Mindfulness Check-In 3/2: Loud Thoughts and Meditation Bells

Sometimes your thoughts actually just sound like LOUD NOISES!

yell

Sometimes this is how you want to get those thoughts out! But you can’t…

Last Wednesday, and then in-and-out since, I’ve been experiencing moments (or a majority of the day) where all of my thoughts seem extremely LOUD, URGENT, EXPRESSIVE, FAST-MOVING, EMOTIONAL, and if I don’t catch myself in time, those thoughts then either turn into actions or words in reality. It sometimes feels like there are 3 different heavy metal bands playing 3 different songs at once, all songs including double bass drumming and loud screaming! Naturally, this can alter some moments and how people see you in that moment in time. So how do you manage to not let your thoughts come out in a manner that is uninviting and sometimes quite scary? You stop for a 1/2 second and just notice, without reaction, the thought(s), and then, notice how it makes you feel and how you may want to respond.

This morning, after I reflected on this internal energy that I’ve experienced over the last week, which is still somewhat present today, I was able to meditate for the first time with my therapist. His specialty is in meditation and mindfulness practice and though I’ve been seeing him since the beginning of September, this is the first time we’ve practiced together, in a session. He actually has one of those little metal meditation bells that look like this:

Photo credit: Zengroupon.com

Well I’m going to spare you the 10-minute recap and just get to what I really wanted to share. Those loud thoughts do mean something, but just because the thoughts are loud, doesn’t mean so do our actions (or reactions). I expressed how often when I practice and I’m noticing, I typically tell myself in my brain, “Thinking about writing a blog post” or “Wondering about my Professor’s email”. You see, that’s just too much text already- too much of the story I’m trying to capture and develop. My therapist led me through the meditation and told me that when a thought or worry comes up, to just repeat in my head “Thinking, thinking, thinking” or “Worry, worry worry”. He explained that by practicing that in the moment, it helps to simplify all of what’s attached to the thought in my brain, that story that I’m ultimately creating and further developing when I think to myself “Thinking about this and that, etc.” By just boiling down the details of the thought or feeling to their most simple state, the act of thinking or worry or anxiety or boredom (you get the idea), we help to simplify the brain and come to terms with those thoughts easier, and thus can choose further how we would like to respond to those more basic thoughts or emotions.

So all in all, you may want to yell out your thought or you may see yourself getting really wrapped up in the creation and re-telling of the story that means so much to you. When you do, stop and notice. Repeat to yourself (or practice getting there) the word that is truly the essence of that thought or feeling- just one word!!! Simplify all those loud thoughts and really see them for what they are, thoughts. Fro there you can then choose the path for best approach.

Happy Monday y’all!

Mindfulness Check-In 2/2/14: Snowy Day Thoughts

Some quick updates of the last week since my last post:

  1. I am still having migraines almost daily, and am trying to decipher what may be triggering them.
  2. I realized that even on Super Bowl Sunday, I cannot abandon my dietary restrictions, because it just brings me unnecessary bodily suffering.
  3. I still have been exercising and doing some form of yoga or meditation daily- my heels almost touch the ground in downward dog!
  4. It’s the second snow day of second semester!

After reflecting on my updates and past happenings at this current moment, the word that comes to mind is progress. At this moment, I am feeling nervous, sore, tired, and a bit overwhelmed. I am noticing the snow that is falling sideways outside, with no intentions of stopping until late into the night. I’m noticing how that dull ache which never seems to fully diminish is now present in back of my eyes and at my temples. I hear the murmur of the fish tank and tapping of the keyboard, and the humming of the plows outside. I am noticing how every time I think about breathing, my chest actually feels a little tighter, which then reminds me to inhale deeper the next time and let out a loud exhale. I slowly sip my Eggnog tea and hear how it sounds as I swallow. I’m deliberately working on being intentional and “in the moment”. I don’t necessarily have positive feelings towards all of the things I’m noticing, but I also have a beautiful choice.

I can choose how I want to engage with what is happening around me. I can choose to be grateful for my yoga practice and despite my body feeling what it feels, I still have an overall healthy body that allows me to exercise or practice yoga at all! I’m working diligently at tracking how my body feels, and noticing how to use my breath to guide my thoughts, movement, and reactions to my pain. Despite how Super Bowl food makes my body feel, I am grateful for the experience of cooking for my friends and sharing food with them, and that I even had food to cook, especially before the week began. And lastly, despite that my brain feels at points like it’s trying to run in opposite directions, I am still here, writing this post. I have this wonderful snow day and was lucky enough to not have to travel my usual 30 minute drive to my University today and jeopardize safety (and sanity). I was allowed more time to work on things that need to be worked on, things I want to do, and to just exist in whatever form I would like today. I’m sitting here now and after a moment realized I had been flexing my foot for at least 10 seconds. I’m making progress!

It’s not about the deadline for me because mindfulness is an ongoing practice. I’m usually the person that tries to accomplish everything on time, as efficiently as possible. But with mindfulness I can’t rush it, and I can’t necessarily finish it. All I can do is practice it and continue to show up and give whatever I can give each day, each moment. I have made progress on my goals, and I will continue to progress with my practice. I hope wherever you are, you can take a moment just to stop and notice what you’re thinking (or not), and how your body feels, what it’s doing, and what you see, smell, hear, taste, touch around you! The best thing about practicing mindfulness for me is the honesty. I can just be honest with myself and don’t have to pretend that everything is great just because it’s a snow day. I can just be what I feel and how I think, and don’t necessarily have to like it but can acknowledge it and let those feelings just sit there as they are- I don’t have to engage with them if I don’t want to! And if I do, I can catch myself in the moment and reflect on if my behavior is helping me or causing me increased suffering. I have the power to determine my own progress!

Here’s a picture I took today of my backyard in the woods. Though I haven’t trekked outside yet, it sure is a peaceful site.

If you look really close at the ground you can see how high the snow is!

If you look really close at the ground you can see how high the snow is!

Mindfulness Check-In 1/26: Migraines and Joy

“Better late than never.”

So I know it’s in the evening, but posting late is better than not posting at all, and this is an important update! I want to tell you about my migraine, my pain, my progress, and how at the end of the day I overlooked the pain and saw the joy, all while watching a hockey game. First off, I am horrible at getting into watching most sports. Though I love to play many sports, watching them is a completely different experience, and usually I find myself in “squirrel! mode” where I simply cannot pay attention. During my undergrad times, all my friends would become ecstatic for the football and hockey games. I would go for the “experience” of friendship and raw excitement, but I often found myself just dazing off and completely missing every goal or touch-down- I just wasn’t interested. So by late Sophomore year, I told myself I would never attend another game. Sure, I take part in the Super Bowl festivities, but only for the food and people.

Now let me tell you a key piece of information. My significant other and his family love hockey. I was luck my family never stressed about watching sports in a crazed fashion but I also respect that for some families, it’s what they do. For Christmas I had the genius idea of buying hockey tickets at my University for myself, my significant other, and his parents. They live 2 hours away so we thought it would be a good idea for them to come out, experience the school pride and hockey, and get some awesome local pizza! What a great idea, except for the migraine.

Since I was 6, I’ve experienced chronic headaches and migraines. I go through waves of time where it seems my life just consists of tension headaches, spasms, and then the migraines. Then I have times where it’s just peace and quiet, and yes, NO MIGRAINES. Well since the new semester began last Tuesday, my sleep has been completely off and my stress levels higher than usual. That’s a great equation for, yep, a migraine that lingers for almost a week. In fact, I can feel it still here now, but luckily only as a headache. Yesterday I felt the dull pain encasing my entire skull, like a heavy crown just pressing on my head. I went through my mental checklist and took the precautions I normally take to avoid medicine and thought, “Maybe I’m just really hungry but will be okay after some pizza?”. (This pizza is from Antonio’s and I had been waiting for it for 2 weeks as my indulgent meal, so I couldn’t tell if it was a hunger headache or a craving headache- though I was mindful in trying to discern the source of my hunger and headache.) I took my time eating the pizza, to really enjoy it and experience what was happening around me in the process: the packed restaurant, the people skirting around outside, the bright sun coming in through the windows, the different pizza slices around me, and the pure blissful silence of our family eating pizza happily amongst the buzzing restaurant chatter. I didn’t finish one slice because I really was trying to see if I was truly full by scanning how I felt! Well right after I finished eating and left for the arena, that’s when it came- the migraine came. 

All I will indulge in the experience of the migraine’s pain is that I actually had to visit the EMT to ask for ice packs, and kept them on my head during the game while borrowing some sunglasses to shade my eyes from the bright lights. What’s more important here is how I still had a great time. Remember how I said I would never attend another hockey game? I knew this one was either going to be 2 hours of horror (migraine) and boredom (hockey), or 2 hours of joy with family. As soon as the puck was in play I made sure to keep my eyes focused on the general picture of what was in front of me. In the past I tried to just focus on the puck, or certain players, or even just the goals. But through my yoga and meditation practice, I’m learning to let my gaze just look out, and not necessarily focus on one image but just take in what it notices naturally. I also kept reminding myself to breathe long breaths in and out, since I knew I would be there for a while with a migraine, and wanted to have a good time. This reminder to breathe and just take time in that moment despite the pain I felt, just be there amongst the lights, loud noises, and distractions, was extremely challenging but also gratifying. By the end of the game though my head still hurt, I was so excited at my progress- I had seen every goal shot, and actually enjoyed my time there!! I laughed, allowed myself to eat a bit of candy, cheered for my team, bonded with the family, and barely thought about anything on my to-do list. I was “in the moment”.

I wanted to write about this today because I know I had a choice. I had a choice to be honest about my feelings and experiences, and how I was going to explain my mindfulness progress while having a migraine. The best part about my mindfulness challenge is being able to just “be” with whatever my experience is at that moment and the feelings it stirs within me and decide how I want to engage with them. I don’t have to feel bad that I had a migraine and then have that stir up more emotions and pain for me if I don’t want to. I’m not saying that I felt glorious during that game, and that I didn’t think about asking to leave or crying. But what I am saying is that I was able to accept what was going on and just sit with it, and not let the migraine ruin my time by choosing not to engage with it in a way to endure more suffering. I definitely want to get to the bottom of these headaches/migraines, but also would like to go to another hockey game again. Without this experience, I wouldn’t have learned that I could in fact stay at a hockey game and watch its entirety. I wouldn’t have learned that even though I had a migraine, one of the worst I’ve had in a few years, I could still have a good time. I definitely would not have known I had the power to take this into my own hands and ground myself in the pain through acceptance, and then letting it go instead of resenting it. I don’t resent my migraines, and if anything I feel much stronger and more equipped to handle them in the future after this past Sunday. This is what is gratifying and empowering, and this is why I will continue to practice.