Mindfulness Week 5: Turning Towards Difficulties

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Getting to the halfway mark had felt to me like surpassing a substantial hurdle in this program. Unfortunately, in my relief at passing that hurdle I hoped that this week would be a little bit easier, which it, unfortunately, was not. In fact, the primary focus of this week was difficulty and how it affects us. True to my nature my tactic was avoidance, putting off the meditations, or not committing to them fully and resigning myself to believe that it just wasn't working anymore, or maybe meditation just isn't for me and I should give up now. What helped, actually, was a little book I had borrowed from my library around the same time I picked up the book that I'm using for this program. It's called "Mindfulness Made Easy" (hereafter: MME) by Martha Langley, and it acts as a perfect companion to "Finding Peace in a Frantic World" (hereafter: FPFW).

Both books seem to be providing the same information and in a similar pattern, but where FPFW is structured as a guide to help you through a program with large weekly exercises to work through, MME takes a slower, more detailed approach and explains the mechanics of mindfulness, small activities you can do to slowly test the way it works and how you're affected and lists various reactions to types of meditation as well as why all those reactions are okay or normal or understandable. One thing that MME explained to me that I now use to help anchor my focus is an affirmation. I had always called this sort of thing a  mantra, which is like a word or sound that you can use to focus on when meditating. Something like the stereotypical "ommmm" sound is a mantra. An affirmation is specifically a phrase with meaning that you can use for focus when meditating. It should be short, present tense, first person, and positive in its language. It does not have to be said aloud, which I had assumed, but it can be. Having to say something out loud would utterly break my concentration and pull me out of the moment, not to mention I would feel fairly self-conscious.

The affirmation I chose is: I am here. I think it in time with my breathing (*in breath* I *out breath* am here), and the words help me remember where "here" is, the time and place, and what I'm doing. In the few times I've used it, it has been extremely helpful in my concentration. There are other things I can use such as focusing on a fixed point in front of me rather than closing my eyes, or focusing on an object like a burning candle or a plant or something. I intend to try these methods and see if any one of them works best, but I'm finding the affirmation very helpful.

Habit Releaser

This week's habit releaser was interesting: planting some seeds. It was all about being mindful in the moment again, smelling the earth and feeling it in your hands, carefully sowing the seeds and watering the earth. While I am an idiot and managed to spill half the seeds somewhere in our garden, I did plant a few and I enjoyed the action of taking the time out to focus on these things. I have never really planted things before, daffodil bulbs in primary school maybe but that's all, so new experiences are good.






Meditations

I had another week with a series of meditations. This time there were three from last week plus one new one. One of the past meditations was the Three Minute Breathing Space, to be performed whenever I feel like I needed it, and I've gushed on that meditation enough times. The other two past meditations were the Breath and Body meditation, which I've become incredibly comfortable with after now three weeks of doing it, and the Sounds and Thoughts meditation, which I will admit I find less difficult than last week. I still struggle with falling out of concentration but less so, which is good.

The new meditation was the Exploring Difficulty meditation, so no surprises that it proved to be difficult! It's all about taking a new path when hard, distracting, difficult thoughts crop up in our minds: exploring the feeling and "breathing into it". When you breathe into a part of your body in meditation it means you focus on that part of you and imagine it to be like a lung, imagine it filling with air as you breathe in and collapsing as you breathe out. It's a way of really zoning in on how that body part feels whilst using your breath to anchor your thoughts.

I think the reason I found it so difficult is that my first attempt at this meditation went well up until the end, and as a result of that I became really overwhelmed emotionally. What it asks you to do is take a difficult situation happening in your life (or that has happened previously), and focus on the feeling that thinking about this thing gives you. You don't try to solve it and refrain from getting lost in it, just exist with the feeling and try to pinpoint where in your body you feel it most. Butterflies in your stomach maybe, or headaches, or a tight feeling in your chest and throat which is what I tend to get. You breathe into that part of your body, breathe into the feeling, and then observe as the feeling fades in and out. Once you finish the meditation, what can happen is that the thing you were worrying about seems much less dire, or stops bothering you all together. What happened to me the first time was that I got so emotional and sad/anxious about the difficult situation that I wasn't properly able to calm down in the cooling off/breathing part at the end of the meditation. I had to go to work that morning feeling really shaky and emotionally strange, and I think a fear of that happening again has made me slow down on my twice-a-day meditating.

What luck, then, that I managed to remember I still had this MME book out: it's provided me with small exercises to do in my down time to practice focusing and observing my thoughts rather than getting lost in them. I feel like I'll need these tips and tricks more in the next three weeks, and hopefully I can use them to really open myself up to this meditation on difficulties. It's really important, I can feel that from the times I've done it without issue.

Psst. Psssssst. Ask.FM is a thing.

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