I was an avid young reader and loved the Ramona series by Beverly Cleary. I read it somewhere around the age of seven or eight and to this day, I still remember portions of it vividly. I recall laughing so hard during “quiet” reading time that my teacher threatened to send me out of the room. There is nothing like being told to stop laughing that makes it all the more difficult to actually stop laughing. In one of the books Ramona, at the time a spirited kindergartener, is told by her teacher to "sit here for the present." Of course the teacher means only that she take a seat temporarily. For Ramona, excitement ensues when she contemplates this unknown present she will be receiving, then of course, confusion and disappointment when the day ends without her getting the promised gift.
I had much the same feeling the first time I sat in a Zen Buddhist meditation. I was trying to cultivate a mindfulness practice in my life because science and psychology attest that mindfulness and meditation can be very effective at managing anxiety, depression and a myriad of our modern ailments. So in spite of rarely being able to sit still for more than five minutes, I picked one of the more rigid, disciplined practices as my entry into meditation.
I sat on my pillow cross legged trying to look at how other people were doing it without it being obvious how much I wanted to get it right. My own anxiety surged at not knowing what I would be asked to do or what would come next. The Zen master said "be present in each moment" and I imagined myself, nestled in a box, limbs folded on themselves, wrapped in brightly colored paper with an iridescent cellophane bow festooning my head. Biting the side of my cheek, I realized I am as easily humored now as I was at eight. "Be present in each moment," the Master urged us. The promise being that if I sit here with my legs folded, being still (adult Buddhist-y word for quiet and not at all fidgety) I will get rewarded with the forty-something mom version of Disneyland: calmness, acceptance, enlightenment, a clean refrigerator and an organized mind.
Some meditations ask that you clear your mind of thought. The goal of this particular meditation was to focus on your breath allowing the thoughts to come as they will, acknowledge them, and then return to the breath. The problem with being conscious of my internal voice is that I noticed what a neurotic little chatter bug I can be. Ok, close your eyes. Keep them closed, don't get distracted. Hmm, I smell perfume. Is that Georgio perfume? Oh, I don't like that smell, definitely hate it. Still, it is better than Patchouli and armpit, which is what I expected half these hippy types to smell like. Hippy types? What am I, my ninety year old Grandpa? I do like sandalwood though, used sparingly. You know what I should do when I get home is make more of those homemade essential oil laundry sheets. Maybe I should give those to people for Christmas, wait we decided no more consumer Christmas, but does a homemade gift really promote consumerism? Probably because someone might feel they needed to get you something in return. Wait I'm supposed to be focusing or not focusing or focusing on breathing, wait how did I get to dryer sheets? What is wrong with me? You know I should really give my internal voice an Australian accent or something just to spice things up a bit. This is just a small snippet of my stream of consciousness, I could write another fifteen paragraphs but believe me, it doesn't get any more interesting.
The good news for those of us who practice or are interested in a mindfulness practice is that it does get easier. In being able to observe your thoughts rather than fuse with them, it can be easier to let them come and go, ebb and flow. For those of us who grapple with anxiety or a less than kind self-concept, separating our self from our thoughts can be a powerful healing tool. And you can be more mindful and aware of your thoughts without becoming another person, just perhaps having more agency about which of those thoughts that bubble up you believe and which you don’t.
As a Huntington Beach therapist, I highly recommend a mindfulness practice to nearly all of my clients. This can look different for different people and can accommodate any spiritual or religious practices (or no religious/spiritual practices). It can be as simple as a 5 minute morning meditation or doing something you already do like cook or garden with more awareness and intent. And if you suffer from anxiety or depression, I can introduce you to some specific mindfulness exercises that are short, simple to do anywhere and wonderfully effective.
If you are interested in mindfulness or other ways to reduce anxiety or manage your life better, or looking for a therapist in Huntington Beach, please contact me at 714-474-3794 or email at email@example.com.