Friday, March 1, 2013

#105: Be Mindful "Desperately Seeking Stimulation"

This is the third post in a series tracking my progress in a mindfulness-based-cognitive-therapy class.

One of my meditations this week was rudely interrupted by my neighbour's uneven, overactive washing machine. You must know what I'm talking about, the noise when the basin gets lopsided, forcing the machine to go thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk thunk and then gawoosh-thunk-gawoosh-thunk-gawoosh-thunk? That happened approximately two metres away from the quiet, calm and peaceful environment where I chose to immerse myself completely in the present. For the entire 10 minute mediation, I didn't notice a single in- or out-breath. My anger broiled so intensely that I finally opened my eyes to glare through the wall at the incessant, irritating pulsations, giving up completely on my meditation.

I'm not always distracted by noise or activity around me. In fact, sometimes I'm distracted by the absence of noise or activity. In the 45-minute-body scan, for example, I am perplexed when I feel absolutely no physical sensation. As hard as I try to find tingling or warmth in my ankles, most of the time, I just feel nothing. And this is a practice built around seeking out physical sensations!

How is it possible that I can so easily transition between being irreversibly distracted, to distractingly underwhelmed? 

Consider this, how often do you do one thing at a time? Just recently, I was 'doing school work' while carrying on a text message conversation with my sister. I often watch TV and check Facebook. Send a text message while holding an in-person conversation. Drive and drink a coffee. Read and eat. Attend a yoga class while planning a trip to Joe Fresh.

I am rarely, if at all, 'idle' (if that's what you call driving a motorized vehicle).

You can imagine then how frustrating it must be for my mind to adjust to the pace of meditation. In both of the examples mentioned above, I sought out stimulation desperately. At first, I clung to it, unable to return to the monotony of meditation. Then, I was distracted by the absence of it, searching for a way to make use of the time dedicated to my practice. Stimulation is so deeply tied to productivity that it's hard for me to find value in doing something that isn't.

But, I suppose that's the point of these practices. The gentleman who leads the body scan audio track instructs us to be "curious about the absence of sensation". I can only assume that means an experience doesn't have to be stimulating or sensational. It can just be.

I have to admit, the hardest part of mindfulness is just that - switching gears from the overstimulated, overworked, overwhelmed pace of my everyday to an unstimulating, simple, underwhelming task. And to keep at it. Even when it doesn't turn my whole life around in the first shot.

Because, man, when you're used to going 120 km/h, 5 km/h can make you feel like you're going backwards.

This week's activity: 10-minute sitting meditation "'Mindfulness of the Breath"

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