This week I have been swamped with work, or so I thought, and an uneasy feeling of creeping overwhelm has threatened to flood me. Lockdown had provided me with what felt like a dreamy safe haven, some of my freelance work had been on hold and I think I liked that a bit too much! Since lockdown has ‘eased’ I feel like the floodgates have opened and invaded my slow peaceful pace and I have struggled to get back up to ‘normal speed’ – many small jobs demanding attention! There’s resistance; I don’t want to get back up to speed! I like watching the birds with my coffee…
I can feel it in my body as a tightening and growing tension. Something that happens to me when this old pattern raises its head, is that I my egoic preference system will start barking orders at me that there is definitely no time to practice meditation. It’s like the fear and anxiety pattern gives it strength and power, and I get tossed around in the waves, having temporarily and momentarily lost control of my mind. Getting myself to the cushion at times like this, when I need it most, is one of the toughest struggles for me.
However, there’s good news. My continued mindfulness practice seems to have set in place a new habit – a new habit of noticing, which acts as an early warning system. I’m so curious that this noticing, this mindfulness, now emerges naturally – out of nowhere and spontaneously; I don’t feel responsible for it or that I am so clever, such a great practitioner – No! – I just feel such elation and joy that it’s true – that by regularly meditating we are creating new neural pathways which are hardwired when we practice diligently (and especially for a minimum of 30 days according to Yonjey Mingyur Rinpoche). This sustained practice, makes mindfulness a ‘new habit’ that becomes instinctual, effortless. Who would have thought that simply coming back to the breath over and over would have such incredible and positive repercussions on how I relate to my world? And we find that all the perceived demands from ‘out there’… we notice are actually all going on ‘in here’.
This means I don’t need to fight old patterns, I don’t need to battle with myself, or beat myself up I simply need to remember to come back to this moment now, my breath, and the spaciousness within, which is actually, all there is. The rest is a made-up story – food for the egoic system to feed on.
(Thankfully the free daily sits are still running at 10.30am and 7pm and I can access the recordings on the Mindfulness Association youtube channel too. This has been an anchor for me.)
As soon as this early warning system of mindful presence is alerted, I am instantly connected with my breath which takes me to the expansive feeling of inner body space. Compassion practices have shown me how to embrace whatever is there with kindness and acceptance, and without judging. This instigates a broader view, which then triggers the noticing and release from tension – and I am flooded with feelings of relief and gratitude for the teachings and practice of mindfulness and compassion. My whole body relaxes and the tight mental gripping feeling evaporates.
This week it happened like this: I noticed the tense feeling, clenching jaw (really?) tightness in my core, tense leg muscles (weird?) persistant thoughts arising about a job that I had not been able to do (there’s a mind-story right there ha!) – that I had been avoiding, is the truth! See what the ego did there? right at the moment I was typing about mindfulness – the ego slips in quietly by the back door at any opportunity and tries to create a blame-the-other scenario.
So I let go of the tension consciously, and pondered – what is lying beneath all this tension exactly? I noticed that I had not given my full attention to one particular piece of work when I should have – and that my thinking kept bringing me back to it and then I would jump to another thing that ‘needed doing’ – this type of thinking was exhausting me because I was suppressing whatever feelings there were attached to it – I was avoiding the work, and also trying to avoid thinking about it. There was tension in my whole body around this and I was so pleased to welcome this noticing and that I could apply mindful curiosity to the whole issue.
So I wasn’t really swamped with work – the swamped feeling I was experiencing was emanating from my supressed thinking and I saw how it infused my whole day with an out-of-sorts feeling. I faced my avoidance and procrastination and wrote an email I needed to write. There was no problem.
My meditation practice held all this with acceptance and curiosity. I had created a problem that wasn’t there, made it worse by the play between suppression of the nagging thoughts which then became a confused feeling of global bodily and mental un-ease that seeped into all areas. In subsequent hours I notice tiny flashes of exhilaration, joy, feeling in tune, aligned, in flow.
My body is soft and my heart is open. My walk this morning was filled with scents and sounds and the skin sensations of wet and cool as I brush past the undergrowth in the woods. I am full of gratitude. Nothing wrong.
This week pay attention to any tension arising in your body and be curious about that. Are you trying not to think about a ‘white bear’? Notice how it feels when you notice that and stay with that feeling.
Until next week, stay well, be kind to yourself,
• • •
There’s a great experiment where a psychologist asked students not to think about a white bear, and then asked them to talk about whatever came to mind. They had to ring the bell every time the white bear came to mind. It’s hilarious and a wonderful lesson in what happens when we try to suppress thinking. This actually has incredibly serious repercussions when it comes to suppressing thoughts around trauma – Wegner says “suppression becomes the parent of obsession” – it’s well worth watching the experiment you can see it on youtube here.
And read the academic paper Paradoxical Effects of Thought Supression (Wegner, Schneider et al., 1986)
And maybe now, take a few moments to not think about a white bear.
Let us know how you get on with that on facebook!