As I nervously waited for the oral surgeon to start extracting my lower 2nd molar, I decided which podcast would most distract me from the experience. After achieving a state of plenty-numbed, I started listening to NPR’s TED Radio Hour (a synthesis of TED talks on one topic, in this case “Happiness”). I felt a bit hypocritical wanting to be distracted from the dental procedure instead of facing it by practicing mindfulness. Then, the first thing the 1st expert interviewed said was, “We found that those people who paid attention to their experiences were happier than those who split their attention or daydreamed. What was surprising though was that even those who paid attention to their negative experiences were happier!” The universe didn’t have to tell me twice; I pulled the ear buds from my ears and shifted my intention (and attention) from distraction to mindfulness.
My mindful experience: The first thing I noticed in my intentionally nonjudgmental awareness of current experience (mindfulness) was a row of shiny surgical instruments on a tray in front of me. “They look shiny… sharp… clean… I’m now aware of my heart rate increasing… Yes, it is… The assistant is rearranging them… Interesting… I hear her explain they are now ready for the RIGHT handed doctor… Interesting… shiny… some look sharp… all look very clean… My toes are curled back some… I allow a letting go feeling in those muscles… Now they feel more relaxed… Breathing in… Breathing out… A grinding sound… Pushing… Pulling… Grinding… Breathing in… Breathing out… Heart beating… Interesting…”
I’m not saying I went from nervous to calm or from anxious to happy when I shifted from distraction to mindfulness. It’s more like mindfulness helped me be in a kind of “I’m ok with this experience” attitude instead of tolerating it as a negative experience. Hmm, not sure if I’m able to explain that with just words. This is why the assignment last week – to experience mindfulness – to pause to notice your current experience.
Thanks to everyone who shared their experiences. Clearly, it was at least interesting and for some quite useful. It seems too simple to be really useful doesn’t it? Some of you asked, “Yes, but how do we handle our everyday stress?” Well, asking the secret to stress management is like asking the secret to dieting or exercising. The answer is to pick an approach that seems to fit with you AND DO IT. Not such a secret after all! But I know what you mean, the more tools in your tool box the more options you have when you need them. So, now on to the next tool.
It’s now been 2 hours since the tooth extraction and I’m typing this while biting down on a wet tea bag. Each of you is having a different internal experience reacting to that statement. Pleasant? Neutral? Unpleasant? These are the feeling questions we ask our students to tune into. And, it is the mindfulness practice for the week.
Each week I encourage you to continue with all previous practices, as they fit with you, and add the new mindfulness practice of the week. So, this week continue to intentionally non-judgmentally pay curious attention to your current experience and add this question – How am I experiencing this – Pleasant? Neutral? Unpleasant? See if you can tell the difference between (for example) “Ugh, I’m stressed” and “Right now, I’m experiencing this moment as unpleasant… and now, neutral… interesting.” This week practice nonjudgmentally noticing how you feel in your current experience. And, I’ll do the same.