Observations and Learnings from Week 1 of the Palouse MBSR Mindfulness Program

Today marks the completion of week one of the Palouse MBSR Minfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program. I did it. I actually achieved a week of something and stuck to the program. Here’s are some of my personal observations from the week:

  • I’ve been doing body scans in meditation for a really long time, but I’ve always done them with the goal of changing what I found – of forcing things to relax or be different. Learning to simply observe and accept what my body is doing is a challenging exercise, and much more consistent with the self-love and self-acceptance that I am trying to embrace.
  • My body is as tight as ever, and thanks to body scanning and daily mindfulness, I am more aware of it than ever. I am trying not to be alarmed by my increased awareness of how tight and painful my body is, but it is difficult not to be. I am trying just to accept it. After all, nothing has changed except my awareness and I’ve lived in this state for decades.
  • Mindfulness is exhausting for the brain at first, and something to be eased into lest you end up with a mindfulness hangover.
  • Mindfulness has helped me realize that my inner-critic is one of the only voices in my brain. It is relentless and it couches all of its criticism in “helpful” suggestions about self-improvement and projects.
  • Being mindful of my surroundings made me aware and bothered by clutter for the first time in my life. Perhaps being messy isn’t a personality trait of mine after all, but a side effect of hyper-vigilance and shut-down awareness.
  • Outwardly-directed mindfulness seems equally as useful as inwardly or body directed. It comes from the same place: being focused on the task (of socializing) and the sensory input gained from the task, rather than focused on my thoughts and internal narrative. Mindfulness allowed me to have one moment this week where I watched a friend’s micro-expressions comfortably while they were talking, didn’t think about my self or my reactions, and was able to, from a relaxed state, intuit her emotional state better from her micro-expressions than from what her words were saying. This is something I have always struggled at in the past. It was a brief moment, but a lovely, welcome one that shows that I am capable of it.
  • Something that continues to scare me a bit from my meditation practice is what I dub “The Black Hole”. When I am body scanning or meditating or even just existing, there is always this black hole that threatens to steal awareness. It feels dark, heavy, like the intense pressure of a collapsing star — and it is always with me to varying degrees in the background. I don’t know if it’s the residual perception of my body’s tension, a dark grief from the right-side of my brain or what. But I know it’s not supposed to be there and that it needs to be somehow excised before I can heal. The paradox is probably that I need to accept its forever existence before I can excise it. That’s how these things seem to work, damn it.
  • It’s going to take time to better interpret some of my body’s signals. I have so much pain and tension that is creeping into my awareness, it’s hard to know what to take action on and what to just ignore and let exist. But I’ve learned this week that when a pain will not be ignored or dismissed no matter how diligent your practice is, there’s a reason for it.

A brief review of week 2 shows that I’ll be adding sitting meditation and a pleasant events calendar to my body scans. I’ve been doing sitting meditation for about a year now, and I look forward to what new insights this program can lend to it.

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