Yesterday, I taught for the second time a one-day workshop for mindfulness teachers about teaching mindfulness online. I am teaching it for the third time on Sunday 24 May. One of the issues I address on this workshop is our expectations and assumptions about teaching mindfulness online. A couple of the assumptions we explore are: Do we feel it is second rate? Will we feel less connected? This has really landed with the participants. Our assumptions and expectations are a self-fulfilling prophesy.
This has also become clear to me on listening to an audio book read by the author Dr. Brian Wansink called Mindless Eating. He is a researcher into the psychology of eating and the premise of the book is that we all eat mindlessly, according to certain environmental cues. If we change the cues we can eat mindlessly in different ways, such as more healthily. The research he cites is fascinating and again reinforces the idea that our assumptions and expectations are a self-fulfilling prophesy.
He cites one example of those eating in a restaurant being given a free glass of wine while they order. There are two groups, who each receive a glass of the same cheap plonk. One has a California label (where the good American wine comes from) and one has a North Dakota label (where no American wine comes from). The labels are identical, except for the location of origin of the wine. The ones receiving the wine they think is from California, stay longer, eat more and enjoy themselves more. Surprisingly, in the debrief these people all believe that they were not influenced by the wine label. Receiving a nice free glass of California wine sets us thinking we are going to have a good experience – then we do. A self-fulfilling prophesy in the positive direction.
So what are our expectations and assumptions about life under lock down? If we are on our own, do we expect to be lonely? If we are closeted with family, do we expect to be annoyed? Do we assume that life was, and will be, better without lockdown? Is this resulting in a self-fulfilling prophesy about our experience of life under lockdown? This is something for each of us to explore for ourselves in our practice. Drop some of these questions into your next practice as a reflection. See what unfolds?
I have observed an assumption there is something wrong about living on my own. When I was half of a couple I smugly absorbed research showing that those of us who live alone tend to be unhappier, less healthy and die younger. I backed this up with an understanding of evolutionary psychology that humans are evolved to live in groups and that finding ourself alone triggers the threat system. This knowledge has been absorbed into my unconscious and then has manifested as an expectation.
Do I let this become a self-fulfilling prophesy?
Now I have seen this expectation, I can mindfully explore it in practice. My experience is that when this concept arises in my mind, I allow it to be. I feel any feelings of loneliness without resisting. And the assumption liberates itself. It dissolves before me. Empty of any imputed reality. Once I see it and don’t buy into it, the conditions are created for insight and understanding to arise. What I discover is that I actively want to live on my own. I relish the freedom of leading a lifestyle I choose, without having to compromise. Who knew?
Another is a belief that I am no one’s special person anymore. I always felt that I was number one in my partner’s affection. But no more. When I mindfully explore this in practice, the concept arises and I allow it to be. I feel any feelings of sadness without resisting. The belief liberates itself. It dissolves, again empty of any imputed reality. What I discover is that I can be my own special person. Again, who knew? Then I discover that this idea of being someone’s special person is irrelevant anyway. That’s Ok then!
This is all about the dynamic of how the thoughts that arise in the mind become thinking. The thoughts themselves are harmless. They might encapsulate deeply held beliefs, expectations, assumptions about how I should be or about how my life experience should be. Left alone they move through experience, like a cloud scudding across the sky or a wave moving through the sea. They are harmless.
However, when I engage them the trouble begins. When I buy into these thoughts they begin to escalate. Thinking begins as I elaborate the problems that go with this belief. Bringing to mind more examples related to this belief of what is wrong. Emotions build. Resistance to experience grows. This is suffering. It is self-created. It is optional. With practice we can leave the thoughts alone, allowing them to come and go freely.
Then what is left? Contentment and a sense that fundamentally, everything is OK. Today at least.
There are many beliefs, expectations and assumptions that I haven’t recognised yet, that will continue to trip me up and cause suffering. That’s the journey.
I will explore some of the process of how thought becomes thinking through practice, in a day of online practice I am facilitating on Saturday 6 June. Hopefully, it will help you avoid some needless suffering too. We could all do with a bit less!