Mindfulness Week 1: Waking up Autopilot

Introductory Post

It's the last day of week one, and although things have not gone smoothly as such I'm beginning, at least, to a) understand the message this programme is trying to convey to me, b) what habits I have that are currently standing in the way of me and achieving 'mindfulness', and c) that this programme does not want me to think of them as bad obstacles that I have to hop over or kick to the side, but normal aspects of my everyday life that I have to learn to understand, then slowly change. I'm very impatient, for example, which caused me to actually miss out one of my tasks for the week because I was in such a hurry to finish reading chapter 1 and get to the meditation aspect.

 Something I am learning from this book, however, is learning not to beat myself up over mistakes which I do a lot, but to see it all as a learning experience. In doing that, I now have a clear example and image of what I'm doing in my everyday life and how it affects me on a grand scale.

 I hurry through things; often times I read books just to get to the ending and find I've missed out on enjoying the writing and the way each moment plays out, I rush through my work days and work weeks just to get to the end, then I panic about resting and remind myself of all the productive things I should be doing. None of this is conscious really, as with most people I'm on Autopilot for a lot of my life. I learn how to do things and they become almost as instinctive as breathing, but when autopilot is on we keep learning the repetitive string of activities we do every day, and we do these things without thinking or being aware. Soon, days and months and years go by and we don't know where the time has gone because we've not been paying it attention.

 Time moves so slowly as a child because you're learning everything, taking it in and understanding, so you can't yet rely on the autopilot to take over. The older we get the more we apply it to more and more of our lives, and this isn't to say that we should learn not to do things automatically, but we should learn to be more conscious of it, more present in the life we're living. Suddenly you start to notice silly, little things that are beautiful or funny or important like the different sounds of different people's voices, the colour of a sunset, the feel of a book in your hand, or the smell of chocolate.

Image found via pinterest here

 Meditations and Exercises 

 Speaking of chocolate, the first meditation exercise I was given was called 'The Chocolate Meditation' and it literally was to sit with a bar of chocolate by you and just slowly go through the practice of eating it, but taking time to notice each moment. To notice the feeling of unwrapping it, looking at it, breaking off a piece, feeling it, smelling it, all the things you may do in a second before actually eating it but never think about.

 You're also asked to do the same sort of meditation later on with a raisin, something you usually just eat in handfuls and don't really think about. You take them one at a time, look at them, notice how they feel and smell before putting them in your mouth. The strange thing is, the taste changes just because you notice that it more. The raisin had a sharper, stronger taste, and the funny thing about the chocolate (it was a Yorkie bar) was that I actually disliked it. It wasn't particularly good chocolate, but when I'm just shoveling it into my mouth I'm not tasting it enough to notice if that makes sense? These are small tasks to get you to understand how our autopilot takes over everything, including tiny little pleasures like eating a snack, and how being aware in that moment drastically changes the experience.

 Aside from that I had a short meditation to do every day twice a day for the week. It was just to either lie down or sit down and slowly become aware of the sensations in your whole body, from your feet up to the top of your head, and then to become aware of your breathing and use it as an anchor to guide your thoughts into the direction you would like them to go.

 I think so much, and I already knew that, but every time I meditate my thoughts wander and I end up zoning out, relaxing into a weird daydream or series of thoughts about what I've done today or what I have to do tomorrow. I was using the audio meditation guide that the book provides (I have the kindle version so the audio is integrated into the book itself), so I had the voice on the recording to anchor me back to my purpose. I'm learning how to use my actual breathing as an anchor instead, so focusing will become easier. I did notice that each day I was fighting with myself less, and more so guiding myself back to the task at hand, so that's personal progress. Also, in moments of high stress or slight panic I can use the meditation exercise to calm myself, and it works really well.

My task for the week was about habit-breaking because changing little habits forces you to come out of autopilot, make conscious decisions, and can change perspective. The example used in the book was to do with sitting in different chairs at work and at home, so I tried things like sitting outside for lunch a couple of days rather than staying indoors or if I was indoors sitting in different seats in the break room. I tried to spend more time in the living room at home than in my room, and although it wasn't a sizeable difference I'm glad I attempted these little things. I haven't noticed the effects yet, but we'll see.

I'm really inspired to continue with this, partly because I'm already feeling slight progress but also because the teachings in this book seemed to line up so well with a course I happened to take this week about Interview Skills. The woman running the course even mentioned the idea of being Mindful vs. Mind Full (+1 for dumb but actually quite valuable word pun), but beyond that there was a focus on breathing, relaxation, directing the flow of your thoughts, switching off your autopilot, and also about self-worth and self-knowledge. She had us do this thing called a value elicitation which is super exciting and something I will save for another blog, but it was all about discovering what it is important to you so you can know what you want to do in life (which is probably one of my biggest anxieties). Well, how do I discover anything if I'm living my life half-awake?

I suppose I don't, do I?


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