Archives: Diary Entries

Being Mindful of “Good” Judgment

EncouragingWords

One of the biggest things I’ve recognized on this path of mindfulness is how judgmental my mind tends to be. It judges people, things, experiences…. Whatever it encounters (especially if it’s something new), my mind tends to slap a label on it. And I’m not talking about objective labeling here—like what I blogged about a few weeks ago…. I’m talking about the reactive deeming of whatever the object of my mind’s attention is as “bad” or “good.” “Wrong” or “right.” “The worst” or “the best.” Or some variation in between.

Basically, I’m talking about labels that judge.

In my daily life, I’ve been paying attention to negative judgments that my mind generates, doing my best to catch them when they arise—and using the aforementioned objective noting/labeling technique (judging. judging) to gently let the judgments go.

This technique has been effective in helping me catch—and, in turn, start to reduce my negative judgments… But, I recently had an “aha” moment where I realized I’ve only been working on half the “judgment issue”….

The “aha” moment happened when some friends and I were chatting at our monthly mindfulness group… I was sharing how I’d noticed that I was experiencing a particular set of negative judgments lately—and how my mind tends to be overly critical, in general. And then one of my friends says:

“We don’t really think about this much, but judgments can come in the form of praise, as well….”

Cue needle scratch/time freeze moment.

My mind immediately flashed to a handout that Kate and I received from our son’s school (now hanging on our refrigerator) listing “words that judge.” It was the first time I’d ever seen what I’d considered a list of positive words labeled as “negative.” And I remember thinking… How could praising someone possibly do any harm?

The truth was—I’d actually experienced how (first hand) but it hadn’t fully registered until that moment….

You see, growing up, I’d heard my fair share of negative judgments. Mostly from my dad—and mostly about the government, the boys I was dating in high school, and the people who used to cut him off while he was driving on the highway. Most everything and everyone was fodder for dad’s judgments. And hearing them never felt good.

On the flip side, dad was also in the habit of telling me how incredible I was at this or that, and how pretty much everything I managed to do was always, in his words, “the best!” (even if, on a more objective scale, it was only mediocre)….

And although I know dad genuinely intended to be kind—to express his love and support in an effort to help me feel “good” about myself… The fact is, his “praise” often felt just as crappy as hearing his negative judgments—especially because I was never given any comfort or reassurance of his love (and my worthiness of it) when I failed.

Case in point—I remember taking French Horn lessons when I was in junior high. I was okay. Not great. Not bad. Just okay…

At my first recital (my first and last…), I sat down next to the piano accompanist and tried to take a deep breath to play my first note. But I couldn’t inhale any air—I was hyperventilating so badly from nerves and the pressure to be “good” that I could barely breathe (let alone play the instrument). I tried and tried. But I didn’t manage to blow one note out of my horn that evening. My recital was deemed a “failure.”

And, the message I got from both my parents that night was that I was one, too.

Because the next thing I remember after rushing off the stage is the ride home in the backseat of dad’s car—staring out the window as my parents sat up front in complete silence. Neither of them said one word to me. No comfort. No reassurance that I was okay and that they still loved me, despite my poor performance.

Nothing.

Looking back on it now, I’m guessing this is when I decided I “needed” to achieve if I wanted my parents attention and affection. I’m also fairly certain my “good girl” and perfectionist tendencies sprang out of these types of interactions with my parents when I didn’t meet their expectations…

These days, however (and thankfully!…), I’m slowly learning that my worthiness isn’t predicated on my performance.

I remember shortly after Kate and I fell in love a few years ago…. I was doing a public reading of a comedy script I’d co-written, and I was a basket-case about it—nervous that nobody would laugh or find it funny. And worried that Kate might judge me if the reading was a flop. I’ll never forget what she said—

“I’m going to love you no matter how anyone reacts to your script, baby. I love you for who you are. Not for what you do or how you do it.”

Cue needle scratch/time freeze moment #2 (with some heavy waterworks this time).

You mean, I can “fail” and still feel loved?!…

YES! 🙂

This was a whole new concept. And, holy crap, did it kick off a tidal wave of healing that I’m still in the midst of integrating.

So, what’s my take-away after all this introspection?…

Being mindful of my judgment—both negative AND positive—is critical.

This week, I invite you to join me in being mindful of judgments—keeping an especially close eye on any “good” judgments that might arise. Because “good” judgments can set up unfair expectations. And I’m fairly certain the last thing any of us want to do is have our loved ones thinking they always need to “perform” in order to receive our love and encouragement.

Onward and upward!

A Tale of Inner Melodrama (Episode One)

Cleaning

March 5, 2014

10:48am

It’s been a challenging morning… Did some intense Yoga online that made me feel queazy. And then I was convinced my iPhone got destroyed in the washing machine…

That was quite a roller coaster.

As soon as I noticed it was gone, I scoured the entire apartment—all my usual spots: the bathroom, the nightstand in the bedroom, the kitchen counter, my desk….

It was nowhere to be found.

SHIT. WHERE’S MY PHONE?…

I popped my head into the bedroom where Kate sat propped up on the bed, working on her laptop.

“…Have you seen my iPhone?”

She looked up from her computer. “Sorry, baby…Maybe check between the cushions in the couch?”

I headed out to the living room, shooed our 7-month old kitten, Buster, off the couch—and pulled up the cushions to find:

(1) dime

(2) halves of a sesame rice cracker

and…

(1) small plastic lego man’s “head”

FUCK…

Then it occurred to me that it might be in one of the pockets of my bathrobe—the very bathrobe I’d handed to Kate after breakfast (before Yoga) when she asked if I had anything I wanted to wash…

Back to the bedroom.

“—It’s in one of the pockets of my bathrobe. I always put my phone in my bathrobe pocket when I’m cooking breakfast. I’m sure that’s where I left it. Did you start the wash already?”

“Yes.”

“Did you check the pockets?…”

“…No.”

Silence.

I closed my eyes. Took a deep breath.

“…Can you please check if it’s in there?”

Kate slowly moved her laptop aside and got up to walk back to the laundry room. I followed—watching as my mind immediately jumped to try and blame her for not checking the pockets before tossing my robe in the washing machine. I was clearly upset. My chest tightening. Blood pressure rising. And, despite all the accusations running wild in my mind, I didn’t say anything out loud—just slowly sat down at the kitchen table and waited as she paused the washer to sort through the wet laundry.

SHE DIDN’T CHECK THE POCKETS…. MY PHONE’S PROBABLY IN THE WASHING MACHINE RIGHT NOW. RUINED…. WHY DIDN’T SHE CHECK MY POCKETS?!

“Meow….”

My inner rant interrupted, I looked down to see Buster arch his back and start rubbing up against my leg. Then he plopped down by my feet, thwaking his tail on the floor as he continued staring up at me.

And I just sat there, blankly staring back—stewing in my Shit….. Flashing to memories of my mom handing me friendship pins and love notes she’d found in my jeans while doing my laundry growing up.

CHECKING POCKETS IS PART OF THE RESPONSIBILITY OF DOING THE LAUNDRY… SHE SHOULD HAVE CHECKED THE POCKETS.

Sitting there, staring down at the cat…I recognized my Shit trying to lay blame where it wasn’t due. Then the more objective side of me kicked in.

Just because mom checked my pockets back when she did my laundry doesn’t mean Kate has to… It’s not Kate’s responsibility….I should have checked my pockets before giving her my robe to wash. If my phone’s in the washer, and it’s ruined—I have nobody to blame but myself.

But then my moment of objectivity started sliding into an unwelcome appearance from The Queen of “Should’s.”

I SHOULD HAVE CHECKED MY POCKETS BEFORE GIVING HER MY BATHROBE….

I SHOULD HAVE PAID MORE ATTENTION TO WHERE I PUT MY PHONE….

I SHOULD’VE BEEN MORE CAREFUL—I SHOULD BE MORE CAREFUL IN GENERAL….

Beyond assuming the phone was in the washing machine and ruined—an assumption I was fully aware wasn’t even substantiated yet—I chose to continue chasing my stories of gloom and doom—this time, adding “victim” to the list of characters wreaking havoc inside my mind.

I CAN’T AFFORD A NEW FUCKING PHONE RIGHT NOW. IPHONES ARE EXPENSIVE. I CAN’T DEAL WITH AN ADDED EXPENSE…THIS IS THE LAST THING I NEEDED TODAY.

“—Well, the good news is, your phone’s not in the washing machine…”

Buster sprang up as Kate breezed passed—on her way back to the bedroom.

“Really?!…”

She kept walking. I kept ruminating—still completely absorbed by my Shit.

IT’S NOT IN THE WASHER?… WHERE THE FUCK IS IT THEN?!…

I popped up from my chair and did another sweep through the house—but still nothing.

SERIOUSLY?!… IT’S GOT TO BE HERE SOMEWHERE…

Back to the bedroom. Completely perplexed. Brow furrowed.

“Are you 100% positive it wasn’t in the machine? I just searched the entire house again, and it’s not here…”

Kate continued typing on her laptop—didn’t look up at me as she spoke, “…I guess it’s possible it’s still in there. The clothes were wet and crumpled, but I didn’t see it.”

“Can I check?”

“Sure—but you’ll need to wait until the cycle’s done.”

“How much longer?”

“Five minutes.”

I turned and shut the bedroom door behind me. Frustration mounting as I walked down the hall out into the living room, I could feel myself starting to tremble—the need for some sort of physical release escalating with each millisecond.

“Arrrrrrggggggh!!!!” I screamed as I grabbed a throw pillow from the chaise and started pounding it against the side of the couch.

Then Buster sprang out of nowhere (scaring the shit out of me) and latched onto my ankle—drawing blood with his claws.

“Goddamnit!”

The cat ran off into the kitchen, as I collapsed onto the couch—tears welling in my eyes. And I just let them flow—letting what needed to come out get out.

After a few minutes, the tears subsided, and I could feel my body and mind start to relax and soften. I grabbed a tissue, blew my nose and headed back into the laundry room to wait for the washer’s cycle to stop.

But when I walked into the room—there it was.

My iPhone.

On top of a case of Friskies—where I’d clearly placed it when I was cleaning the cat box earlier that morning before Yoga…

Back to the bedroom.

….I slowly opened the door and stuck the phone through the crack—holding it out like a white flag.

“I found it…” Kate looked up from her laptop as I walked in and plopped down on the bed.

“Annnnd.. the cat totally attacked me. I’m bleeding…”

“Where was it?”

“On top of the cat food case in the laundry room.”

“—Did the cat attack you when you were yelling?”

“Yes. He acts crazy when the energy in the house gets high. I should’ve seen it coming…”

She got up and grabbed the first aid kit.

“Oh baby… You’re going to be okay.”

“I know…” I rolled over onto my back. Stared up at the ceiling. “…I’m sorry if I wasn’t very nice to you.”

“You acted like a total jerk face—like I’d ruined your whole world…”

“I know, baby. I’m sorry… I wanted to blame you at first—but then I saw it wasn’t your fault. If I had lost my phone in the washing machine, and it was ruined—I wouldn’t have blamed you. I promise. I knew it was my responsibility. But I didn’t communicate that to you. I’m sorry… Do you forgive me?” I looked up at her with puppy-dog eyes and my “aren’t I cute” smile.

“…Yes.” She tossed me a reluctant smirk. “…And I’m glad you found your phone.”

“Me, too.”

She put the Band-Aid on my leg and headed back to work on her laptop. And I just lay there, contemplating the inner melodrama I’d just witnessed….

The blaming. Catastrophizing. And borderline self-flagellation. My Shit was running almost full throttle. And although I let it move through me with minimal negative effects on myself and those around me—I’d still chosen to go down a road filled with unnecessary discomfort for all.

But… this is why I practice mindfulness (one of many the reasons).

Because a few years ago—all my internal Shit would have been flung around at those in my wake. I would never have taken responsibility for the phone being lost. And, if it had been ruined—I would have blamed anyone but myself.

I’ll never be “perfect”—but I’m learning how to see my Shit when it shows up—and to responsibly handle it. The only thing I can do when it spills is forgive myself.

And then clean it up.

Noting

thinking

I’m pretty sure I mentioned that I started UCLA’s year-long Certification in Mindfulness Facilitation program back in January. And, wow, it’s been a whole lot of learning so far….In so many ways. And we’ve only just begun (I’ll be sharing more details in future posts, so stay tuned)!

One of the program’s requirements is to write a 1-2 page paper every two weeks on an assigned topic. Our latest assignment entailed describing one of our meditation sessions—so, I thought I’d go ahead and share it here with you, as well. For those who might be new(er) to meditation, it’ll give you an idea of how you might consider working with thoughts as they arise.

One technique I use is called “mental noting” or “labeling.” Science has proven that noting or labeling a thought as it arises regulates the emotional circuitry in the brain, creating a calming effect in the body and giving separation from the thought. I find the technique quite helpful. Perhaps you’ll find it helpful, too! 🙂

“Noting in meditation has many functions. The primary one is keeping the meditator present – sometimes it is called an ‘anchor’ to the present. The mind is less likely to wander off if one keeps up a steady stream of relaxed noting. If the mind does wander, the noting practice can make it easier to reestablish mindfulness.

Another function of noting is to better acknowledge or recognize what is occurring: the clearer one’s recognition, the more effective one’s mindfulness. Naming can strengthen recognition. Sometimes this can be a kind of truth-telling, when we are reluctant to admit something about ourselves or about what is happening.

A third function of noting is to help recognize patterns in one’s experience. A frequently-repeated note reveals a frequently-recurring experience. For example, persistent worriers may not realize it until they see how often they note ‘worry’.

And fourth, as described above, mental noting gives the thinking mind something to do rather than leaving it to its own devices.

A fifth function is disentangling us from being preoccupied or overly identified with experience. Noting can help us ‘step away’ so that we might see more clearly. For example, noting ‘wanting’ might pull us out of the preoccupation with something we want. This may not be immediate, but by repeatedly noting ‘wanting, wanting,’ one may be able to be aware of the wanting without being caught by it. As an antidote to drowning in strong emotion or obsessive thinking, mental noting is sometimes called a ‘life preserver’.

Noting can also help maintain a non-reactive form of attention. Calmly and equanimously noting what is happening, we are less likely to get caught up in emotional reactions….Noting helps us to see mindfully while remaining free of what we see.

The tone of the inner voice that notes may reveal less-than-equanimous reactions to what we are trying to be mindful of. The noting may sound harsh, bored, scared, hesitant, or excited, to name just a few possibilities. By noticing and adjusting the tone, we may become more balanced and equanimous.” (quote from the Insight Meditation Center)

And here’s my meditation play-by-play… 😉

February 19, 2014

1:20pm

I sit down in the wicker chair outside. Place a small, rectangular pillow in the small of my back. Slip out of my flip-flops and feel the dirt beneath my feet. Pressing “start” on the Insight Timer app on my iPhone, I leave the phone on the ground as the bell DINGS.

Closing my eyes, I adjust my posture. Straighten my back. Intertwine my fingers and place my hands in my lap.

I hear the sounds of birds singing. Feel the warmth of the sun on my body. The wash of air on my face from the gentle breeze.

Scanning through my body, I feel a slight tug of sadness in my heart—a dull ache pulling at my chest. I sit with it for a moment, allowing it to just be. Holding space for tears if they need to fall. But they don’t….

The tug fades. I hear an airplane overhead. My mind starts to wander.

I bet the cat’s going to escape at some point. He’s going to bolt out the door when one of us isn’t careful. I wonder if he’ll keep running, or if he’ll want to come back…

I notice myself worrying and say so in my mind.

(Worrying. Worrying.)  

And then I redirect my attention to the sensation of my breath. My chest rising and falling. I can feel my heart beating in my chest. My body feels warm.

I notice that I’m conscious of being conscious of what’s happening during this meditation…

I notice a desire and a sense of striving to remember what’s happening as it’s happening. I start thinking about the possibility of picking up my notebook and starting to write down my stream of consciousness as I’m experiencing it. Or maybe record myself talking into my iPhone mic to capture my thoughts.

No I shouldn’t do that. That doesn’t feel right…

I notice I’m judging what “right” means. That I’m using the word, “shouldn’t.” How I don’t want to do this assignment “wrong…” Then I notice I’ve drifted off again.

(Thinking. Thinking.)

The call of a crow in the distance. My toes throbbing in the heat. The feeling of my beating heart beat.

“Sit down Jennifer. Thank you for coming… We’ve been looking forward to making these meditations happen…” I hear these words as I watch the scene of an upcoming meeting unfolding in my imagination.

I catch myself.

(Fantasizing.)

What if I can’t do this? What if I’m terrible at facilitating mindfulness?…

(Worrying.)

My body feels warm. Too warm. I want to take my fleece sweatshirt off.

I wonder how much longer it’ll be before the bell rings and if I’m going to swelter in the heat—or if I should just stop meditating and take my sweatshirt off.

I notice how I want to squirm and move away from the discomfort. How every molecule of me wants to move. But I remain still.

How am I going to remember all this?… Maybe that’s not the point.

I feel the impulse again to start writing all this down. I notice my desire. The fear beneath it….

A siren wailing off in the distance. A trash truck dumping cans down the street…

I can feel my pulse quickening – my heart beating faster. The sun’s heat no longer feels soothing but suffocating…

(Worrying. Wanting.)

I take a deep breath. Then another.

The sound of cars whooshing by on the freeway off in the distance. More birds singing. My belly rising. The red and blue amorphous blobs I can see behind my eyelids. The breeze brushing against my face.

Then my insides feel quiet. Like they’re floating.

DING.

The sound of the bell reverberating. Relief. Then anticipation. I pause for one last deep breath.

And open my eyes.

Trust the process.

Trust

Our first UCLA Certificate in Mindfulness Facilitation practicum was this past weekend. And I’m still processing all it had to offer… There are 36 of us. From all walks of life and from all over the country (and a few from outside the country). Most have previous experience as facilitators. Some of us don’t.

I’m one of those people.

I think the biggest thing that’s come up for me since the practicum ended is that I’m finding myself somewhat obsessed with analyzing my mindfulness practice—deconstructing my meditations and my ways of being throughout the day in an effort to try and “figure out” how to effectively communicate this practice to others… I also notice that I’m feeling somewhat resentful and mistrusting of the facilitation training process—concerned that the act of becoming a mindfulness facilitator will somehow take me away from my own mindfulness practice.

I’m also watching myself getting caught up in my ambition to be “successful” at this new undertaking, and I’m feeling a strong desire to “do it perfectly.” I fear these sides of myself might take over and that I might lose sight of why I practice/why I wanted to facilitate to begin with…

And the subject of mindfulness, itself, has become somewhat all encompassing since the practicum…. While I was certainly interested in the topic prior to our weekend, my thirst for expanding my knowledge and grasping the subject now seems unquenchable. There’s an addictive, grasping quality to it that’s related to my ambition on some level, I’m sure… I also sense a deep-rooted fear that if I don’t “know/understand” everything about the subject, then I’d be an imposter facilitating it…

Yet, all this is happening while I’m also acutely aware that I can’t “successfully” facilitate mindfulness unless I embody it. I suppose this reminder is where the strength of my practice is shining through…. Like the breath in meditation, my awareness of my potential pitfalls is the anchor that’s helping me continue to come back to my practice (and to my truth)…. Trusting this process is challenging for me.

But I’m up for the challenge.