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Mindful June 2017

the mindful faq What if

the mindful faq What if I have a really good idea during meditation? Is it OK to pause to write it down? When we’re struggling with a thorny issue or trying to untangle a difficult problem, letting go of trying and simply settling gently on the meditation cushion for a period of time often provides a more relaxed and flexible cognitive state that allows us to see things from a different perspective. And, yes, sometimes remarkably clear and unanticipated ideas arise from the depths of our psyche when we let go of trying. So, if you need to you can keep a notepad nearby when you sit down to meditate, jot down a note, and let yourself rest in knowing that you have offloaded the idea and can drop back into awareness of the moment. I find that if I try to preserve a good idea while meditating, I simply become fully preoccupied and distracted by the idea and its subsequent offspring. Writing it down allows me to let go of it for the moment. I also want to note what is likely NOT to work: meditating in order to solve a problem or have a good idea. When we use our meditation practice to achieve a goal, we are destined for frustration. As Jon Kabat-Zinn said in Wherever You Go, There You Are, “In meditation practice, the best way to get somewhere is to let go of trying to get anywhere at all.” When I’m freaking out about something, I find it impossible to meditate. I do have a history of panic attacks. Any suggestions? We’re often susceptible to inadvertently engaging in what I like to call Strategic Meditation. That is, because we sometimes attain a degree of calmness when we practice, we begin to think that we should meditate in order to change how we feel. Such an approach is particularly ineffective and fraught with danger when we feel highly distressed, panicked, or depressed. At such times, we’re not really meditating. If mindfulness meditation is the allowing or accepting of all that is arising in our awareness and holding it with kindness and patience and willingness, then using Strategic Meditation to calm down or stop a wave of sadness represents resistance to our feelings, not acceptance. We are adopting a stance of judging the feeling as bad or undesirable or problematic and trying earnestly to make it stop or go away. The problem is that trying to make yourself stop feeling or thinking about something only tends to make the problem worse. What you resist, persists. So then should you stop practicing mindfulness when you’re freaking out? No. But you may want to try a slightly different approach. Instead of sitting very still when your body is feeling agitated and fearful, consider walking mindfully or doing yoga with the intention of bringing awareness to your experience. That may just indulge your agitation enough to let you find a rhythm in the tumult. Let go of trying to make the anxiety go away and instead see if, for a time, you can simply befriend it and get to know it a bit. Perhaps by letting go of the resistance to freaking out, you will find that you actually take the wind out of its sails. Letting go of needing anything to be any different in this moment is the key to moving mindfully through difficult situations. It isn’t easy to do, but when you’re practicing regularly, this stance of letting go becomes more accessible and easier to embrace. Regularly cultivating mindfulness when we aren’t freaking out or anxious will help us when we are freaked out. If our inner “volume” is already turned down, these difficult situations don’t provoke us in the same way. ● 42 mindful June 2017

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