I just returned from a week-long teacher training class to prepare for Green Mountain’s upcoming new Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR). Jon Kabat-Zinn created the MBSR program in 1979 to respond more effectively to stress, pain and illness.
During the week of training we were asked to be in silence in between classes. Total silence. No talking, writing, reading, TV, computers, social media… etc.
Nothing that has the potential to distract us from the moment-to-moment experience of being in the ‘here and now’.
…WHOA! Ever tried that? Silence really turns up the volume on:
And all the many physical sensations, emotions, and thoughts that occupy our time
So there I was, at a beautiful resort in the desert surrounded by Zen gardens, fountains, and orchards 3000 miles away from my loved ones, alone, in the middle of nowhere in the desert, amongst people I don’t know while learning new skills through an embodied experience. Can you sense the excitement, anticipation and um – some fear in my words?
It’s an enlightening experience to silence anything that might distract us from being in tune with all that goes on in our hearts, minds and bodies. This is the essence of ‘sitting with what is’.
As my thoughts and emotions peaked, what happened to me next was quite profound.
Ready for it?
Here goes… all of a sudden my emotions began to recede.
Yep, that’s it. Like a wave in the ocean the thoughts and emotions came, they peaked and then they went. I know. Not so thrilling, is it?
That’s the point. That on the other side of intensity is, simply, lessening of intensity. It’s the old adage in motion, “This too shall pass”.
Lessening Our Distractions From Discomfort
Often times we find ways to distract ourselves from discomfort, whether physical, emotional or mental.
Often times this is where emotional eating steps in. We try to numb out the pain, though when we do, we often turn pain into suffering.
Another famous quote that fits in well here is: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering optional.”
We can’t avoid uncomfortable feelings, sensations, and thoughts. They happen. Life happens. It’s the avoidance of, as opposed to sitting with them, which exacerbates pain and prolongs the suffering.
After overeating, for example, we end up feeling shame or guilt, which is yet another uncomfortable feeling that we want to numb. And round and round we go.
Present moment awareness, A.K.A mindfulness, allows us to ride the waves of discomfort. And as we ride the waves, they do what all waves do…recede, dissipate, and fade. It may take a while, and it may be a big wave, but the intensity does pass.
You can think of each discomfort as an event that has a beginning and an end. Like watching a movie that has a start and finish. Or a concert, a play, a dinner party, etc.
A Thought is Just a Mental Event That Has a Beginning and a End
Feelings (or emotional events) have a start (usually by way of a thought) and then they too have an end; bodily sensations (or physical events) like a headache, or muscle soreness for example, have a start and an end too.
They come and they go. This is the reality of impermanence.
When we practice mindfulness, we aren’t necessarily sucked into the storms or events, but rather looking at them from a clearer distance. For help in doing this, try my 5-minute guided meditation titled “Letting Go”.
The outcome of my weeklong meditation experience was quite good!
Silence made me ride the waves, and they did indeed pass. Frankly, I actually kind of enjoyed the silence after a little while, as well as the process of looking within.
I’ve decided to prescribe myself periods of silence (in addition to the silent retreats I’ll be attending as part of the MBSR training) – just short periods of time in my week where I have a ‘distraction fast’ with no talking, writing, reading, TV, etc.
Time to just reset myself. Think about trying it… you never know what you’ll find on the other side.