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.