I spent the last eight hours sharing more than 1 million words. The words came and went. Some in an emotional onslaught. Others dripped slow like molasses. The words reverberated, some boomeranging back again and again and again. Some I wanted more of, and others I wished to escape.
For eight hours in silence, I shared more than 1 million words to myself during a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction retreat. The experience left me calm in some ways and spent in others. Eight hours with only your own words to listen to is daunting, even for me – an introvert – who’s comfortable spending time alone.
Each new practice of the day reinforced just how many “mind habits” I have … those loops that play on repeat in my head or rear their ugly head at the most in opportune time. While some habits are good: I carry with me a strong sense of love and community. Other mind habits are distracting and sometimes detrimental: The little nag that whispers not enough, not yet, not you.
This retreat, part of an eight-week training, emersed me in a variety of mindful practices all geared to help me recognize, be curious about, and move around my mind habits. During the day I:
- Did seated breathing meditation
- Conducted a body scan lying down
- Held various yoga poses
- Walked mindfully outside
- Sat and ate in silence centered on my food
As our class practiced together via Zoom, our instructor stated that throughout the day we’d have “visitors,” and when they arrived simply name them, breathe, and let them move on. He shared that each visitor was an opportunity for something to work better rather than be an obstacle. Visitors could feel like a challenge but when embraced with a state of curiosity (Why are you popping up? What can I learn from you? Why are you back?), could be help us grow, reframe our thinking, and forge a new mind habit. I appreciated the metaphor of a challenge being a visitor – a neutral, if not positive word. I also liked that once we learn from our visitor it leaves. It’s not a permanent relationship. We have power over the visitor, and can help them leave.
Additionally, I participated in a few guided meditations. My favorite being “unconditional friendliness.” We were instructed to mentally focus on four specific phrases first thinking about myself, then a friend, then a “neutral” person (someone in the world less connected to you like a neighbor, co-worker, teacher, bus driver, or bartender at your favorite hangout). The four phrases:
- May you be safe.
- May you be happy and peaceful.
- May you be healthy and strong.
- May you live with ease and joy.
For about twenty minutes I focused on these four phrases. I thought of people in my life mentally stating: May you be safe. May you be happy and peaceful. May you be healthy and strong. May you live with ease and joy. Then I repeated the phrases to myself: May I be safe. May I be happy and peaceful. May I be healthy and strong. May I live with ease and joy.
While I don’t have many negative messages in my head, I can’t say have a lot of “pro-love” ones either. I do not typically take time out to mentally love or reassure myself. I don’t regularly hear a soundtrack of compassion play in my head, yet I try to give that to others. It was a meaningful experience to give myself such concentrated positive energy. These well wishes for myself remined me of a meme I saw few weeks ago stating we should talk to ourselves with the same way we do to our pets.
Throughout my day of silent mindful meditation, the words in my head came and went. What began like crashing phrases eased into a gentle ebb and flow with longer breathing spaces of silence between them… followed by a lightened mental load.