MBSR: Week 5 – Halfway!

by mandy lipka

Tonight was the halfway mark in our course. And as you can imagine, this gave us pause for reflection. So A opened the evening with an awareness of breath sitting meditation. This time, I noticed much less tension in my face, though I still had thoughts about my current relationship, some about seeing an old friend and teeny bit of work.

Reflecting on our progress

A followed this meditation with a guided reflection on our progress– are we worried about the time we’re putting into our practice? Are we judging our practice? Are our thoughts the same? Before leading us into our minds, A emphasized the idea that growth isn’t linear, something that really spoke to me. She asked if we are open to recommitting to our practice and to losing judgment, to losing expectations. All of this sounded good to me and as I reflected on my first half of practice, I lost the judgment and embraced positivity toward the second half.

I did think I would be more disciplined in my practice, as I told a classmate, so I promised myself that in the second half and beyond, I would recomit. It seemed to be a trend in the room, despite knowing time and life events aren’t an excuse. One classmate explained, it feels more effective when it’s a constant and another made it a goal to incorporate into job with a new start.

Despite my own judgments on the consistency of my practice, I’m learning it’s working. I’ve had several life events in the last few weeks that have tested my work. My reactions are incredible different. I’m pausing, breathing and reflecting instead of giving my knee-jerk thoughts or feelings. I feel much more in control of my emotions this way. And I know I want to make this more a part of my life journey than a hobby. I do have my preferences– yoga as no surprise is my favorite for the mind/body combo and my least favorite is the body scan. I also seem to meditate at odd times. Like while I’m reflecting on the train or walking in the city. Regardless, it’s all part of my progress.

Other classmates echoed sentiments like Aren’t we supposed to be more comfortable? And just in that statement, we notice we have expectations. But sometimes we need to be reminded that the expectation is part of bringing curiosity to our experience and this in itself is part of our practice. It’s important to notice our stress reactivity. Thought we may not realize it immediately, or think we’re not accessing our practice when it matters most, it may very well be helping us to react “less” than we normally would.

Some classmates mentioned that they’re realizing the effectiveness of the practice in other parts of their life, like cycling and in this realm, the body scan works best. Others notice shifts in dynamics with kids or coworkers. And one student’s husband provided a nice gem– Progress not perfection.

This is something we really need to keep in mind because we’re all realizing at this point that we’re not going to have an A sitting on our shoulders. We need to bring this practice into our own lives and listen to the voice that’s our own, our “awareness muscle.” A tells us how we relate to stress is linked to how it shifts.

Many students reflected on how much stress and emotion we carry from our past– regrets, losses, hurts. Some are surprised that they are at this point when at the beginning of class, they would’ve said they were more preoccupied with the future. Or vise versa. I think we all can relate to less focus on the present as we started. A mentioned that just stopping isn’t always pleasant, it’s a challenge. We notice it and see it for what it is and what comes next may be spiraling thoughts. To bring the mind back to the present moment, simply breathe. When we feel as though we’re in a trap of irritability, it’s really an opportunity to bring our curiosity to it. What else is there to see? As one classmate said, rather than run from it, we should follow the fear.

Follow the fear.

Love that. Following the fear can often times bring a cathartic release. Troubling thoughts of stressful events can trigger emotion. One classmate described it as something snapping and then crying in response. It was a total release.

More on stress reactions

After our reflections, A moved us into some standing yoga and brought our attention back to stress reactions and perceptions. We revisited the Sensations <–> Thoughts <–> Emotions triangle. Awareness, which sits in the middle, allows us to shift this cycle before it spirals out of control. This made me coin the term”Take a Seat” to remember and in effect use it in my daily life.

A mentioned a wellness book by Herbert Benson that has heavily influenced her practice (must remember to buy this one). In it, Benson emphasizes the idea that stress can provide us with warning signals and instead of saying “here I go again” we can look at how we are perceiving our stress, see what’s happening and assess what to do for ourselves. These irritations can actually become friends to us.

While illness can just come into our lives, we still can make choices for ourselves to do the best we can. We’re not preventing illness here, says A, but illness is also not your fault. These practices help us manage it better to lead us toward happier, healthier lives.

It’s the below cycle of negativity that can perpetuate illness. It’s up to us to stop, notice and make a choice.

Disattention —> Disconnection —> Disregulation —> Disorder —> Disease (as in “no ease”)

In this cycle, it’s important to notice where judgment comes in. That’s one way we can help prevent it from going further. Another way is to consider the following:

Intention —> Attention —> Connection —> Regulation —> Order —> Ease —> Well-being

A takes care to mention in this process it’s about what’s possible, not about getting it right. We’re allow to stretch limits and see where it takes us. As one classmate mentioned, this practice makes the difference between shit and fertilizer.

Homework:

  • Sitting Meditation every other day. On alternate day, do Yoga or Body Scan
  • Fill out Difficult Communications Calendar
  • Bring awareness to moments of reacting and explore options for responding with mindfulness. Do this in meditation practice and in daily life.

Photo courtesy of: mike baird

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