Many of my clients have struggled with meditation in the past and by the time they come to see me they have either decided to give it one last shot before leaving the path altogether or they come with a renewed determination to MASTER the practice. To these clients i say leave all you’re expectations at the door and treat you’re meditation practice as an experiment.
Why do i say this?
well first of all if we know the judgmental nature of the mind we automatically set up resistance with the practice when we have expectations about what we are going to get from a meditation session. So naturally when the mind doesn’t cooperate we feel frustrated and that we are not practicing correctly. This resistance encourages more metal activity and hesitation about the practice.
But if we can leave all our expectations at the door we find that we are more softer with ourselves and our minds. This allows us to let thoughts come a go easier and we are less judgmental when we have particularly stressful metal states. Once we approach meditation in this way we find the mind begins to cooperate and we begin to feel the benefits of meditation.
So the paradox is this, we may need to abandon all our goals to actually realize them in our meditation practice.
There is a big difference between allowing an uncomfortable emotion to show up as apposed to tolerating that emotion. Tolerating implies some mild resistance to the emotion and putting up with it. However allowing implies some level of acceptance of the feeling and a letting go of it. Once we can allow uncomfortable emotions to arise in our lives we find that they subside much quicker and this allows us greater perspective and a reduces our base line of stress.
I know in my own practice i have spent a long time tolerating negative emotions but i have only recently began to fully allow and accept them. the difference is huge.
It’s a very strange thing to have a judgement towards how you feel. Its even more strange to feel a certain way about the current emotion you have in you’re body. In theory it sounds very obscure but this process is one of our most natural experiences.
This is easily seen in extreme circumstances, for instance when athletes accomplish amazing physical feats. A lot of the time they break down crying after they win the event. This is not only because they are exhausted but they are also overwhelmed with so many emotions.
It is very possible to have a relationship with an emotion. For example i feel really resentful with myself when i feel jealousy. It feels like the jealously is a knee jerk reaction to some information i am comprehending and the resentfulness is informed by my values and my self image. So my relationship to that emotion is one of resistance, pulling away from it, denying it, judging it and not allowing myself the be that jealous version of myself.
To reduce the impact of negative emotions we first must change our relationship to them by allowing them to be apart of who we are. In my case allowing the jealousy to be apart of who i am (well atleast for now). I can confidently say that if jealousy wasn’t apart of me it wouldn’t show up in my life.
This is self honesty and vulnerability and is the prerequisite to all other healing and makes further self development possible.
Is Mindfulness the only answer?
As a mindfulness educator and teacher my ego sometimes likes to think so. But if im honest with myself my journey with mindfulness has posed more questions than answers. I find that i have been re-evaluating different areas of my life as a result of my mindfulness practice.
So lets see this in action, for example by tuning into how my emotions play out through the day this has given me an insight into when i feel threatened. Once understanding this the next logical question for me is well why do i feel threatened. The next realization is that i feel threatened because im not behaving in a way that men should behave in certain situations and this gives rise to anxiety.
In this short example we could generally say that mindfulness practice has led me to understanding my issues with toxic masculinity. But the insights haven’t stopped there. I have re-evaluated many areas of my life as a result of mindfulness practice. So did mindfulness resolve all my issue, past conditioning and trauma.
Well in a nutshell no!
But mindfulness is certainty an agent of change. Mindfulness was the tool that gave me the insight to realize these deep patterns within myself. Its not surprising that another name for mindfulness meditation is insight meditation. As i now know mindfulness practice breeds insight and self reflection.
So were to from here, well different problems call for different measures. For example to re-program my issues with toxic masculinity. I have now joined a mens group to be exposed to examples of positive masculinity and learn that its ok to be vulnerable as a man. Now I look at mindfulness as a train. mindfulness makes a stop at all my issues and its my job to get off and deal with these issues by any means necessary (counselling, diet, the arts etc) then i get back on the train and move on with my practice.
Mindfulness is synonymous with being non judgmental, but why?
Obviously there are therapeutic benefits of adopting this attitude along with the fact that western psychological and behavioral models bridge the gap from eastern philosophy to western therapy through this idea.
But lets look at how the idea of non judgment relates to the nature of consciousness itself.
We know that consciousness is all inclusive meaning that anything that comes in to our awareness is always permitted simple because of that fact that it is happening. Painful memories can be suppressed as a comping mechanism by an individual but if that pain is triggered it is still fully permitted by our awareness and comprehension even if we dread it.
On the level of the senses you’re ears don’t have any opinion about what they hear and you’re feet don’t have an issues with you’re shoes. In fact when if we feel pain it is a natural signal that you’re nervous system sends as a safety mechanism. Even these sensations can be experienced for what they are without resentment or opinions about them.
This is all because consciousness is all inclusiveness.
I feel that the teachings of the east have noted this quality of consciousness and tried to instill this in people by humanizing it in the emotion of acceptance or being non judgmental. In fact i think we as human beings can only understand this inclusiveness as acceptance.
As cognitive beings there is always a polarity in our experience of what we want to happen and what actually happens. So adopting a non judgmental attitude is the humanizing of the all inclusive awareness quality.
In the world of mindfulness education it can seem like there is a lot of negative emphasis placed on the thinking mind. Most of our mindfulness interventions are aimed at limiting and reducing stress responses due to negative thinking. It can even go to such extreams that some teachers even tell us not think at all. Over the last 2 months i have been working with the thinking mind in my meditation and i have come to the conclusion that thoughts ARE awareness.
Let me explain…
Over the last 3 years i have had an ongoing WAR ON THOUGHTS in my personal mindfulness and meditation practice. Not only has this constant effort caused a lot of resistance it has caused a lot of self doubt due to my lack progress. I have now come to the conclusion that constantly monitoring our thoughts is unnecessary and unnatural and any effort to do so will end in defeat because engagement with the thought process is as natural as breathing.
We can monitor our thoughts on command to a certain extent but spontaneous thoughts arise as we react to the world around us. For instance if i look at my watch i may instantly calculate how long it will take me to get to work. These spontaneous thoughts are so second nature that we don’t always observe them.
So here’s the thing….We don’t need to observe them anyway!
I have now realized that awareness is an ever present experience (except in deep sleep of if we are unconscious). That means our thoughts are apart of that awareness so they should not be fought against but embraced. It takes attention to think about stressful thought just like it takes attention to disengage and witness those same thoughts. So our mindfulness ability is still operating just on opposite spectrum’s.
Obviously we can use mindfulness to create distance from our thoughts and reduce stress. But when we approach deeper levels of practice one of the most important things is our attitude to thoughts not just the technical ability of mindfulness. Once we change our identity in relation to thinking our thoughts and story’s don’t define us. Maby the awareness behind thoughts is the defining element of who we are.
Over the last year my spiritual practise has become more realistic. In the past I often imagined that if I could get my mindfulness practise to a certain level then all my other problems would fall into place. Over the last year I have had many wake up calls that have challenged that idea.
For example my relationship has challenged me to address my own issue with intimacy. Difficult work relationships have challenged me to address my anger issues and in turn my masculinity. I am now coming to the realisation that mindful awareness is just another part of what it means to be a human being.
Presence awareness is just one of many relative truths of a human being. We posses other relative truths such as personality, sexuality, physicality, mentality, cultural settings and so on. We cant ignore or deny these parts of ourselves or else we are spiritually bypassing or in denial.
I have realized that every truth is relative and my role as a mindfulness educator and practitioner is to simply celebrate the unifying awareness we all posses and. Hopefully use that insight to create depth in other aspect of our humanity. But I do still find myself making the practise of mindfulness into a defence mechanism. Making the practise the answer to all my problems turning my spirituality into a security blanket which allows me to avoid deep issues I need to address.
In short we all have layers to our humanity just like an onion. Awareness being then centre and most intimate core of the onion and other aspect of our humanity begin the outer layers.
No layer is more important than the other.
We cant have a full onion without all of them.
It was 2.30 in the morning my girlfriend and I had booth drifted off to sleep when we hear bass tones seeping through our bedroom walls. At first I try to ignore the subs and evaporate into the slumber of sleep but the defuse thuds of the bass spike my anxiety and I feel sharp tingles in my chest and a slight debasing felling in my gut.
As I land in consciousness I now look over at my girlfriend who is fast asleep and im irritated that i have awoken to my own anxiety. As always there is a sense of feeling threatened by what this noise represents.
Who do they think they are! Don’t they know we’re sleeping! Despise clouds all my thoughts.
My unassuming house mate is playing some music after a late night shift. The music isn’t obnoxiously loud but the subs do the trick to wake me up. I struggle with my anxiety for a while “should I say something or not”. Finally the music stops and he goes to bed. Now im left not only unable to go to sleep and exhausted by the cortisol and adrenalin in my system but ashamed of myself that I didn’t get up and say something.
I try to control my breathing but my intention isn’t here, my thoughts are all over the place all I want to do is go to sleep, Or do i?
Its now 4.45 and iv kept myself awake for another 2 hours brooding over the situation. Out of exhaustion I tell myself “lets just sleep” and in a flash I reply to myself BUT I DONT WANT TO! I finally realise my anxiety didn’t happen to me, I had a choice in my anxiety it was my response to the situation. Maybe out of old habits created when I was a child. Maybe I thought that drowning myself in anxiety, I could change or effect the situation. Deep down I didn’t want to calm down because I thought my anxiety was serving me in that situation.
On some level I chose to be in pain.
Falling asleep while meditating is a big challenge and this could arise for a few reasons. Maby its because generally our society is very time poor and the only time we get to ourselves is late in the evening or very early in the morning. It could also be due to the fact that when we meditate it can be the only time of the day except for sleep that we deeply relax without any stimulation.
I dont know….But when my clients ask me how to stop themselves from falling asleep while meditating my emediate answer is ‘how much intention do you have to stay awake’?
I feel this answer touches on a deeper issue that plays out in the falling asleep scenario. Meditation is a very externally passive habit add the element of relaxation to the mix and it can even be a getaway of its own. But keeping true to our intentions and aims for our practice encourages our will power to stay strong. For example keeping our attention on the breath while in the midst of very difficult emotions or remaining present while cloaked in drowsiness as we feel ourselves nodding in and out of sleep.
In a nut shell ITS OK TO FEEL SLEEPY or for the mind to be running around in circles. But how long we persevere with our practice when our focus is depleted and our mental state is not ideal depends on our intention. I label it INTENTION here but we could also call it WILL POWER or DETERMINATION or even DRIVE.
When we are beginning our mindfulness practice it can initially seem like all we are aware of is just how bizzy our mind is. It can even seem like we just arrive at thinking without even noticing the begging or end to our thoughts and this can be very stressful.
What a lot of people don’t understand is that this is a natural and necessary part of the process. We begin to get a picture of the landscape of our mind and what our triggers are that create heavy thought streams. They could related to financial well being, relationships, personal development or our children. Once we get a realistic understanding of how engaged with thinking we are we can put our expectations in context which affords us better options when working with the mind.
For example when we notice we have had a knot in our stomach for 45 minutes because we have been worrying about work deadlines. This is a win because we have had a small but important moment of mindfulness that is letting us know just how long we have been stressing for.
I can hear you think ‘Ye ok Coco but so what! im still stressed!
Ok then let me give you the analogy of weight lifting…..
In the last few sets when those reps are excruciatingly painful we make a large percentage of our gains by tearing the the muscle fibers and its much the same with highly stressful situations. Even if you only have 2 seconds of a mindful moment in the midst of a very stressful experience these are huge gains to be had. Before too long we will be able to maintain our attention and regulate our emotions in these situations.
A lot of people find it easy to practice mindfulness in relative comfort but when the shit hits the fan those who have done the work will notice the results.