Last week, I returned to mindfulness.
‘Returned’ may be too strong a word, as I hadn’t really left. I may have been attending my first meditation group in, oh, four or five years but I’ve been using meditation, breathing and mindful practice to get me through some of the more challenging times over the last few years.
The difference is, it hasn’t been a ongoing part of my life.
I have found the regular practice of mindfulness, and other forms of meditation, radically enhances my life.
I first learned to meditate as an undergraduate psych student. My interest in the power of the mind was sparked when I discovered I could regulate my physiological responses with my thoughts ie I could fool a lie detector. I soon discovered the research done by Herbert Benson in the 1970s that found a link between monks, transcendental meditation and remarkable health outcomes.
Meditation didn’t just make you feel good; it was good for your health.
Benson’s findings have been expanded over the last four decades with the research and programs of Jon Kabat-Zinn, MRIs and the mainstreaming of mind-body medicine.
Seriously, no further research is needed. Meditation is good for you.
My mindful journey hasn’t been without bumps. Meditation pulled me out of a hole of despair and depression at a time when I could see no good, no happiness on the horizon. I began an intense relationship with the present-moment that took me to what I can only describe as transcendent places, where I felt absolute oneness with the world.
All was okay.
Sure, there were other factors that contributed to my coming back to the world at that time – a loving and supportive partner, the beautiful philosophy of Buddhism, libraries of self-help nudges, the optimism and structure of coaching and a government-supported, stress-free period of no work – but it was the meditation that gave me the physical and mental connection to truly believe it was all okay.
From interconnected nostril breathing and chanting to Tibetan singing bowls and walking meditation, I’ve given just about every type of meditation a go*. I’ve participated in and facilitated a variation of the Kabat-Zinn programme, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy. I’ve facilitated virtual bookgroups exploring Kabat-Zinn’s classic book, Full Catastrophe Living. And to be honest, I think it was Kabat-Zinn’s 45-minute meditations that finally cracked my insomnia – not because of the transcendent state but because his voice put me to sleep.
I’ve practised. I’ve taught. I’ve lead. I’ve followed. I’ve sat. I’ve facilitated.
And yet, right now, I feel like a beginner.
Recently, I’ve been thinking of starting a mindfulness/meditation group in my local neighbourhood and, I’m surprised, because I’ve been seeking the encouragement of others before committing to it. I wonder, where has my confidence gone? What happened to the 21 year-old who had no qualms about teaching 17 year-old students how to relax and meditate? Where is the person who believed meditation was an essential part of education?
So with all this experience, I’m confused by my lack of confidence in sharing it with others and, especially, my resistance to just sitting.
All this is further confounded by my knowledge that mindfulness doesn’t have to be time-intensive. Ten minutes can be sufficient for checking in with my body and clearing my mind. Heck, often all it takes is a minute to stop and breathe to get myself in that space. Sure, ideally, I’d like to give it least 45 minutes but I know that’s not necessary.
So what’s the deal? What’s with the resistance?
In my attempt to dislodge my mindful stagnation, I’ve embarked upon extensive research to unearth possible causes. (ie I googled it).
There seems to be no end to the reasons why some find meditation so challenging – from rampant ego and spaciousness-enabled existential crises to time-poverty and priority stack.
What does seem clear, though, are three simple things one can do to just get on with it:
- Schedule it and do it
- When you feel resistance, just sit with the feeling. See what comes up.
- Go into the feelings and thoughts when you experience resistance to sitting and see what beliefs are underlying them. Address the beliefs.
I don’t know what’s been behind my reluctance to sit but I’m at the point where I don’t care, I just want it to be a regular part of my life again.
So this is a ‘return’ to the mindful life for me.
I feel I’m home. I feel at one with myself and the world. I feel, at long last, that it’s all going to be okay.
*Except Vipassana. That’s another post.