Tamiko Nimura is a longtime Source Yoga student and is enrolled in this summer’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction series. She will be sharing her experience over the next few weeks through a series of blog posts. This is post #3. Read post #1 and post #2.
I’d like to report that I’m practicing all my MBSR homework every day, that meditation is easier, that I have officially Skipped to the End and am ready for eternal internal bliss.
Of course, that’s not the case. There’s still a fair amount of homework, although we’re not required to stick to one kind of meditation (body scan meditation, mindful yoga, mindfulness of the breath) every day. A couple of weeks of monitoring different daily habits—paying attention to difficult communications, paying attention to what we’re digesting (physically and mentally). Most days I am able to do some version of the homework, but certainly not all of it.
While I’m not writing these down in a log or journal, I am paying attention. I have come to think about these attentions as other forms of meditation, or setting an intention. Setting an intention is a practice that I recognize from yoga, so that feels familiar and doable for me. To get the most benefit out of these habits, I probably need to write these habits down and try to look for patterns, but I still feel overwhelmed at the thought of doing more.
So I am a little anxious about the upcoming all-day retreat.
Before the retreat, Erin tells us that our day will be mostly silent. About 6 hours of silent meditation, yoga, and breathing practices. The introvert in me, the one that loves to read and write for hours with no other noise or human interaction, is ecstatic. And yet, there’s a little voice that’s also worried about what that’s going to be like, that I can’t prepare for that at all.
During the first three hours, I’m pretty good. There’s a great balance of the kinds of meditation—seated meditation, walking meditation, mindful yoga. I find myself leaning into the silence, almost like sitting down into a hammock. The mindful yoga feels like home, a series of gentle sequences that open up shoulders, hips, back. I sometimes forget that yoga is moving meditation, but I can feel that here.
Lunch, which is also silent, is lovely. We’re supposed to refrain from eye contact with other students where possible, since that is also a form of communication. It feels a little strange to eat with others and not share the experience, but it’s luxury to have a whole hour of a solitary meal. Erin’s set up a table for a silent potluck, and I’m happy to have grapes and other snacks to add to my lunch. I take mine out to the grass and watch the cars go by.
At the end of lunch, though, I experience an odd form of claustrophobia—I keep wanting to speak, to break out of the silence. I write in my journal for a few minutes. That also feels odd, a form of speaking. Then I see another student reading—why didn’t I think about reading a book?—and I feel torn. Do I stay in this discomfort, or do I find my book? Isn’t reading breaking the silence? For me it would be a form of moving away from the present. So I resist reading my book. In my walking meditation, I find myself trying to avoid reading the text on the flyers in the lobby, the titles on the book spines, the covers of the yoga magazines. Written words are suddenly loud, and this feeling of needing to push words away is deeply uncomfortable.
In fact, I am uncomfortable for the rest of the day—the rest of the seated meditation, a guided visualization, more walking meditation. I am resentful, impatient, frustrated, even irritated—feelings that I keep trying to tamp down, which makes them all the worse. I am struggling with my perfectionist Inner Critic, as Mark Bertin describes in his helpful Mindful.org article:
The Inner Critic is a particularly draining mental pattern. Like a playground tyrant, it’s an unrelenting heckler. It insults and judges mostly without reason—You’re not good enough. You should have done X or Y but definitely not Z again. Why do you bother? You’ll never get it right.
Later, I wonder if this discomfort means that I am doing exactly what I should be doing in my career. I’m a writer. This shows me how much I live and breathe in words. On the other hand, I wonder if I need to be exploring my discomfort more. Should I explore what happens when I don’t have words, when I don’t feel the need to be writing something down, recording something? I worry about losing these thoughts. There’s fear at the heart of my attachment to words: a fear of loss. I wonder what lies beyond and underneath my need to attach my experiences to words.
In class three days after the retreat, I share a bit about my discomfort. To be honest, the discomfort surprised me, although I’m not sure why. Maybe because I had expected to enjoy the retreat—even though Erin warned us to try and leave our expectations at the door—I had not expected any negative feelings to surface at all.
I can laugh at this expectation a little bit now. Why would I expect hours of self-imposed silence to be pleasant? Why would I expect meditation, hours of living powerfully in my mind, to be enjoyable?
Only a week later, my inner yoga teacher shows up again; she too, has gone on retreat. She reminds me of the definition of the word mindful, as used by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the originator of MBSR in the West. Mindfulness is about paying attention in a non-judgmental way. I can pay attention mindfully, I like to think. I have a much harder time paying attention without judgment. So my inner yoga teacher says: What if your discomfort isn’t something for you to analyze away? What if you don’t need to do anything about your discomfort? What if you just noticed it?
What if, indeed? I’m still wrestling. Admitting that I have years and backslides and failures ahead of me is not what I want to admit. The perfectionist in me is cringing at typing the very word “failure.”
I can sense now that my meditation practice, my mindfulness practice, is also going to take years to unfold, much like my yoga practice. It’s not fun, it’s not something I can smooth away with gratitude yet. I hope there will be more tools for me, but I may just need to sit for a while. It’s work on my inner life, and it’s hard.