Classroom two of MBSR was a few days ago (as of me writing this part of the post). The energy of the room was low, surprisingly low. And I was feeling it too.
On my way up to Cambridge from the Cape, I listened to Nikki Glaser’s You Up? podcast but even that couldn’t keep me awake as it usually does on long drives, and I had to pull over for a twenty minute power nap at a run down Burger King. Maybe it was the weed drops I took before I left the house?
In any case, when I dragged my ass into the room, I was stoned, lethargic, and crabby. Class commenced with sharing. No one wanted to share. After enough awkward silence had passed as we all looked around the room while avoiding others’ gazes, hands were reluctantly pushed up into the air.
Sharing is Scary
I sank further into my seat, ruminating on whether I should share- I wanted to share… I had so much to share… the discoveries, the unfolding, the relaxing, how the blanket of anxiety that had governed most of my social interactions was falling away. How ironic then that the anxiety was back at this moment when I wanted to share about how it dissipated over the week.
I don’t know what it is but big group sharing freaks me the fuck out. Everyone’s eyes looking at me. Yeesh. I don’t like it.
As more time ticked by, the shyer I became. The greater the inertia that pulled me inward and closed the door. In my head, I made a proclamation that I would not share that night and that was that. I clung to it. I had made up my mind.
We moved to a body scan exercise and somewhere inside of me perked up – Yes, nap time! I took note of it. I wasn’t here to nap. I’m here to learn and grow. And while I don’t think I fell asleep during the 30 minute guided meditation, sometimes I enter this trance where it’s difficult to say whether I’m sleeping or awake, it’s somewhere in the middle. The Tibetans call this Bardo and it generally references the place of transition between two states, like life and death.
We shared with our neighbors our experience with this exercise. Then, it was big group sharing. And again, silence. I looked around pretending like I was thinking about the question when really I was plotting when would be a good time to raise my hand. But the silence was so deafening it was like a frozen pond and I’d have to literally break the ice. And what if my voice squeaked? The same brave souls from the first share broke the silence instead.
We moved into a sequence of body movement like last class and I felt my mind so distracted. I was not feeling it. I was not present today. Lastly was some breath work where we brought awareness to our breath for about 20 minutes.
Before I knew it, class was over. Even though I really wanted to speak up and share my experiences, I wrestled internally with myself instead. I wondered whether what I had to say was interesting or insightful enough. I anticipated when to raise my hand and before I could rally the guts to do so, someone else spoke up and the opportunity was gone. I was so wrapped up in getting the content and timing “right” that the opportunities just passed me by.
I wonder how often this happens in my life? I wait and wait for the right time that I never just do the thing.
There was all this expression and all these stories swelling me up like a balloon. And with no place for them to go, I simply sat there with bated breath, waiting and waiting.
It was like there was another being inside of me who had her hand over my mouth and wouldn’t let me speak. I was trapped in my own body. Frozen. In the past, I thought they were the same person – Me. But now I’m not so sure. The strain of me wanting to speak was so real, and the counterbalancing action restraining me was also so tangible. There was some being inside me who was keeping me small. Me vs. Me. Who will win?
When class was finally over, I released it all as I left in a gust of energy, quickly exiting the building, glad to be heading back home. It was like I had been holding my breath the entire time and it all came rushing out of me, this anticipatory energy that had been building over the 2.5 hours.
In the past, I would have made myself wrong for being such an anxiety-riddled weirdo. Why can’t I just be normal? This time, I took the internal battle in stride. Some part of me wasn’t feeling it that day. It wanted to be bleak and morose, a little emo child brooding in the corner, and that’s okay. I guess I can love that part of me too.
One of the homework assignments this week is to pick an everyday life experience and do it with keen awareness. I’m choosing to brush my teeth and wash my face. Why? Because it’s a chore for me and I quickly go through the motions, either thinking about the sleep ahead or the day to begin.
I hadn’t done the homework assignment from Week 1 for mindful eating so I plan to do that this week. There is something about it that bothers me. It feels too difficult and confronting. Almost all of my life after childhood, I’ve struggled with healthy body image and eating disorders in some way.
Eating Disorders and Compulsion
My early and mid 20’s was the worst of it. I had two modes – starving or binging. I didn’t know how to eat when I was hungry and stop when I was full. If I was hungry, I would starve myself because why not, I made it this far. And if I finally broke and ate, I would binge, because why not, I’m fucking hungry.
My eating habits are no longer as extreme, they’ve mellowed out quite a bit in my old age, but I still snack way too much or wolf down my food. I don’t even know if I actually do, but I feel like I can’t restrain myself when I eat a meal. It must be consumed as fast as possible while maintaining some politeness for those around me.
However, at the Vipassana meditation course in September, I did mindfully eat my meals and found it to be a wonderful practice. I felt full much quicker and downsized my meals A LOT. I found that all I needed was about a fist full of food to be satiated and happy. In the short span of 10 days, I lost a considerable amount of weight. It may have just been water weight or decreased bloating, but I was a whole size smaller, especially in my stomach area.
Since leaving Vipassana, I kept the practice up for a few weeks, but it’s so easy to overeat. Food is in such abundance and it’s the least of the vices I used to have: smoking, drinking, and drugging, that I allow it.
The flip side of mindfulness could be compulsion. A compulsive act for me like overeating, smoking a cigarette, or having a drink happen when I feel the need to consume something. This compulsory feeling of restlessness tempered by a sensory experience is easy for me to indulge.
Hours Before Class
It is now hours before class and I am in All Star Pizza Bar eating a slice of cheese pizza with red chili flakes and Parmesan cheese. I have not yet completed the mindful eating practice in full. The other day, I started to, smelled the brussel sprout, brought it to my lips and and then into my mouth, felt its weight sit on my tongue and tasted its bitter quality. Then, as I chomped down, I quickly forgot my intention and chowed through the entire meal.
It feels almost too slow to wait; the anticipation is killing me. I am on the cusp of something happening and I want the thing to happen already! And so, unable to wait any longer, I rush through the motions. Again, a compulsory act. And to what end? To fill the time with something – to fill the void, the need to be doing something. To sit and be with myself is painstaking.
I am starting to catch myself in moments of awareness. Staring out the window of this beautiful library in Cambridge, I bring myself to the present moment and feel myself feeling the world and the world feeling me. Me sitting in this space that was knit for me in this ever changing quilt of the universe. I sense my body sitting and breathing.
This week, I had an interaction that prompted me to look deeper into what relaxation is and ask, what does being relaxed while sober feel like? A question I never really asked myself before.
How I related to this question until now was that people relax by throwing their feet up on the couch at the end of the day and reading a book or watching Netflix. They relax with a glass of wine or some beer. They soak in a hot bath and let the steam loosen their knots. They relax by laughing and chatting with friends. This is what relaxing presumably looks like. But what does it feel like?
Well, here I was cuddled up with Jim – the quintessential scene of relaxation, curling up with a loved one – and I was holding my muscles taut and stiff. When he brought this to my attention, I retorted, “What do you mean? I am relaxed.” I hadn’t even thought twice about it before reacting. When I took a look, it was quite obvious that my arm was stiff and locked and I was holding myself tight.
It seems I spend more time in this mode than otherwise, perhaps it’s even my default mode. I could go into a million reasons behind the why’s of this, but analyzing my psychology strikes me as a lot of mental masturbation these days, so suffice it to say, I see this blind spot now and will be taking active steps to RELAX.
Earlier in December, we were hanging out in a hot tub, smoking pot, and I felt so uniquely relaxed that it threw me for a loop. I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt so calm, at peace, accepted, and accepting in my adult life, other than after the Vipassana meditation course. It was startling to feel this serene. How wonderful it would be to have that as my default state of being! Introductions, socializing, family events, and the world of people wouldn’t throw me into a loop and get me all jittery and sweaty. It could be as fluid, loving, and full of ease as skinny-dipping in the summertime. What would that be like to go through life relaxed most of the time?
Recently I finished Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth and he discussed three high order states of being: acceptance, joy, and enthusiasm. These states can be applied in any situation and are full of presence. Meaning it takes presence to accept, be joyful, or be enthusiastic. Being relaxed comes as a byproduct of accepting the situation. Anything other than full acceptance necessitates an agitation of my mind, a discomfort that creates tension. I wonder if full acceptance is possible? That is some high-order thinking. Anyway, I am off to Week 3 classroom. Maybe I will share some of this tonight! 🙂
Featured/header image of slice of pepperoni pizza from: source
Read more about what I am learning from the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course:
week 1: a beginner’s mind
I’m taking this at the Cambridge Health Alliance – Center for Mindfulness and Compassion in Cambridge, MA. Check out link here for information on this course and others like it.