Mindfulness / “Now What?”
Categories: Mental Health
Something that I’ve been doing recently is trying to meditate every day. I’ve been wanting to try it ever since I’d seen Sam Harris mention it as a kind of “secular spirituality” (my words). From what I’ve learned and experienced so far, it is a good compliment to everything else I’ve been practicing to address chronic and mental illness (somatic experiencing/trauma/whatever you want to call it).
I use an app called Insight Timer that has guided meditations. The ones I try to find are not so much what I’d (perhaps harshly) consider “woo woo” (e.g. ‘feeling the energy of the earth’) but instead are more about connecting with the present moment. (My favorites: Joseph Goldstein, Tara Branch, The Easier Softer Way Meditation, and Jason Murphy Pedulla.)
That’s how I’d define mindfulness: connecting with the present moment in one’s body. Because I’m almost constantly thinking -which is fine because that’s how the brain work- I’m always outside of the present moment in our body. I’m thinking about the past or the future, or I’m judging something about the present. All of this is taking my attention away from the present moment -not “this period of 10 minutes for meditation”, the exact present moment in which my body is having sensations and emotions come and go, ebb and flow. Thought is fine; it’s part of what makes life so interesting and I’d scarcely get anything done without it. But our brains can do more than just thinking and as with most things, there’s a balance to be had.
All of that is more of a philosophical view of the world -thinking vs sensation (wakefulness)- but what drew me to mindfulness is that it’s connecting with one’s own body. I call it “listening to what my body is saying”. It’s more than practice, it’s part of the relationship I have with my animal -my Pet. It’s just listening: not commanding, not even trying to understand, just listening to what my pet is expressing via sensations.
Even with all this said I think it is difficult to express clearly why Mindfulness (and meditation and etc) is so compelling because it is just so foreign to how most of us live each day. Here are some examples, coming from a beginner, of what has stuck with me from what I’ve heard and listened:
Mindfulness is not about achieving a goal. The goal in meditation is not about trying to gain special insight, or try to get up in a calmer attitude, or anything. It’s not about performance or improvement or trying to change the world or one’s self to fit their desires, it’s about “letting the mind be the way it is and knowing something about how it is in the moment.”
“This is it”. When meditating, this moment -these sensations, feelings, emotions- are all there is. Thoughts are my mind going outside or away. I’m lending them to a different time or a judgment instead of being in the current moment. That’s why it is not ‘doing nothing’, it is intentioned and conscious ‘non-doing’ of simply being.
When I’m focusing on the moment, I begin to see thoughts actually emerge as if from nothing. I actually picture them being enclosed in a little glass ball, that they have a define ‘shape’ or ‘dimensions’, and then I label them with “That is a thought.”
I think of thoughts as trains that roll through your mind. The trains will come and go without my permission, but I don’t have to be on them. And if I find myself on one, traveling somewhere, I can just step off and let it go on.
I think of emotions as clouds or plants, like in a time lapse video. They’re impermanent. They spring up out of nowhere, stay a while, but then fade back out. I can’t get off an emotion the same way I get off a thought, I can merely watch it and understand where it came from, it’s ‘shape’, etc.
Normally I try to keep posts concise, and I’d actually sooner not go into such detail. My reasons are somewhat philosophical, which again I’d normally avoid for the purposes of this blog, but I feel as though this is a special case.
I feel as though I’ve been on autopilot for much of my life. I’ve been told to go to school, to go to college, to get a job, to get married, to have kids. In Fight Club, one of my favorite movies, the characters have a similar conversation and between each step they ask “Now what?”
I’m not saying that any of these are bad things, but I think that often people chase them -or are programmed to chased them- because they sound nice on paper. Because it would look good on the ‘life résumé’. And while for me, part of it was almost certainly due to depression, I think another large part just couldn’t get past the question “Is that all there is?”
Mindfulness -and more specifically, the attentiveness to the moment, to the body, and to the actual life instead of life on paper- is the first thing that I feel like might be able to help fill that hole. What is considered ‘success’ doesn’t interest me -big houses, bigger and bigger paychecks, and ‘moving up’ in the world. Those things, to me, seem like the sugar of life: you like it because it feels nice and because it seems as though you can always have more and it will still be sweet, but the longer you spend eating it, the more your taste will change and the more the things that you once found tasty -the apples and carrots and such- become bland and soon you will find yourself always needing more sugar with less satisfaction.
I don’t mean to be preachy so I’ll wrap it up. I’ve personally gone through the literal sugar situation and I don’t want to repeat it with my life. It’s changed the way I want to live, from housing to food to ‘luxuries’ to career. Maybe -just maybe- an answer to the question I’ve been asking, “Is that all there is?”, was right in front of me the whole time, and isn’t an answer but instead another question: “What am I experiencing?”