Mindfulness – My Take Home Lessons
This past Monday was the last class of my 8-week mindfulness class. So I figure now is a good time to stop and reflect on what I learned.
- Mindfulness is “intentional, accepting and non-judgemental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment, which can be trained by meditational practices.” (Wikipedia). But reading a definition of mindfulness is really hollow – in my experience, you need to actually practice mindfulness to really get what it is. Before this class, I’d read a bit about mindfulness and talked to people about mindfulness, but until this class, I hadn’t actually put any dedicated time towards doing mindfulness. And it’s really in the process of doing it that you come to understand and to get any benefits from it.
- Speaking of which, I was *terrible* about doing my homework for this class. As I mentioned previously, I didn’t realize that there would be homework – and certainly not several hours per week for homework – and I just never managed to get dedicated blocks of time into my calendar to do a 45-minute body scan or a half hour sitting meditation or an hour of mindful yoga. I was more successful with finding brief moments in which to practice mindfulness – 5 minutes here where I would drop everything and really pay attention to playing with my cats or 10 minutes there to clear my mind of thoughts of past and future and really experience the sensations as I was out on a walk. I think this is more likely to be the way that I’m going to be able to work on mindfulness in my daily life.
- Here’s a quote that was in our workbook that I found interesting: “We almost never directly experience what pain is because our reaction to it is so immediate that most of what we can pain is actually our experience of resistance to the phenomenon. And the resistance is usually a good deal more painful than the original sensation. In the same way, we experience our tiredness, our boredom, our fear; we experience instead our resistance to them.” (Stephen Levine, A Gradual Awakening, 1979). By anticipating and fearing pain or loneliness or boredom, we actually make it worse than it otherwise would have been!
- Another useful tidbit: When we desire something and then we get it, we are often gratified “only in the process of moving from not-having to having […] The process of satisfying the wanting occurs not in the possession of the wanted object, but in the cessation of the painfulness of desire.” (Source: class instructor’s notes). Once we have it, we then experience the fear of losing it or of it becoming damaged. This relates to the idea of non-attachment – if we are less attached to things and understand that things are impermanent, it lessons the fear of losing that which we have and allows us to enjoy something in the moment, in and of itself. Because once we don’t have it anymore, we’ll look back and think “Why didn’t I appreciate that when I had it??”
- While meditating, you often focus on your breathing. As my instructor put it, this is something you can do any time you notice that you are worrying about the future or brooding about the past, as a way of grounding yourself in the present because “no matter where you go, you always have your breath with you!”
- The instructor shared this poem: Please Listen – with us.
When I ask you to listen to me
and you start giving me advice,
you have not done what I asked.
When I ask you to listen to me
and you begin to tell me why
I shouldn’t feel that way,
you are trampling on my feelings.
- I’m sure we’ve all been on the receiving – and the giving – end of this type of behaviour. This poem was a useful reminder of the importance of really, genuinely listening to people. And then later in the poem was some good advice for helicopter parents:
When you do something for me that I can
and need to do for myself,
you contribute to my fear and
- I’m always amazed by what kids can do and I’m equally amazed when I see parents who won’t let them do things for themselves. I’m sure some are afraid to see their kids experience anything hard (so they take over) some are control freaks who think that their way is the only “right” way (and so they take over), and I’m sure there are tonnes of other reasons that I can’t even imagine as to why people do what they do. But I remember one of the profs I worked with when I first started teaching saying “Praise the students up to where you want them to be. Even if you think it’s beyond them. They will surprise you.” And I think it is similar with kids. Listen to them, let them do things for themselves – including failing! “Failing” is a great way to learn.
- I think the most useful thing that I learned – which I have thus saved for last – is something that our class instructor shared with us from the Zen Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh. He talks about treating our “negative” emotions gently, like you would a small puppy or a baby. Often, we don’t even notice that were are experiencing our emotions as we get more and more wound up by them. Our fear or anxiety or judgmentalness grows and grows. But if you manage to be more observant and notice that you are feeling an emotion, you can hold it gently and say to yourself ‘My little anger, what do you need from me?” I’ve tried this out and it is amazing how it diffuses the spiral of emotion and helps me to think “What is underlying this feeling? What am I angry about?” or “How, if at all, does this feeling of judgmentalness serve me?”