Monday, October 30, 2017

Days 11-16 of Mindfulness

Check out the whole series so far on Medium.

I haven’t blogged in a week because I was really living in the moment each day, focusing on my commitment to the course, which trickled out into my daily life with work and family. It seems like a subtle shift, but when I am working with a student or client, I am really there, connecting with him or her. If I’m with my kids or husband, it’s the same thing; being there, hearing their voices and engaging in what they are saying.

Like week 1, week 2 revolved around a daily commitment to both a formal and informal mindfulness exercise and to log both experiences. The formal was to continue with week one’s body scan meditation but alternate it with another meditation called the sitting meditation. The informal was to notice how we experience and process pleasant events.

I honestly wish I could just keep doing week 2 and not move on from it because it is providing me with these very grounding and positive elements of my life that require no purchasing and no evaluating. Especially the informal exercise of how we experience pleasure. One that I logged was from early in the week when I found myself crying and hugging my daughter in a spontaneous moment of realizing that she is now taller than me and, thus, growing up. This moment occurred as we were rushing around the super market and hurrying out to the car with the cart, my daughter ahead of me, almost at the car, when I noticed a baby and her father. The baby beamed at me and I said something that I used to hear over and over when my girls were little, “She’s so beautiful…Savor the moment! It will go by so fast.” The father nodded and let me know that this was “number three” so he knew exactly what I meant. By the time I reached the car, my daughter was impatiently waiting for me, but I was already crying. I grabbed her into a hug, and she let me, she even soothed, “It’s okay, Mom” even though I don’t think she knew exactly what my tears were for. That moment of releasing the tears and hugging her was such a rush of pleasure and contentment, and I don’t think I would have been able to fully rest into that moment had I not been doing these exercises all week. Just like what happened this weekend, with the kids being home on Friday for a PD day from school and my youngest and I having some time by ourselves. The weather was summery, and so we went outside, did some basketball, our own version of tennis (see the pic above), and some wiffleball. Running and laughing with her was perfection…and something I’m not sure I would have slowed down enough to even think of doing just two weeks ago. My stomach muscles felt worked in a familiar way—that bellyache you get from laughing too hard. When I logged that moment, I wrote, “I had forgotten how good that feeling is.”

I had other moments I recorded and the feeling I had each time the actual sensation in my body was described each time as “a rush” or “relief” or “warm” or “connected” or “fulfilled” and these were all moments I had with others, co-workers, children, spouse, and even by myself—during a meditation where the window was open and the breeze was brushing against my hands.   

So, it’s no wonder that for this week, I really looked forward to the exercises—based on everything so far, they made me feel good! What I also notice, as I look back on week 2, is that I’ve managed to embed the mindfulness practices into my daily routine so that even when it was a day that was so full I couldn’t fit in meditation until the end of the day, I still wanted to do it; it wasn’t a chore. One day, I came home from work and everyone was out at an activity so I just went right into my bed room, stretched out on the floor and did a ten-minute body scan. I was interrupted when my husband came barging in, but I just told him I needed 10 minutes and I started again. I think because I told my whole family that this was a commitment I was doing for the next 8 weeks, I have been able to make it a priority…but not in a rigid or perfectionist way. The gift of this practice is that it has allowed me to learn how to be flexible and realistic in my expectations of myself and others. I allowed myself to kind of “rest” into mindfulness instead of, as I call it, “trying to get the A” (i.e., be perfect). So, if that meant not meditating at the same time every day but rather allowing myself the freedom and self-trust fit it into the day as it unfolded, then so be it.

Some other ways in which I “rested” into the mindfulness are that I decided that meditation works best for me if it is between 10 and 15 minutes as opposed to 30. I also realized that guided meditations are fine if the voice feels soothing and doesn’t distract me from the actual mediation. So, what I did was find some alternatives to the mediations that are utilized in the course. I used this for the body scan meditation and I used a script that I tailored to my own needs for the sitting meditation. I also allowed myself a day off this week, and I am allowing myself to do week two for a few more days this week…mainly because of Mother Nature who decided to surprise New England with a bit of a Nor’easter that has rendered us without power. I type this in the candle light as my girls play Uno for the millionth time saying, “It’s like old fashion times!”

As we set off into this old fashion evening, with candlelight and flashlights (yes, and the winking and blinking of iPads and laptops), I wonder if I will begin week three or let myself linger in the loveliness of week 2 a little longer…

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Days 8 -10: Hold Your Pain Like a Baby

Check out Day 7, here. 

I've begun week 2, of the Palouse Mindfulness Course  and have taken a real liking to this week's daily assignments—one is to do a sitting meditation, which is different from the body scan meditation of last week, and the second assignment is to notice—once a day—how we experience a pleasant experience.

I've practiced sitting meditation for years, and it was only when I committed to using HeadSpace for almost a full year, that I discovered why people meditate regularly—it really changes the way you deal and perceive generalized anxiety. For me, it helped me with the skill that I call making space or "holding pain like a baby".

The concept of making space first came to me from a therapist I had over 10 years ago. He was also the first person to introduce me to ACT, a type of therapy that is a little more philosophical and deeper than CBT. It is some really heady stuff but what I liked about this therapist is that he boiled down the concepts to two major points that I have used ever since: The first, I have written about previously, which is a concept I call "walking towards your values". This is the idea that when faced with a lot of anxiety about a decision, you choose the thing that is in line with what you value, in your core. So, if you are trying to decide if you should continue to have a relationship with your father even though it is fraught with misunderstanding and poor communication you have to ask yourself what do I value in this situation? Do I value my relationship, even though it is difficult, with my father more than I value not having him in my life? If the answer is that you value the relationship more, then you can begin to figure out how to walk towards that value you in the least distressing way, in a way that doesn't then infringe on the value you have about your own well being or mental health. So that could mean I will maintain a relationship with my father but one with boundaries (ie. I will call on holidays and birthdays and visit once or twice a year).  Walking towards your values has helped me make a lot of very big decisions in my life, around work and home-life, decisions that I can look back on and feel very good about, even though, in the moment working through the kinks of the decision may have been painful. In the example with the father, creating those boundaries can be emotionally difficult as unnecessary and unwarranted guilt may rise here is where the making space or holding your pain like a baby comes into play. That guilt that you feel isn't due to actually having done something wrong or immoral, which is what guilt is for (and we misuse the term all the time for when what we really feel is simply bad about something). So this guilt is simply just emotional discomfort or even pain and therefore there is nothing to "do" with it...except let it be...allow...our tendency is to struggle with emotional pain—try to avoid or get rid of it. Instead, ACT (and Mindfulness) invites us to DO NOTHING and I think of this as hold the pain like you would a baby—with care, support, gentleness, and love.

The sitting meditation is an opportunity for us to do just that: as feelings of discomfort arise, hold it and be with it, as you would a tiny baby.

On day 10 (today), I am spending it off from work and simply doing the Mindfulness homework (which I can incorporate with the chores and tasks of the day). As I notice both the pleasant experiences and log them, I allow also for any discomfort and I don't do anything but treat it with care and kindness. It reduces struggle and, best of all, anxiety.

This is not a cure-all. It's a way to live with, and not against, the mental stuff we all deal with at various times of the day.

In that, my pleasant experiences are these tiny moments where I have rested into Mindfulness, whether it's noticing the breeze coming in through the window of my office and how it softly brushes my arms or kissing my daughters good morning and noticing how soft and still-newish their skin is.

So far, this course is giving me much more than I hope or expected...probably because I just went in with an open heart.