Impermanence?

At the beginning practicing mindfulness was hard. Could not hold a session for more than 2-5 minutes, and even in that time my mind was going to every direction. Feelings, sensations, thoughts, I was distracted by everything.

Then it seemed that I was getting the hang of it – sessions were getting easier, 10, 15, 20 minute sessions were possible. Sure, I had distractions, but I was able to be non-reactive and non-judgmental (to some degree). It seems that I was in the “mindfulness zone”. I was actually seeing the benefits and liked doing these sessions.

But lately it seems to take a turn for the worse. Again, I cannot concentrate, I am distracted by everything. Dark feelings are distracting me, I’m feeling crushed by them. Sometimes I even find myself tearing, feeling sadness beyond any reason or control.

One of the thing mindfulness teaches is impermanence, that everything passes. When everything was OK I was grasping to the good feelings, and now when they passed I feel like I did something wrong. On the other hand now that everything is bad I can’t seem to shake the feeling that it will never go away. It’s here to stay.

I start the session and I feel that I’m about to burst in tears. I feel as if a dark vice is grabbing my insides. My chest is burning, my stomach is turning. Something is twisting, turning, suffocating, and seems to only be growing inside me, here to consume what is left. Did it ever hear of impermanence, does it know that it need to go away? Or is it here to stay?

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Non Reactivity – Practice

I’m trying to practice non-reactivity and I find it very difficult. It is split into four lessons: Non-reactivity to body sensation, to sound, to thought and finally to feelings.

Body sensations – almost every session I find myself aching or itching, want to move myself to a more comfortable position or simply scratch. Eventually, as mindfulness suggest, everything passes, even the most persistent each. You need to make a note and let it pass. Problem is that if the itch is too strong I can’t simply nod it off – it’s painful. In the time during a session when it itches I find myself going back to the itch over and over. It’s hard to concentrate that way. I do progress though, at the beginning I had to move and each, and now I can sit still and not each during the entire meditation.

Sounds – I find it easier to get over sound and not get distracted to much by sounds. One thing is that if the sound is loud and very sudden I get startled, my heart start pumping, simulating the same reaction my body has when anxious or stressed. Take a little while to get back to the breathing and let my pulse get back to normal.

Thought – At the beginning this was the hardest thing to control. Thoughts come and go, and the bad ones just stay there, make you more anxious. Endless thoughts that seems to be extremely important, and I have to pursue them or they will be lost forever, seems to come exactly when I need to be focused on the now, on my breathing, on anything but them. Every thought just stayed there, making me more anxious, more stressed. I couldn’t count the seconds until the session would be over, in order to write down everything. I wrote them down, everything that I remembered. I put a pen and paper near me because I knew that I’ll become anxious to write. Slowly I saw that some thoughts repeat themselves, some thoughts are the same thoughts that I think when not meditating. Slowly, I could let go and focus on the breathing, on the now. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still hard, some thoughts cling, some thoughts make me a little anxious, but I can note them and let them pass. Sometimes a little label help ‘worries’, ‘thoughts about the future’, etc. I try to note them, not ignoring them (especially the bad ones), and let them go, let them drift away while I focus back on my breathing. It’s not easy, but it’s becoming easier.

Emotions – The hardest no doubt about it. I am always stressed. Most of the time I’m stressed but not in a sense of panic, but in a sense of being alert, always suspecting something to go wrong, one might call it ‘survival mode’. It’s very hard to put this emotion aside and surrender to the now during meditations. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t alert that something might go wrong, that things won’t go as planned. When any event rises, let’s say a thought or sound, I can be non-reactive to it, but usually the process will cause stress to rise, just from being alert that this time I might not be able to be non-reactive to the event. Being non-reactive to one event triggers another event which is harder to ignore.

When I’m anxious I’m trying to meditate, and during the process of the meditation other events might cause me more stress and anxiety. There were times, not too many, that I think I ended the meditation with more anxiety than when I started.

Hope that it will become easier as I practice more.

In the Space Between Stimulus and the Response

In the book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People“, Stephen Covey talks about the space that exists between the stimulus and the response [1]:

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

This reminds me a lot about mindfulness. Mindfulness teaches us to see events such as thoughts and emotions as a stream that we are looking on from the side, instead of being inside of it, pulled by the current. Being pulled by the current is simple reaction, without choosing – the same reaction my cat has when I open his bag of treats. Having the ability to choose in that space between stimulus and response is as if looking at the stream, acknowledging the event, and deciding the response.

As mentioned in my first blog post, this is the description of mindfulness I find most accurate (at least according to my current understanding of it):

a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

Calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations – The good ones and the bad ones, happiness and anxiety. I have to admit that currently I find it making more sense only regarding the bad events – why not embrace the good ones and let be carried away with them? I hope I’ll find a good answer as I continue to practice.

Regarding the bad events that we wish to accept, I have found this other quote regarding mindfulness that I like:

Mindfulness is not the absence of discomfort – it’s our reaction towards this discomfort. We cannot avoid these emotions, and there is nothing wrong with them. What creates suffering is never a feeling, but our reaction towards it.[2]

Doesn’t it sound very familiar? Mindfulness is our reaction towards discomfort – reaction, our choice in how to react.

Mindfulness is how we choose to respond, in that space between stimulus and response.

[1] Covey mentions this as a fundamental principle introduced by Viktor Frankel.
[2] Description taken from this blog post.

Non Reactivity

Non-reactivity is to observe your thoughts and feelings and any environmental circumstances with a more detached outlook. Instead of labeling events (such as sensations, thoughts and feelings) in your life with ‘good’ or ‘bad’, you learn to accept things as they are without reacting to them.

I’m having some trouble with the concept and with the practice itself.

To accept things as they are without reacting to them seems like a sure way to not make a difference. You move and change things in your life as a reaction to events. If you would accept (shrug and nod) anything that happens in your life, you would not progress, you would not evolve, you would not improve. How can you be non-reactive to everything and yet be stimulated to progress and improve yourself?

Achieving Perfection

The perfect is the enemy of the good [1]

What a problematic sentence!

On one hand, I know that at times perfection is either impossible or not worth it – when releasing a product the difference between 80% and 100% might increase effort and diminish returns. At work we quote the Pareto principle (the 80-20 rule), and product demands and deadlines make us not achieve that perfection.

I know that it makes sense, but there are a lot of scenarios that I cannot comprehend not at least trying to achieve perfection. For a lot of tasks (work, personal life, but I think currently mostly work related), I need to be the best, the one that everyone can depend upon, the one that has no mistakes in his work, that completes his work fast and thorough. This obviously leaves me burning the midnight oil, not paying attention to the other aspects in my life like I should.

I feel bad if I don’t achieve perfection, I feel bad if I achieve it and the cost is high, making me tired, grumpy, feeling not appreciated and other people in my life are mad at me for not paying attention to them.

So just get rid of this need for perfection, right? Because I don’t know how. There’s this tingling voice in my head telling me that I can do better, that I can achieve whatever I want and do it perfect. If I have a task to do, and I don’t deliver it in a fast and elegant manner (or in other words, perfect), I feel like… I’ve failed? disappointed? didn’t do the best that I can? Either way, it’s a horrible feeling, making me feel less secured, worthless.

How can I feel satisfied in doing things just ‘good’ and not ‘perfect’, and not feel like I’m not ‘letting myself off the hook’, like I’m not doing it out of laziness?

[1] Attributed to Voltaire, who quoted an Italian proverb in his Dictionnaire philosophique in 1770 [Source]

Mindfulness

For the past 3 weeks I’m trying to practice mindfulness, mainly to reduce my (high level of) stress that I experience on a day to day basis. I’ve found the following definition of mindfulness that I like:

Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

I find the practice hard, almost in every aspect:

focusing one’s awareness on the present moment

for me, someone who is also in constant thought, a lot about the past (regrets, replay of events) and the future (the ‘what-if’ never-ending thoughts), focusing on the present moment,on mundane things like your breath, body scan, etc, is extremely difficult. I find myself lost in thought over and over again, and sometimes even getting more stressed about not succeeding in what should be a very simple task.

calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations

Considering that I’m trying to reduce stress levels, and as I have mentioned I am mostly stressed throughout the day, calmly doing anything is hard, especially when trying to stay focused in the present moment.

Not only that, I need to accept all the feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations? Just the thought of that made me stress at the beginning. It’s hard to express in writing how hard it is to accept ones thoughts and feeling in such a manner. I’m trying to get rid of stress, and in mindfulness I need to accept it and let it pass by me while focusing on the present.

I found it impossible at the beginning, and achievable but extremely hard now and for a limited time.

I hope it’ll be easier as time passes by. One thing that I read throughout all the mindfulness articles and Youtube videos is that you need to be persistent, that things will be easier. Well, I can be stubborn, and even with my pessimistic habits, I’ll keep trying more and more.