I did 30 minutes of mindfulness meditation today. For those not in the know, mindfulness meditation is a meditative practice where you strive to focus attention on the mind processes and sensations themselves. In short, you try to quiet your “monkey mind” — the part of your brain that’s always talking and prattling away, and focus on simply observing.
It’s a lot harder than it sounds. Some things I noticed today…
First, I’d been following the “dip my foot in the pool” philosophy of meditation for a while. By this I mean that rather than try to meditate for a full half hour or more, I figured I’d just meditate for — say — five minutes, and work my way up. But I wasn’t really noticing any change from that, so I was feeling frustrated. Boy, was I wrong — 30 minutes is a vastly different experience from 5 minutes. It’s a completely different mind-state. I’m hooked.
I found that the biggest challenge I faced wasn’t what I expected. For instance, my dogs were tussling and wrestling noisily right in front of me, and that didn’t bug me at all. When Playa-dog started to attack her dog-bed (they do that, for some reason, and if I don’t catch them they’ll tear holes in it and pull all the stuffing out), I didn’t get distracted. I just quietly said “Playa, stop”… and she did, and that was that.
No, the biggest challenge was the “running dialogue” in my head. It’s literally me talking to myself. A lot of it was making plans — “okay, later, I’ll start cleaning out the garage. Now, I think I can put a bunch of trash in the trailer, but I’ll need to fix up the back door so I don’t get an unsecured load fee. I wonder if I could cut a pine board to…” etc., etc. Some of it, paradoxically, was about the meditation itself “so, just relax your body. Keep good posture, yes, that’s good.” And all of it, interestingly, was in complete sentences. It was me actually sub-vocalizing; actually talking to myself.
I found myself spacing out staring at the beautiful morning sunlight, so I thought maybe I’d close my eyes. That made things worse! Without the beauty of the world to “pull me into” it, suddenly all I had left was the running dialogue, and I couldn’t get my mental “footing.” So I opened my eyes again.
I discovered an interesting tactic — disrupting the dialogue with nonsense speech. When I found myself mentally talking to myself, I’d start to mentally subvocalize just nonsense syllables and sounds. This disrupted the flow of thought. Apparently for the running dialogue to be attractive (and pull me out of the present), it has to “make sense.” I may use this as a thought-stopping tactic in the future.
I make it sound like the meditation was unsuccessful — that’s not the case at all. In between interludes of “monkey mind” were moments of just… utter calm. Moments where I was just absolutely at peace, just staring at the world, feeling my body, listening to my mind try to chatter to itself, hearing, seeing, smelling, and just absolutely empty and peaceful in the middle of it. That’s the draw of meditation — especially for a guy like me whose mind never ever shuts up — it offers moments of absolute quiet and peace from your own mind.
Eventually, my body intruded. I’d had a lot of caffeine and no food, and eventually I started feeling hungry and a little shaky. Rather than try to keep centered with that, I just ended the meditation early (two minutes before the 30 minute mark) and went off to get breakfast. One benefit? A feeling of calm for hours afterwards; maybe not that absolute stillness that I felt during the meditation, but still a marked, noticeable calm. For hours afterwards, my brain is just… quieter. More at peace.
One interesting reflection from all of this: how does the “running dialogue” affect my “normal” life? For instance, I have a hard time “getting out of my head” enough to enjoy social situations. The running dialogue is talking to me about how people are judging me, what I “look like,” and so on. Is this internal dialogue a thread of commonality running through many of my troubles?
And one last thought: I struggle with substance abuse (more on that tomorrow). I drink too much; I know I do — I am usually completely sober, and once in a while I have just one or two drinks and stop (“white knuckling” it, as the AA people say). Unfortunately, however, once in a blue moon I give in to temptation and drink to great excess — and make a hash out of my life.
I’ve identified that one of the things I love about having had a drink or two is that feeling of peace and quiet in my brain. Think about that… my addiction might be partially an attempt to self-medicate and make the damned dialogue shut up. What if I can learn to do that through meditation. How will that affect my addiction? Will I even be interested in consuming alcohol anymore, if quiet and inner peace are my “default” setting?