The first week of mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) course is now completed, and I will let you know what are my thoughts, learnings and challenges so far. I will not go too much – or at all – into analyzing or saying what went “wrong”, because that’s not the point of this journey. I will focus on writing and documenting my experience week by week during this 8-week journey.
I started this course due to multiple reasons, part of them I’ve already covered in my previous posts, but one important reason for starting this course and finally making the purchase was pure curiosity. I was (and still am) extremely curious about how all this will make me feel, whether I will actually learn more about mindfulness and more importantly whether I can take this into my everyday life as a routine. Curious about whether this will change something in me, or not. I walk into this journey without any expectations that this would automatically have some significant impact on me. What was instructed during the first day, was to just keep doing this for the 8 weeks and then see what has or hasn’t happened. (well, it was pretty much guaranteed that something will for sure happen, but the point is not to analyze anything along the way.) And I am not going to lie, letting go of analysis and self-criticism itself is a challenge for me. But I will accept the challenge. I will save the analysis for later. Now the only focus is to do and write about my experience along the way. If you have just started or are thinking of starting practicing mindfulness, I hope this will help you in your journey too. You are more than welcome to share your thoughts in the comments below!
Day 1: What is beginner’s mind?
This week was all about beginner’s mind. Beginner’s mind is being curious and observing any sensations in the body without thinking why those sensations appeared. It is about not having any expectations towards anything, it is embracing and accepting everything that comes with curiosity and compassion. We did together a body scan during our weekly call, and the task for the first week was to practice body scan every day for 30 minutes. Ok this will be easy, I thought. During the Zoom call, having the presence of other participants and having the support of the coach, it all felt quite pleasant and easy. I was relaxed and happy to start the week. One important highlight from the session was to try to let go of all self-criticism and analyzing whenever practicing mindfulness during this journey. We were told that it cannot go wrong, we just need to do practice every day and despite the mind will wonder during the body scan to past or future – and it will for sure happen – we just need to notice it, and gently take the attention back to the body sensations. The purpose is not to think why the mind wondered and there is no such thing as failing in meditation.
Learning 1: Observe, don’t analyze
Now, 7 days have gone and I have practiced mindfulness for more or less 30minutes a day. Before starting, I decided I would practicing every evening, expect on weekends I would do it in the morning. This worked for me. During the week, I started to learn the difference between observing and analyzing. I have a strong tendency to overthink and have the need to always find reasons why something happens or why I feel or think a certain way. Here, I intentionally decided to just let go all of it, and only focus on the practice, nothing else. Even though I had some “worse” days where I found it difficult to concentrate, I didn’t analyze it afterwards, instead, I just observed what happened, like this: “Ok, today was difficult. Today my mind wondered all the time and I couldn’t stay focused at all and I had weird sensations. And that’s totally fine. Moving on.” This was extremely liberating. Observing, accepting and letting go.
Learning 2: Intense, positive sensations
Another learning from this week was from days 2 and 4. During the body scan practices, I experienced some very intense, positive sensations or feelings. I don’t really know what those are, and not going to analyze them further. Those moments lasted for only some seconds, however the intensity surprised me. In those moments I could fully focus on my body and I could sense something very deep. I don’t know how to explain it more in detailed but I hope I can explain this more during the next weeks after having practiced more. This is something that for sure keeps my curiosity levels high. I want to experience these moments more.
Challenge: Staying still during meditation & intense unpleasant sensations
Being honest, the first week was not only about some positive learnings or an easy 30minute daily practice. I actually struggled quite a lot with staying still for 30minutes in a row. We were instructed to preferably lie down eyes closed during the body scan practice. But almost during every practice that I did by myself, my body didn’t want to stay still; I started to feel restless and even a bit anxious because I just wanted to change positions, move my legs and arms and do anything else than not moving. What surprised me was the intensity of that restless feeling. At some moments while trying to just focus on the breath to fight against moving my body, the anxiety got so intense that I wanted to scream. I wanted to just run out of the situation and never come back. That intense it was. And I didn’t even know that was possible. Staying still and listening to someone speaking with a pleasant voice shouldn’t be a suffering? Well, time to time for me it felt like it.
During those difficult moments I allowed myself to change position and then continued and focused on my breath. What helped me was to get the attention back to the breath. After taking some deep breaths, I already felt a bit – not much, but a little – better and could go on with the practice. Breath also helped once my mind wondered. During some days my mind wondered more than during others, but that is totally normal and I learnt to let the thoughts come and go, and returned back to the breath and body sensations. I am curious to see, how these intense unpleasant sensations will evolve along the way. Will there be more of these? We’ll see. Whatever comes I take it as it comes and accept it.
This was my first week of practicing mindfulness, still 7 to go. I am looking forward to next week, stay tuned. In the meanwhile, let me know your thoughts in the comments!
x Mari Susanna