This is the second post in a series tracking my progress in a mindfulness-based-cognitive-therapy class.
Most days, I get to work without the slightest memory of how I got there. It's a wonder to me that I can transfer between all three forms of transit (bus, subway, streetcar), push myself past hundreds of people, and completely tune out to the experience of it. If you've ever taken the TTC during rush hour, you'll know that tuning out isn't easy. More often than not you're getting shoved, pushed, jabbed, knocked and breathed onto.
A colleague once suggested that this was me getting into a 'zen-like state', but I don't agree. Instead of being present during my commute, I spend it worrying. I strategize ways to use my limited free time to the best of my ability. Or, as Williams, Teasdale, Segal and Kabat-Zinn put it, my mind "wanders into thinking".
This week, I challenged myself to take the TTC 'mindfully' everyday. This means I had to do the opposite of what I'm in the habit of, tune into my experience on the TTC rather than out of it, notice what happens on my commute, and make note of when my mind wanders out of the experience and into thinking. I approached my commute with a 'beginner's mind', making myself hyper-aware of every feeling and sensation. The benefits of this practice were immediately apparent, and here's why...
Waiting for the bus, I imagined this was the first commute I had ever taken, the first time I had been to this bus stop, road, and intersection. I tuned into the sounds around me. I closed my eyes to listen for the passing cars, noting the difference sound each engine made. I tried to imagine what the car might look like depending on its sound, and connected those sounds to sensations in my body. When my attention was most heightened, I suddenly heard the faint and distant tweet of a bird amidst all the car engines. Trying to hold onto my 'beginner's mind', I imagined what that bird looked like, why it might be tweeting, where it sat, who it tweeted at. Another sound caught my attention - the approaching bus, and the shuffling footsteps of the passengers ambling to get on.
The typical anxiety that accompanies my commute popped up sporadically throughout this practice. But as soon as I heard that bird, and the immediate curiosity that came with me hearing its tweet, I believe my experience reached a whole other level. As the class' facilitators suggest, I became instantly curious and investigative. With that curiosity came a focus so deep that I didn't have to think about thinking.
That was quite the achievement for me. I didn't spend more than a few passing moments of that commute planning my day at work, which - surprise! - helped me arrive at work fully present and prepared for the day. I didn't feel as overwhelmed, and work didn't seem as chaotic. I prioritized what I had to do based on the circumstances I found myself in when I arrived, and finished what I could in that day. My experience was moment to moment.
This is definitely a skill I plan to put in my toolbox for coping with anxiety and stress. When you think about it (and yes, we often do wander into thinking), stress is nothing more than worrying about something that did or is about to happen. We're rarely stressed about a situation we're currently in. So, being able to be fully present or mindful most of the time may be one way to eliminate stress completely.
But, whoa. I'm not there yet. It's only week one and I've had one positive experience. There's still a lot of work to be done and practice to undertake. Next week, I'm adding to my existing daily practices, meaning there's more to do and more time needed to do it. Which is a barrier to mindfulness I'm already having trouble overcoming.
Am I up to the challenge?
This week's activity: 45-minute body scan (Source: The Mindful Way Through Depression)