by Oori Silberstein
...And our system is just waiting for an invitation to move in that direction.
Paying attention in a certain way in any given moment provides such an invitation. I have experienced this repeatedly in myself over many years of practice. I have also observed this in others, over years of teaching and facilitating Mindfulness, meditation, self-compassion and trauma resiliency. But don’t take my word for it. Instead, I invite you to experiment with it yourself to see what you think. Take a day and try out 3 or 4 of the informal practices linked below. Or take a week or a month and practice them every day. But first, a little more background info.
We all experience uncomfortable moments. Emotionally. Physically. In relationships. In our self-talk. We can't avoid this. As human beings it comes with the territory. This "pain" of living is unavoidable at times. Along with this unavoidable "pain" of living, we also have patterns of reactivity and conditioned responses that add layers of suffering that are not an inherent part of being human. Because the brain is elastic and trainable, we can practice with and over time learn to be able to let go of our layers of reactivity, thereby reducing our stress and suffering in uncomfortable moments. With attention and practice and patience we can learn to make some space around our discomfort in a way that helps our system let go of habituated responses of stress and struggle. Thousands of years of wisdom practices from many traditions have shown this to be true, and so has modern neuroscience.
Formal Meditation or Mindfulness Practice:
The simple practice of noticing can be very healing and transformative. Noticing – and allowing what is noticed to just be – there creates a gap or a space between what appears to be bothering us or making us feel uncomfortable, the stimulus, and our habituated response. This gap by itself helps us access our capacity for being okay in the midst of difficulty. Practicing with this during formal practice over time increases how often we find this gap arising outside of our formal practice, and strengthens our ability to find some ease and balance in the middle of everything. Practice also helps us see the difference between the actual experience itself and the reactions to that experience, reactions that arise in the mind and add to the experience of discomfort.
In formal practice, by which I mean things like sitting meditation, mindful movement practice or the body scan, we practice this over and over again by returning to the breath, or by turning to the uncomfortable experience itself, and allowing whatever is noticed to be noticed with the simple intention to let it be what it is. These ways of noticing, of being with, by themselves disrupt and weaken our habituated responses, without us having to try to do it specifically. It's a by-product of the noticing in a sense. We don't have to try to disrupt, we just choose where to place our attention and our system does the rest. The gap itself is beneficial right in the moment it arises. And, we can also use this gap to step back and make wise decisions that further reduce suffering and increase well-being.
Informal Practice: Mixing it In Briefly Whenever We Think of It.
In addition to formal meditation practice there are lots of very short practices we can do in the midst of our day to disrupt and sometimes reduce the patterns of reactivity that arise in the mind. For example, when we notice difficulty we often try to solve it or figure it out to get rid of the uncomfortable feeling. But that rarely works in the moment when we are worked up or upset or bothered. Instead, we can redirect the attention to something more neutral, like our breath, or the feeling in the body, or the sounds around us.
As an experiment right now, try the following:
- Check in with yourself to see how you feel right now. Really. Just close your eyes for three seconds and take a breath and notice what is going on in your experience in this moment. Just notice, and don't try to do anything with it or about it for a moment.
- Now close your eyes again and allow the ears to hear whatever sounds are noticed. It may be one sound (a fan) or lots of little sounds that come and go. And for one whole minute, just keep coming back to noticing sounds whenever the mind wanders.
- Now check in with yourself again and notice how you are in this moment.
For many of us, this simple one-minute break often shifts our experience just enough that we feel a little less entangled or bothered. Or a little more relaxed and easeful.
More informal practices
There are other practices we can try in as short as a minute when we notice discomfort or agitation in the body or mind. Follow this link to five of them, on our website:
Five Informal Practices
The invitation is to experiment with these and see which ones are useful to you, and then lean into them. And know that what works one day may not feel right another day, so we experiment and build a tool bag we can draw on. I often find a particular practice to be useful for me in a given period in my life, and I take it on as my primary informal practice for week, months or years. I sprinkle in other practices when the instinct arises, and I shift to a different primary informal practice when it seems wise and useful to do so.
And through all of it, I remember that as I learn and practice different ways of tuning in to my experience that awakens this capacity within me, I increase my ability to feel more okay in the midst of difficulty. So play, experiment, and notice what works for you, and may you find some benefit.