A journey into mindfulness #4

We are halfway through our group mindfulness course, and we begin our session by sharing what it means to be “halfway”. Since starting the course, I’ve carried out my meditations every day and completed my homework. I now have an unbroken connection of daily meditations totalling 34 days. Lots of things are changing for me, and while what follows isn’t an exhaustive list, these are the main positive outcomes.

I’m not being triggered as much by events and thoughts that would normally make me anxious. My partner has noticed this lack of anxiety, commenting that at first it was strange for this aspect of my identity to be missing, feeling a need to ask me constantly if there was anything wrong.

My desire to work and focus has improved dramatically. I’m able to sit down and start my day without resistance, and I’m less easily distracted. One of my changes to my environment at the start of the year was to remove Facebook and email from my phone. I now avoid social media during the day, unless it is to progress my business.

I exercise more effectively and I’m motivated to exercise more. I wasn’t bad at completing at least some exercise every week, but I wasn’t really working to my full potential. Now, I’m focussed on working hard for the hour of exercise. I enjoy getting out of breath and I’m more connected to my body during my workout.

I sleep much better and wake up with a clearer head. This was a surprising change. I’ve always been an early riser, but I notice now that the fog of sleep lifts quickly, and my mind is clear within minutes of waking up.

But after four weeks of daily meditation practice, recording thoughts, feelings and behaviour, it is time for us to put our skills to the test and turn towards our difficulties. Our instructor warns us that this is when we may stumble, and that some people turn away from this stage of the course. I suppose that deep down I’ve felt this aspect coming. My ego is dying, I can feel it being chipped away with each meditation, like an iceberg. I’ve only just started to remove what is above the surface, and sometimes I have a sense of sadness, as if I’m mourning lost aspects of my identity that are fighting for survival, although they weren’t beneficial.

We begin our meditation and are asked to turn towards a difficulty, and then to explore how our body reacts. I bring my difficulty to mind and a constricting burning feeling starts in my solar plexus that threatens to climb up my chest and take hold of my throat. My heart is thumping in my chest, and tears are starting to well up in my eyes. I move away from the anxiety and focus on my breathing.I can hear other people in the room struggling, their breaths sounding equally laboured.

We were advised that we didn’t have to focus on our hardest concerns and troubles, but the beauty of working together as a group is sharing and hearing each other’s struggles. It is a safe space. Someone shares a poignant story about a parent’s death. My difficulty seems trite in comparison and I’m almost overcome with an emphatic response. The tightness starts in my solar plexus, then a tightening in my chest and tears welling up again. It affects someone else even more, bringing back painful memories of their own experience with loss.

We discuss the difference between compassion and empathy, that compassion is empathy in action. With practice, we can become compassionate towards ourselves and ultimately towards others. The course has been leading to this point, giving us the tools to move into and explore difficult emotions and experiences, taking some kind of deliberate action over an automatic reaction that keeps us trapped in our past or fearful of our future.

It was the most difficult session so far for many of us. But even so, I know that meditation will become part of my life, that it is already opening up and helping me uncover insights about myself and the relationships I have with others. The future is no longer full of angst but an open landscape of endless possibilities and opportunities that are there for the taking.

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