Note to readers: This is the third installment in a weekly series which focuses on establishing or re-establishing a consistent meditation practice. Please refer to my introductory article on this topic.
While this week’s focus was on the body, it’s interesting to note that as much as this was the case, it was just as much still about the breath, and the mind as well.
For example, an excerpt from this week’s meditation instruction on Insight Meditation:
As you practice with mindfulness of the body, be aware of any resistance to experiencing what’s there. If it helps, label it, “resistance…resistance“. How does it feel to resist? Encourage the mind to let go of the resistance, but don’t be concerned if you are not able to. It’s enough to incline the mind in that direction, and to open to your experience as much as you are able to.
Much of this week’s practice was devoted to the idea of working with pain. I’m lucky enough that the worst discomfort I work with during meditation is the irritation of having my leg fall asleep, or having my left shoulder tense up — a tendency of mine since childhood. Therefore, working with resistance and pain isn’t as challenging for me as it might be for others who may work with more painful or chronic conditions.
That being said, one very real challenge connected to the body that I have fought with since I started this project, is sleep. You may recall during Week 1, I struggled a great deal with nodding off during meditation … to the point that I gave up in frustration after just 9 minutes or so. Dana Nourie mentioned in her recent article “The Whiner’s Guide to Meditation” that many of us use the “too tired” excuse (among others) as a way to avoid meditation — something that I am guilty of myself. It’s part of what kept me away from my meditation practice for weeks at a time. If, at week 2 of the March Challenge, you’re starting to feel yourself falter in your meditation practice, take a look at Dana’s article. She makes some very compelling points on how our excuse-making affects us beyond just our mindfulness practice.
Anyway, what I’ve found in this second week of informally following this course, is that paying attention to the body really helps with getting over the “sleepiness hump.” I was noticing late in Week 1 and early into Week 2, that when I tended to nod off, was always when my mind would wander into future-thinking or story creating. If I allowed myself a point of focus, I was much less likely to fall asleep. Making the notations suggested about the body in this week’s material really helped avoid the nodding off. I continued to be able to make it through complete 20-minute sittings! Working with bothersome physical issues (like my tingling legs or twinging shoulder) also helped me avoid getting grumpy about the discomforts that I was feeling — usually also a point that would drive me to give up on or avoid mindfulness practice.
This realization makes it much more difficult for me to use fatigue and physical discomfort as an excuse to avoid practicing! Hopefully I’ll remember this the next time I’m feeling particularly tired and overwhelmed.
I can’t put my finger on why my being able to overcome this particular challenge in my practice gives me such satisfaction, but it does. Perhaps it’s because I know deep down, that the desire to sleep at the end of the day often really overwhelms my willingness to sit down and meditate. Perhaps it’s also because I’ve successfully found a way to deal with what I have perceived as a road block to my practice.
I’m sure there is much more to working with the body that I am not mentioning here, but unfortunately my experience with working with pain is limited. What I do find fascinating is how pain can seem to just, ‘melt away’ when you focus on it. It seems to want to relocate, and once you tease your mind’s workings away from the pain, and reduce it to one word (“heat,” “tingle,” “tight”) the intensity of it seems to evaporate. Again, though, I’m not certain how well this works with intense, chronic pain. Anyone with more insight and commentary on this particular issue, I would like to invite to share their thoughts, either here or elsewhere on the site.
Part of this week’s instructions was to add a couple of extra moments of mindfulness in our day. One was to sit for one meal, if possible to eat mindfully. The other, was to add two, one-hour stretches when we would check in every once in a while with our body/mind, and sit mindfully for a few moments. They suggested that every few minutes, to have an alarm go off to remind us to check things like our posture, bring ourselves back into the present by noticing physical sensations we might be experiencing.
Very unfortunately, I’ve done neither this week. Well, I did sit and eat a clementine mindfully. That was actually pretty enjoyable, to sit and notice the sensation of the juices hitting the tongue, noticing the perception of flavor, and really sensing the complexity of the flavor of that fruit. My goal for this week is to try to let myself have that moment to at least have a snack while in a quiet, mindful state. Adding much more to my day beyond what I already have is quite difficult — as most parents know, in most of our daytime waking hours, it’s pretty tough to find any stretch of time that includes food during which one is not interrupted. My kids have food radar — as soon as Mom sits down with food, they need it too, and now, and holy cow they’re starving!
Yet, somehow, I think I’ll manage some time to have oh, say, a little time for a quick, small snack after the kids are put to bed.
As for the two, one-hour stretches? I’m stifling a big HA! But here I go: HA! Not at this point in time, though I really wish I could. I honestly, even at work, do not sit still for an hour at a time, nor can I. I wasn’t able to manage this the first time I took the course with the help of a teacher from Insight … and she tsk-tsk-ed me a little for it, though not badly. Then, too, finding two, one-hour stretches of time just wasn’t possible. That being said, I think the idea of periodically “checking in” with yourself may not be a bad idea. Just pause, notice your mood, thoughts, emotions, body, take stock, and proceed. I do see how making this be a part of my day would help me take my mindfulness practice from the cushion to daily life.
I just can’t do it in one-hour blocks of time. I’ll have to settle for maybe setting little reminders for myself here and there.
Well, with today being the last day of working on Week 2, I want to point out one last thing from this week that I thought was helpful. Yesterday’s information given in the Insight web site for this week dealt with “investigation.” It mentions that a quiet mind is one that investigates, and that this natural tendency to investigate is what allows us to overcome physical discomforts, as well as emotional ones.
The opposite of investigation can be assuming that we already know how things are. It’s easy to fool ourselves—anger arises, and we think, “I already know anger,” and not explore it. But it’s a new experience every time. We often rely on memories of our experiences and of people, instead of looking at them newly, but instead, we can look at our experience with a beginner’s mind. Assuming that we don’t know, and exploring with affectionate curiosity.
This last paragraph struck a cord with me on a few different levels. On the one, just in every day life, how much of what happens do we perceive to be as it always is, only because we are relying on our memory of how it is? On the other, how much of our old habits — like meditating, not meditating — do we do while we are on ‘automatic pilot’?
Cultivating this ‘calm mind,’ through being mindful, begets this spirit of investigation, which then begets the calmer mind … and you see the cycle.
So, just sit.
Week 3: Emotions
I’ll be honest, I don’t remember very much about my own experiences with this week’s focus when I followed the course with my teacher. What I do happen to remember is that I had a hard time noticing my emotions, which I somehow found troubling. By the end of the week, it hadn’t gotten much better.
This time, I’m hoping to see if I can figure it out a bit better than I had last time. I’m definitely curious as to why this was such a difficult task for me, and part of me isn’t sure I’m ready for the answer. I suppose we’ll see what comes of it!
Either way, here’s the link to this week’s material: https://sites.google.com/a/audiodharmacourse.org/mindfulness-meditation/week-3-emotions
For anyone who may also be auditing this course, this week, we are instructed to lengthen our meditation to 25 minutes. Again, if you are just starting out, and you are still working with just 10 or 15 minutes, that’s fine. I would recommend, though, that this may be the week you extend your time to 15 to 20 minutes, depending on where you are with this project.
Emotion can seem like an intimidating theme, but I’m looking forward to tackling it this time. Hope you are too!