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Mindfulness and Relief: A Prescription For Awareness

Back in the days before prescription drug advertisements took over those commercial breaks on television--"Ask your doctor if ____ is right for you."--there was a popular and memorable ad for an over-the-counter heartburn remedy. The tag line was "How do you spell relief? R-O-L-A-I-D-S." Oh, and then there was the Alka Seltzer one: "Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh, what a relief it is..."

I've been reminded of these numerous times in the last couple of weeks. "Relief" has become a word that implies an enormous amount of work, money, energy, emotion and need. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the focus has shifted from rescues to the months or years of relief efforts that must be undertaken to restore the spirits as well as the structures that were destroyed by the catastrophic storm.

The dictionary defines "relief" as a reduction of suffering that occurs in response to any information, action or aid. Information--we feel relieved upon learning that our loved ones have arrived home safe and sound after an extended trip. Action--we are relieved when someone shows up to help us repair a broken pipe. Aid--we are relieved when we receive a check from Dad to pay for those expensive college textbooks.

In the news these days, you can read or hear the word "relief" used to refer to information (where to find loved ones, how to get help), action (rescuing people and pets from their homes, draining streets, repairing levees) and aid (providing food, water, shelter, money and counseling) to those who have been affected by the hurricane.

In between those news reports are plenty of advertisements. You can read or hear the word "relief" used in reference to all kinds of symptoms--headaches, heartburn, nervousness, sleeplessness, and many more.

It would appear that we are continuously focused on providing relief from all kinds of suffering. And yet, if we are so attuned to relieving ourselves and others from distress, shouldn't we at some point become so good at reducing suffering that we no longer need to focus on it? And if we no longer had a need to mention relief of some kind every 30 seconds, wouldn't that alone reduce our suffering?

The continuous references to relief indicate instead a great deal of suffering and a seemingly unending need for assistance. Perhaps we should view this as a sort of critical mass, a tipping point in terms of our recognition of suffering in general.

A more traditional mindfulness trainer would now segue into how Buddhist principles remind us that life is full of suffering, and the cause of this suffering is attachment. But I'd rather focus on this: we need to learn how to pay attention in order to SEE how suffering--and attachment-- affects us and others. So, let's start there, shall we?

Let's use the word "relief" as a trigger for mindfulness around the concept of suffering in all its forms. What if we started paying attention to the word "relief" every time we heard, read or said it? What if we USED it as a way to note suffering and provide a focal point for our awareness of it?

We can start small in our own lives on a daily basis. Pay attention to the word "relief" whenever you hear, see, or say it. A friend who got some good news after a biopsy. Your son after getting a good grade on a report card. Your partner who thanks you for taking on that task he really dislikes. Focus on what someone is really telling you when they say they are relieved--their suffering has been reduced.

By using the word "relief" as a trigger for mindfulness, we can tap into our understanding of the different kinds of suffering and the many ways we can, through small gestures, make life more comfortable, safe, and satisfying for those around us.

That's a prescription for awareness.

About the Author
Maya Talisman Frost is a mindfulness trainer who has taught thousands of people how to pay attention. Through her company, Real-World Mindfulness Training, she offers ecourses, ebooks, phone sessions and playshops to help others become calm, clear and creative. To receive her free special report, "The Dirty Little Secret About Meditation" visit

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