” behavior. Parents get used to hearing that they should somehow get a handle on their kids. And adults with ADHD scramble endlessly to stay organized, prosper, and navigate relationships—often to the frustration of those around them, who don’t understand what they’re coping with. These outside pressures may lead individuals with ADHD to excessively judge themselves.
By accepting our health challenges, we take responsibility for addressing what we can from a place of equanimity, built through the practice of mindful awareness.
What comes next, then, when someone doesn’t know they or their child has this challenging disorder? Or, on a subtler level, when someone doesn’t grasp the full extent of what ADHD does? No one can skillfully handle its symptoms before accepting they aren’t chosen behaviors, but are caused by ADHD. Without awareness and targeted treatment, children and adults struggle. Their neurology continually frustrates their efforts, and eventually their self-esteem—along with social life, health, and overall well-being—will suffer.
Nonjudgmental awareness means accepting any illness or disorder—whether in yourself or in someone else—for what it is, including challenges along with triumphs. With ADHD, it’s a huge step to realize a child who misbehaves simply cannot yet (as opposed to will not) control his impulses. It’s no small thing for an adult to know she is brilliant and hardworking, despite her struggles to handle projects. The purpose in doing this isn’t to master our challenges forever, but simply to see clearly from day to day.
The purpose in doing this isn’t to master our challenges forever, but simply to see clearly from day to day.
No matter what health issues we face, we can commit to letting go of all the extra baggage that can show up over time. The instinct that lays blame or rejects our shortcomings only gets in the way of progress. We don’t have to pretend to always be comfortable with our health challenges. But by accepting them anyway, we take responsibility for addressing what we can from a place of equanimity, built through the practice of mindful awareness.
Meditation helps by giving us an opportunity to sit with discomfort. Much of what arises in meditation sheds light on unpleasantness we may otherwise avoid habitually. Do you find yourself caught up in fear, or disappointment, or self-criticism? That’s all common and normal. We can give ourselves permission to feel exactly what we feel, even when we’re not as OK with a situation as we’d like to be.
Outside of meditation practice, do what you need to do to care for your health. Whether it is diabetes or asthma or a learning disability, aim to see your situation with clarity and determination. While you sit in meditation, however, there’s nothing to fix or change. This is what is. Practice settling and seeing life clearly, laying the groundwork for a happier, healthier life.
Turning Toward Discomfort
To allow you to fully experience this meditation, we recommend that you listen to the audio version. However, you can also simply read the text below. If you choose to do so, read through the entire script first to familiarize yourself with the practice, then do the practice, referring back to the text as needed and pausing briefly after each paragraph. Take about fifteen minutes for the practice. You can do this practice in a seated position.
Nonjudgmental Awareness Practice
Explore this 15-minute guided meditation to open up some space for yourself to sit with what is, rather than what if.
Sit for a few minutes, focusing on the sensation of breathing. Your mind will stay busy. When a thought arises, take note of it, then patiently return to the breath.
Next, think of something uncomfortable about yourself—nothing you find overwhelming. It could be a quality that you don’t like so much or wish you didn’t have.
Notice what arises. It might be a sense of physical discomfort or an emotion or an anxious thought. Give attention to all of it: the facts, your reactions, emotions like disappointment or frustration, and anything else that comes up.
If the practice becomes too uncomfortable, take care of yourself. Allow yourself a break, seek out support, and let go of the practice for now. Come back to whatever feels most appropriate in this moment.
For the last few minutes, take time for self-compassion. On each in-breath, be aware that this is a challenge for you right now, and all people have challenges. On each out-breath, wish yourself the same happiness and wellness that you’d wish for your best friend.
End with a few minutes of meditation, simply feeling your breath move in and out, noting thoughts and letting them go. Set an intention to move forward with both acceptance and resolve.