A Strange Mirror
Anti-Anxiety Tool of the Week: Reel it back in.
I don't know about you but I seem to have the ability to imagine, very vividly, any number of possible future scenarios. That serves me very well as a fiction writer and I am grateful for it, but when it comes to worry and obsession about what might happen tomorrow or next week or next year, especially during this COVID era, it tends to function much more as a curse.
When I finally realize what I am doing, I can reel that imagination back in, like a fly fisherman (or woman)--around and around and around and around--until my awareness is back in the present, back in my body, back in a calmer space. So, next time you cast your thoughts too far into the future (or the past), consider reminding yourself to: "Reel it in, my friend, just reel it back in."
This tool is from the fourth Toolkit. Here's the Index of all toolkits. And The Mini-Toolkit: For Those with Little or No Time.
A Strange Mirror
Every once in a while I come across someone with a personality trait that is, perhaps, a little more pronounced than the norm, like an extreme people-pleaser, or a highly self-critical person. They catch my mind's eye, and sometimes irritate or disturb me.
And then--wouldn't you know it?--I often realize that the pronounced trait that bothers me in the other person is an aspect of my own personality (though mine is perhaps a little less obvious, or so I like to think). Ouch.
This strange mirror, this odd form of grace, though uncomfortable, has on occasion helped me see what the logical extension of some of my less-than-balanced tendencies might be.
Several years ago I took a class at the University of Virginia Mindfulness Center. To me, in a nutshell, mindfulness is the art of being where you are, with who you are. Without judgment. But I did not know that at the time.
The mindfulness class met weekly at a peaceful place a few miles outside of Charlottesville. We were taught to practice self-acceptance, especially when--not if--our minds wandered while we were trying to pay attention to our breath or our sensations. We were taught to see those mental wanderings and gymnastics as normal distractions arising from normal human brains, to become aware of them and just say to ourselves, "oh well" or "thinking" or "thanks for sharing,"using a gentle, almost whimsical tone. And then to simply lead our awareness back to whatever it was we had been been focusing on. Without judgment.
At the time that seemed antithetical to "getting it done," to improvement, to becoming a really good meditator. How could it possibly work? Aren't we supposed to discipline our minds--isn't that what meditation is about? The instructors would smile quietly and continue to model non-judgment.
As is typical in a class, the location that each of us chose in the classroom the first day became the space we went back to for subsequent meetings. Wrapped in my blanket and leaning against the wall, I noticed my neighbor on the left, an attractive and muscular young man who had identified himself as a martial arts instructor when we had all introduced ourselves. I remember thinking, "Oh, I bet he is WAY ahead of me in this meditation thing--already well steeped in mindfulness and discipline. He is going to ace this course." Silly me--as if you can ace mindfulness.
But as the class progressed I noticed that at various times he would give voice, albeit very quietly, to some suppressed, wordless, but rather explosive emotion. URRCHG! he would exclaim, almost but not quite silently. It felt like anger to me, which made me nervous. But I became aware very quickly that it was anger directed at himself. Sometimes when he did one of those fierce whispers, he would give his head a sharp shake.
I don't know for sure, but I believe he was trying to dislodge thoughts he felt were WRONG and/or inappropriate for meditation, using anger and "discipline" to knock them away. I felt really badly for him, though it was also rather uncomfortable to sit next to him.
I wondered briefly about trying to say something "helpful" or encouraging, but decided that was not my place. I hoped he would check in with the instructor or that she would notice his (suppressed) distress and speak to him, but I don't think either of those things happened.
When the third class came around, the space next to me was empty. Eloquently empty. It stayed that way for the remainder of the course.
I've mentioned before what great mindfulness teachers I had--and it's true, the instructors were wonderful. But I realize that this young man was probably one of my best teachers, for he showed me by example what self-judgment can do, much more dramatically than the instructors ever could have.
So I still pray for him occasionally. I hope he has made peace with himself and his thoughts. He was, after all, a top notch teacher.
Until next time,
Fly fisher, unknown
Monkey, Andre Mouton, unSplash
Mindfulness class, Mind-Body Studio, Lexington, KY
Man, Emilano Vittoriosi, unSplash
Meditator, Jakayla Toney, unSplash
Lotus flower, Zoltan Tasi, unSplash