Updated: Oct 24, 2022
When first hearing about mindfulness in graduate school, the idea of sitting still and not thinking immediately popped into my head. The concept of not moving and just following my breathing seemed foreign.
I am an athlete. I prided myself on the ability to move and think quickly while making split second decisions. Why would I need to sit and just observe my breath? I cannot do that for more than 30 seconds.
It is stupid. I need to be moving because that’s when I am most aware of what to do…I cannot waste my time. How would I be able to not speak for that long?
The journey continued on and off for multiple years with spurts of being mindful and/or meditating half-assedly. Turning on a meditation app while working counts, right? Living alone and being aware of my urges to watch TV count, no? Walking my dog while listening to music is being present, yes?
Purposefully, intentionally, and wholly throwing oneself into mindfulness requires courage. I was not willing to sit alone with myself without trying to escape, to numb, to avoid…yet thoughts remain. Sometimes terrifyingly so. How could these images come up? What was wrong with me for thinking this way? Am I brave enough to sit alone with my thoughts? What if they are too overwhelming? What if I am unable handle them? What if all those invalidations are true…?
We tend to believe the thoughts passing through our mind are facts. Cold hard truths without reason to question them. However, when we truly examine the fleeting thoughts, we realize they are actually myths. Stories told to us by society, family, friends, social media. If we can check the validity of the thought rather than believe whatever pops up in our mind, we may be more able to tolerate the distress and sit with the pain rather than run and create suffering.
The use of opposite action to emotion, with fear for example, is to face the perceived threat. See the thought as a thought, only that. How many times have I lied to myself before? Is it possible this is one of those instances…? Robert Wright suggested ‘thoughts think themselves’ in Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment. The more we reinforce the negative thoughts by believing them as gospel, the more likely we are to remain frozen in fear, entangled in rage, or trampled by sadness.
The more I focus on the exhale, the less contracted I become. Shunryu Suzuki Roshi taught, “calmness of mind is beyond the end of your exhalation, so if you exhale smoothly, without trying to exhale, you are entering into the complete perfect calmness of your mind” (Not Always So: Practicing the True Spirit of Zen). The sense of being without doing. Entering a place of ease, even just for a moment, can provide a salve to the emotional and cognitive burns one experiences.
Not knowing and showing up anyway. Giving way to expectations and ‘shoulds’ that have been placed upon me, without my consent or approval. Radical acceptance, down to one’s core, is a skill requiring a willingness to relinquish control. What happens when I accept? Does this make me ‘weak’ or ‘less than’? Imposter syndrome rears its familiar head, aching to drag me down once again.
The willingness to be and experience this present moment as it is, without expectation, without clinging to a ‘supposed’ outcome, and without judgment of oneself for not doing it ‘right’ is a constant pull. Only when relinquishing control can one truly become one with the moment and enter into a state of peace.
“You feel what your brain believes,” as Lisa Feldman Barrett, PhD, wrote in How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain. What if we became more aware and slowed down to reset? For just this one moment. What is the largest step you are willing to take today? What is the smallest barrier you can overcome? - CSR